I realized tonight that a pretty amazing thing happened a few years ago to me. I hadn’t ever thought about it before but I honestly realized tonight that things changed pretty significantly for me yet I’d never really taken it all in.
I honestly don’t know what most men or women do when they deal with losing a spouse. Growing up I’d had friends and acquaintances who lost a parent and the reactions were always different because, after all, we’re all different people. The way their parents reacted went from shutting down to hyperactive protection to immediately getting married again to just going on with life. Nobody treats grief the same way and that’s okay. It really is. I prefer having the differences and emotions that run the gamut. It’s what makes us human.
Some men may shut down, get quiet, angry, and just become lost in the haze of grief. Daily life, time, responsibility, all that sort of disappears when you embrace it and let the fog envelop you. Others might get overly cautious, deliberate, and protective of their children. They take on every single responsibility as if it’s theirs and take over every aspect, sometimes suffocating their children it might seem.
Some might get angry.
Angry is pretty easy to embrace. In a moment’s time, your life turns upside down and it’s all different. You didn’t get consulted on the change. You weren’t asked if you wanted to take on all the extra responsibility. It’s thrust on you nonetheless. Someone asked me today what I thought when all that happened, when suddenly the entire household rested on my shoulders, what went through my head. I was a bit startled, even taken aback. Not because I thought they were audacious to ask nor were they rude to ask. It was because of my answer.
Nothing went through my head. Not a damn thing. I honestly didn’t react to the workload of being the only parent in the house because it never dawned on me to not do the work. It’s not responsibility it just has to be done. Since I was the adult I had to do it. I simply got up each morning, took on the mantle, and did what I could. I don’t do a tremendous job, I don’t suppose, but I certainly give it my best shot. I face some things with a bit of anger and frustration: daily lunches and laundry, for example. Those kill me. The clean laundry piles up and the boys don’t put it away. The dishes pile up and their sister hasn’t cleaned up. Those are the frustrations. My one thought, really, was that my daughters were not going to have to act like they were the “mom” of the house. They were going to have the ability to be teenagers no matter what I had to do to make it so.
But I surprised myself when I looked at my situation tonight and thought about it and hadn’t ever thought about it as being a burden. But then, I’ve never thought of the kids as a burden. They’re kids. They fight, they laugh, they run around, they’re dirty and fight showering and bathing and that’s their job. I just never thought, from the day their mother died, that it was that much work or burden to care for them. They’re my kids.
That’s not to say I lost my identity, either. I’m still a journalist. I still play the guitar, record music, gig when I can, and write whenever inspiration and time permit.
I never looked at changing diapers or making formula or comforting an infant with a cough or fever or changing clothes or getting spit-up on my jacket as “work,” when I wasn’t doing this alone, either. I suppose that helped a lot. It’s not work. It’s being a Dad. Sure, I hate the monotony of making lunches each day. I grumble when I make cookies rather than buying them so they don’t have so many preservatives and processed crap in their lunches. (That’s more self-preservation. They eat one oreo and I’m peeling them off the ceiling. Eat a homemade chocolate chip cookie…nothing)
But I look at that work and realize that my folks did it for me. They gave me what I needed without really grumbling. I never looked at my kids like they had fault for my not being somewhere in my life, they’re the reason I am where I am now.
Where I am will certainly change as they grow, I have grown and the household changes. But it’s never been a burden. I laid that burden down years ago and it’s never made me happier than to realize I did.