I’ve turned into my parents. I know this is the cheesy, horribly cliche’d line in every 1980’s sitcom, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. The worst part, though, is the fact that I have turned into BOTH my parents. Nobody warned me about this when I became a single dad.
I should explain. My Dad, as he’s gotten older, has been delightfully curmudgeonly with each passing year. He’s telling it like it is and I truly wish I had the ability and the calm nerve it takes to do the same. The thing is, it took decades of really hard work as a pharmacist, listening to grumpy, irritating old guys and ladies who claimed WalMart was cheaper then dumped out their pill bottles to make sure dad didn’t short them a single dose, to transform his business-like calm demeanor. And he’s insanely funny when he does it. It’s only taken me 6 months to get there, and I’m not nearly as funny.
Then there’s my Mom. I found myself yesterday, as the rain the meteorologists said wouldn’t come to Sacramento was pouring down and soaking me on the way to and from work, repeating a phrase my mother said constantly. “I know it’s going to storm, you guys are acting like a group of maniacs!”
I only bring it up because I’ve noticed a continuation of my own behavior that I hated in the months prior to losing Andrea. For all the amazing, wonderful things my wife brought to me, dealing with rowdy and obnoxious moments with our children wasn’t one of them. Andrea inherited her mother’s knack for wanting the problems and the noise to just “go away”. Hearing a child cry; that whiny, piercing, eardrum banging cry, was something she wouldn’t listen to. There were so many days I either got a phone call asking me to yell at Noah, or tell Sam to stop . . . or I simply walked in the door and had to dole out punishment like Solomon sitting on the throne waiting to split a baby in twain.
I hated that. I made that known, it led to arguments, and I couldn’t change it. Andrea would reach a point where the stimulation would be too much to bear and she’d just give in. It’s why we owned (notice the past-tense, we sold them on eBay) EVERY, and I do mean EVERY Thomas the Tank Engine. We had EVERY Dora the Explorer and Diego video. They would go to the store and the kids would get DVD’s, candy, whatever. Yet when we were strapped enough we didn’t have the cash for all that and groceries we went without milk. So I had to come home and, while the kids ran around with their new toys, watching new Sponge Bob DVD’s, I had to be the bad guy, yelling at them, angry that we had to find ways to stretch the hamburger in the fridge. I was – and am – in a constant state of grumpiness. She got to buy them toys, tell them “yes” all the time and I had to come home, first thing through the door after they look happy and shout “Daddy!” and start doling out punishments, taking away the new toys and yelling. It was uncomfortable, mean, and I felt like I was the bad guy all the time.
The problem is, I’m still there. It hurts to know that I still have to dole that out. The rain was on its way and the four of them – yes, ALL 4, (try dealing with a depressed, acne-ridden 16-year-old girl and then come judge me) were f$#*ing nuts! Worse yet? My Mom was right. The storm comes, maybe it’s the barometric pressure, maybe it’s cabin fever, but even after the weather people inevitably guessed the storm’s path incorrectly, I knew it was going to rain. A storm’s a-comin’, it’s just a matter of time. I know it, because I wanted to kill all four of my children. They were climbing the walls and I hadn’t given them any sugar or caffeine!
I’ve gotten some criticisms for this. I know I’m not a typical single-father. I gladly cook. I get up every morning and make breakfast for the kids. I figured out how to do the laundry without ruining things. (Well, most of the time. I pay for it so I don’t much care the results) But where the typical response to our situation, the atypical gut and knee-jerk reaction would be to do the opposite of what I’m doing I continue the routine we’ve started. It’s like sometimes people think “they lost their mom, you should do whatever you can to help them!” I’m sorry, buying a freaking toy isn’t helping them.
Here’s where I turn into my Dad, twenty years earlier than he did. Spoiling them made things worse already. When the kids get in trouble at school, I don’t think the best thing is to always assume the teacher’s wrong or that they should get a break just because their Mom died. It’s a mitigating factor, but it’s not a get out of jail free card.
The best thing I can do, I think, is to help them adjust. Help them carry on. We have a routine and following it has helped all of us to move forward. I don’t always like it, I’m always tired, I don’t get to sit down until after 10 each night, but it’s there, and there’s comfort in that. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m trying, and I don’t think siding with the kids on everything is the best approach. I try to be fair, listen to what happened, and filter out the exaggerations from the reality. They’re still kids, after all.
Look…I’m not saying I don’t have a heart. Sure, a big chunk of it is gone now. I was horribly insensitive in how I reacted to Andrea being pregnant with the boys. I’m not sure she ever forgave me for not being “excited” about the pregnancy. I wasn’t mean, never considered abortion or giving them up. They were our kids, I accepted that, but we already had two, now we were to be four?! I couldn’t wrap my head around that. Hannah was hard, a handful, and attached to Andrea at the hip, almost. Now I doubled our children in one swoop. We didn’t have the money, she was only working part-time, and now we had SO much more to contend with. I wasn’t angry, I was panicked, but she never saw it that way and I see her disappointment in me even today.
It’s part of what made things so hard to come home the day she died. Panic is a good way to describe it. Andrea was always there. When we had a problem, she helped me work it out. While I hated being the grumpy guy, I could TELL her that and ask her to help me so I wasn’t always that horrible person that just punished the kids. I won’t go into the details of what went on in the hospital in this post, but suffice it to say I was a mess. A complete and utter mess.
But as bad as that morning was, as terrible as I felt, the worst hadn’t happened yet. For the critics of how I don’t coddle my kids, you should know how much of my heart shattered that day walking in the door. You see, Andrea had started to improve, gaining a little bit of consciousness, even looking at and responding to me just a few hours before. She was supposed to get better, not leave us! The absolute worst thing was telling those four kids. They all acted differently – Abbi, in a reaction I saw coming and headed off, wanted to start taking over, act like Mom. I refused to let her feel like she had to take over for Andrea. She’s 16. She needs to be 16. I’m Dad, I can do this. I’ll need help, but I can do it, and I make sure she knows it. There is no reason for her to grow up faster than she should just because she thinks she has to take over for Mom. Noah, he was hurt, but got philosophical, nearly propping all of us up with his platitudes about how her heart was so big she had to spread it around, and pieces of it were with all of us, so she’s always there. Sam turned inward. I worried, because he just went upstairs, sat in the play room, and did . . . nothing. Now, he worries about all of us, making sure we stay in a group at the store and yelling if anybody wanders off. It’s annoying, but I don’t stop him. He’s working it out.
Hannah was the hardest. She and Andrea were SO close. The most heartbreaking thing was telling the kids and seeing the panic in her eyes. The near-hyperventilation in her breath as she cried and begged me to go back to the hospital. “They got it wrong, Dad, she was getting better. They couldn’t have checked, you have to go back Dad. Please…go back . . . sometimes they’re wrong, they have to be wrong!” How do you tell your daughter that the mother she adored isn’t there anymore. Worse yet, how do you look her in the eye knowing you had to be the one to tell the doctors to stop trying to keep her mother alive, keep her here? It’s a horrible burden to know you have crushed your child’s life, and I did it. I didn’t have a choice, but that doesn’t make it better. I did it just the same.
From there I made a solemn vow: we are better together. No matter what happens, even if we have to move, we are ALL going to move. We are stronger together, and no matter how hard the situation has been, I love and adore those children. I survive and continue to get up every morning, put my pants on and walk one foot in front of the other because those four kids look at me to be the example of what they should do. I spend my day, hopefully, leading by example. At night, they don’t see me stare at the empty bed and talk to her out loud, asking for help and not getting it.
What people don’t understand is my job isn’t to be their friend, not all the time. It is my job to be their Dad, 24/7. Coddling them isn’t helping. But preparing them is. I didn’t go out and immediately buy a ’68 Les Paul Deluxe. (OK, I got a Fender Espirit, but it was reeeaaaalllly cheap!) They didn’t get brand new Nintendo 3DS’s. (But I buy them books and take them to the occasional movie!) I’ll never replace their Mom, it just cannot be done. But I can do the best I can to prepare them. That’s what raising them SHOULD be. They may want the DVD’s and toys, but if that’s all they got and I turned away and sulked all day, they’d be worse off than when I started.
The storm is an apt analogy to our lives. As Stevie Ray said: “I guess we just couldn’t stand the weather!” It all got torn up, sucked away with her when she left. We are moving ahead, barely a step at a time, fighting the wind that is against us, but we’re moving. And that’s the biggest thing, forward trajectory.
A storm’s a comin’ . . . and we’re heading right into it. No place we’d rather be.
It actually started a few weeks back when my oldest daughter caught a bug of some sort. She was sincerely sick, and being 16 I let her stay home to rest on her own. It’s not my preference, but what am I to do?
It’s all a case of household economics. I mentioned before that I left my job. The reality is, the job I left, on paper, showed me working for the company for more than a decade. It wasn’t just that I loved the people I worked with, particularly early on when I worked in Texas for them. But I was embedded, long-term, with a deep relationship with the legal department, who had helped bolster my knowledge of writing a script without getting sued. I had finally reached the point where I would get 3 weeks vacation, although every vacation request I put in was returned with a fair amount of guilt for being out of the office for more than 24 hours. Never mind that the boss left town for a week to interview for another job once. The biggest thing was that sick time. I can get over everything else. I certainly feel it was morally reprehensible to force me our just a couple weeks after I placed my wife’s body in the ground. But the time off, the personal days, holidays, all of it were things I needed as a single Dad.
So with a new job, no sick time, no vacation time (I’m in the hole, actually) Abbi stayed home. I excused her absences, calling the school. Didn’t matter. Miss 2 days, a whopping 80 points from PE, and you have to make up 8 days. Why? How the f*%k should I know?! It makes little sense. Do parents out there actually excuse their kids because they just don’t WANT to go to PE class? What the hell kind of parenting is that? Even when Andrea was around I wouldn’t have done that!
So make up the hours, she did. But then, so did I. First was that lovely 5k my body is still thanking me for. Now, Frolf. That’s right, in a move that could only be in California, the makeup hours for PE couldn’t be at the driving range a mere 5 minutes from our house. Oh, no, we have to play frisbee golf. Not just frisbee golf, either, but frolf in a place populated by the strangest group of shirtless thugs in tribal tattoos and facial hair “teeing off” behind groups of hippy’s that look like a gaggle of clones from the Mystery Machine, if they all dressed like Shaggy and smelled like Scooby and Scrappy. This “sport” (and I use THAT term very loosely) was played in a park (again, loose definition) whose fairway was so uneven and neglected that you could see the water channels in the hardened mud that was more populated with burrs than anything green. Into this wonderful world walked myself and the 4 kids.
All through the process, I kept thinking how Andrea would never have gone for this. Beyond the anger with having to make up 8 classes for the 2 Abbi missed, to subject us to the most insane of activities in a group of questionable characters would have pushed her catatonic. Never mind that toward the end her knees were in such horrible shape that walking up and down dusty hills with no cushioning in her knees would have tortured her.
This is not painting a poor picture of Andrea. The men in front of us used the f-word about twice per phrase. Not that I am easily offended, but I have a pair of 8-year-olds here with me. Hannah is one of the kindest and most innocent 12-year-olds I have ever known. To expose them to this was beyond silly. But we needed the extra 10 points from this to go with the 20 (that’s right, only 20 points for running a freaking 5k to help prevent SEX TRAFFICKING!) from the race she was going to hopefully make up the points she missed.
We had a lot of fun, though. Once we’d left the thugs and hippy’s ahead and behind us, it was the 5 of us. Alone in the woods. It’s an apt metaphor, I suppose. We are very much alone in the woods right now.
I realize it’s been half a year. Sometimes, I think people are obsessed with making sure that you know you’re going to be OK. They want to make sure that you know you’re going to heal and then move on, start dating, even fall in love again. Why? Because our society and Hollywood have told us we have to. That’s my conclusion. Tom Hanks loses his wife in “Sleepless in Seattle” (Andrea’s favorite Rom-Com, by the way) and they all tell him that. I like his angry rant, by the way. “Love yourself, love another, hug yourself, hug your therapist, or work…work will help. Work will get you through!” (copyright Nora Ephron and her distributors. This is quoted but not a direct quotation, by the way) When they tell him he’ll date again he says “yeah, it’ll be simple, I’ll just grow another heart.” No offense, everyone, but I’m still at that point. Love again? Move on? Please. The funny thing is, even after all that, even after all the arguing and fighting, Tom Hanks meets someone else and falls in love. That easily. What you never hear about is how “Annie” reacted to having to help parent a kid that she didn’t start raising. Happily ever after? Perhaps, but we will never know. What, did she move in with him? Did she drop her best friend Rosie O’Donnell? What about work? Magic didn’t get Annie a job at the Seattle Post Intelligencer instead of the New York Times, I don’t believe! Yeah, it’s THAT easy.
Then there’s the reality of our own, singular, now set in our ways single-parent personalities. I got lucky, folks. Let’s talk for a minute about how I met Andrea. We worked together. I was this lanky (Yeah, I’m a fat-ass now, get over it) geeky kid with a bad pre-Bieber haircut and zero self-confidence. She was drop-dead gorgeous. She’d just gotten back from visiting family in Arizona, tanned, sun-bleached blonde hair, with a white blouse, blue jeans with holes in the knees that revealed just a little of the tanned skin beneath. She wore her sunglasses on the top of her head, and being from the West Coast, the staff jokingly called her “Hollywood” when she wore them up there, forgetting Northern and Southern CA are as different as France and England.
But she found me. Not the lanky kid who thought he was the next Stevie Ray Vaughan. She found ME. Do you know why I’m where I am today? Because of her. I didn’t have the confidence to handle things the way they are. Sure, we fought, we butted heads, she was frustrated that I loved being a musician so much and I was frustrated that she was so worried about our financial status all the time. But I loved her. From the moment we started talking to each other. So after 18 years married and 20 together, how do you shove that aside and make room for someone else? Plus, to be practical, talk about logistics. I have 4 kids. 4. How do you broach that subject with someone? “Hi, you’re cute, want to meet my four kids?”
No, not now. Maybe not ever. I can’t say. Love is schizophrenic, my friends. It’s powerful and it’s dangerous. It can create monuments and it can tear apart societies. It can force a man to write an entire album about his best friend’s wife! It hurts so much to know she’s gone, and I want to keep the pain right now. Every synapse that heals feels like it’s taking a small bit of her memory away from me. I want to feel better but I want to revel in it. How do you meet someone or move on when you enjoy the depression and pain? I’m not an LSD tablet in my Bryllcream away from being Syd Barrett, but there are days that the look in my eyes is like two black holes in the sky, and sadly I like it that way.
So when people tell me I’m doing awesome and that Andrea would be proud, I still can’t bring myself to believe it, even if it might be true. I can see how this really was a partnership and the hole ripped open when she took a piece of me with her is still pretty raw. Andrea might have found a way around the running and frolfing, but I never got a chance to ask her about these things while she was here. Now, she’s gone.
Every day I get an email, a tweet, a text, something from a friend or relative that says Andrea’s helping them. She’s everywhere. Everywhere but with the people who need her the most. I’m glad she’s so tirelessly helping everyone else with their problems, but I’d love to, just once, get a clear indication of what the hell I’m supposed to do from her divine intervention.
Where everyone sees signs of Andrea helping them I see laundry and desserts needing to be made…and Mr. T playing frolf with Shaggy, Scooby and Scrappy.
I try very hard to keep a balance of activities for all the kids. I learned this from my parents, though the time frame between children is different and they didn’t have 4 of them, 2 of them twins.
As a result, I volunteered to do a 5K for my oldest on Saturday. It sounds so innocuous, that number. 5K. It is only when you get to the starting line, surrounded by people, having avoided a lick of training or otherwise powerful exercise, at it sinks in you are going to have to traverse 3.1 miles. Now, I have lost a little bit of weight in the last few months, 15 pounds or so, but it isn’t through exercise and focus. It is because my day begins around 6am, sometimes earlier, and doesn’t end until sometime after 11. Often, I don’t sit down in a chair until after 10pm. I move around, walk, cook, even walk a mile or more most days frowork in order to get into better shape.
But 3 miles, when your daughter is running and you have only walked, is mammoth. Abbi surpassed me early, texting me through the course and telling me when she passes mile 1, mile 2 and then the finish.
I made it, of course, but not quickly. What really surprised me was the odd conglomeration of people. Many women showed up with neatly groomed hair, their makeup done up, dressed in designer pink and purple jogging suits at were better suited for clubbing than for running. It was a great cause, the end of sex trafficking of young girls, but I could hardly believe the people surrounding me.
Still, by 9am we had run the entire race, showered and moved on to events of the day. I cleaned, went the store, and headed to get my other 3 kids from their aunt’s house.
Abbi was spending the night at a friend’s. The reason being it was homecoming at school, and she had no date. It is here I miss Andrea so terribly. I had no idea how to deal with the issues of a young girl who feels so dejected. At best, I was terrible at dealing with the dating world. The few dates I had as a kid were likely disastrous at best. The later girlfriends were short relationships. I had very poor self confidence and was not particularly sure things would ever go well.
So for Andrea to even show interest in me was confounding. Here was this beautiful blonde woman, with eyes the color of the sky after a storm, asking me after an evening with friends seeing the band Rush when we were going out together again? We did, sitting up all night talking, falling asleep on the couch in each other’s arms. That was all, nothing salacious or nefarious. It was her, sparking my confidence, helping me realize I could ask her out and knowing we could have a lot of fun and still fall in love.
She was the force of nature that could help Abbi understand what it was like. For now, the best type of advice is that I just cannot make all the kids happy all the time. I would have to let her figure it out, working through the life of a high school kid on her own.
So she did it. No angry, pouting bouts of depression. She spent the night with friends.
So back to the even handed activities. Where Abbi took me to a run, the other three were obsessed with the movie Real Steel. Here we were, at the end of the day, my shins screaming at me because I ran farther than I have for several years, walking up to a two hour equivalent of a celluloid Rock-em Sock-em Robots. It made their night. It also drove home the fact that sometimes it isn’t a big, major event or massive philosophical metaphor by dad. Sometimes the best thing you can do is exercise and watch a couple robots beat the snot out of each other.
There is a metaphor for life there. I just can’t figure out what it is until the ibuprofen kicks in so I can walk across the room.
Fall is school, and therefore school projects. The kids had already read their books and picked out the projects for the “visual book report” they were to do. Most kids pick a hangar and draw some pictures. Mine . . . well, they had to get creative. One son picked a book called “Noah Barleywater Runs Away”, (http://www.johnboyne.com/ is the author’s website) focused on apple trees and a mystery in the woods. So obviously we had to make a tree and post the note cards on apple branches attached to the turning leaves.
I both adore and despise the store Michaels. I adore the fact that I can get most the art materials I need. I loathe the fact that I HAVE to go there and pay through the nose for something that I could make on my own if I’d thought of it a week before the due date instead of the day before, like we inevitably were.
So we used a tree branch, fake leaves and fake apples for one; Silver Krylon, upside down Lazy Susan platters and glow bracelets for another.
This well before I had to put together the next day’s stuff. Weekends were always made for us to put the breakfasts and dinners together for the week.
Why? I HATE mornings. Can’t wake up, never could. But my mom always made us breakfast. Even if it was Cream of Wheat she was up and made it, so I do it too. 6am, or earlier, I’m up. My method to ease the pain is advanced cooking. This week’s breakfasts? Pancakes. I was up until Midnight, cooking, cooling and sealing in Ziplocks, but we had buttermilk pancakes warmed in the toaster for days!
The apple tree project reminded me of Andrea. She always had amazing ideas. I had to implement them a lot of the time, but that’s what a good partnership is.
Fall is our time of year. A good friend told me not long ago that this was our season, we really pulled out the stops in the Fall. Our house was always decorated, the smell of pumpkin spices and ruddy colored candles and decorations filling the houses where we lived.
That wasn’t what I loved. I always loved it for selfish reasons. The season always brought about a crisp bite to the air that cleaned out the pollen and haze of summer and made the colors bright. That, and we got to bundle up and be close.
Andrea was gorgeous. There’s no disputing that, and I should have been thanking my stars that she put up with someone like me. In the fall she always was just so wonderful. Early on she’d have some sort of t-shirt with a pair of soft overalls, or a big brown sweater that you swore looked like corduroy but was really soft as silk.
And it was the time of year to just be close. There was something irresistible about reaching out and just holding her: the contact; the feel of her cheek or the tickle of her hair on my nose. This was the time of year I wanted nothing more than to grab her and just never let go.
Now, overalls are coming back, but not like I remember Andrea wearing. There’s something very alone about being in the cool morning air in the house and knowing you’re waking up to that same chill to see the vacancy on the pillow next to you.
That, and her birthday was the day before Halloween.
I always messed up her birthday. I can’t think of more than a handful that went well. My job, you see, is in television news, and the biggest, most important ratings period every year is November. The start of that ratings calendar was almost always the Thursday before her birthday. We’d done this for years, but she never could forgive the industry’s pull that kept me at work until the evening hours. We got in so many arguments, and I saw so much horrible disappointment in her face every year.
I’d kill to try and fix those. It seemed such a big deal then. Now, I live with disappointing her knowing I couldn’t get it right. You can tell me all you want how much she knew I loved her, I live with this pattern of dysfunction forever now, with no way to make it up.
She brightened up the house. I loved having her there to whisk through, pushing the boundaries of what we had to decorate any hovel in which we lived. Now we’ve reached our first Fall in our new life. We will celebrate the seasons, but without her it won’t burn quite so brightly.
This is the inaugural post of my new journey. The idea came from a saying I put on the wall with some photos of my kids.
“Home. Where our story begins.” That statement couldn’t be more true in our situation.
The best way to describe our lives now IS the beginning of a new story. Like every good book, every tale that holds your interest, there is this sort of ambiguous beginning. You meet the characters at some point in their lives, but inevitably you end up with glimpses into the backstory that got the protagonists where they are.
So let me catch you up, if you’re just clicking here.
On March 26th, 2011, my wife passed away. To say it was unexpected falls entirely short of the mark, but no phrase would actually hit the bullseye. Complications from pneumonia were the official cause, though there were other factors I won’t detail in this post that contributed to her passing.
What makes this such a tragic and life-changing event, beyond the horrific loss of my love, partner and best friend, is the string of events that swirled around the weeks of her passing. She died on our 18th anniversary, at 8:30am. Within a few weeks, we had to leave our home. The combination of losing 1 income and an unforgiving bank forced us to look for a place to lease within just a few weeks of her passing. Two weeks after returning to work, my boss informed me she was demoting me and cutting my salary by 1/3. She said I should thank her, it would give me more time to deal with my kids and less stress. Nevermind that living in California with the lost of tens of thousands of dollars in salary made it impossible for me to live.
So how is this a beginning, when it looks like the end?! Well, that is the beginning of the story, and the point of this first post.
I found a house to lease, from a property management company who went to bat for me with a home owner who took a risk on someone who lost half their income and had questionable credit.
I got a better job. Not just better, they created a position for me, in an economy when new jobs are hard to find. And the new job is with people who appreciate my input, want my opinions, value my work and understand that I am now a single father of 4 children and they have to come first.
From this point on you will get an indication, hopefully from daily posts, of my new family’s struggle to walk this new road. It’s not a simple story. It’s not an easy one. You may feel at times like you’ve walked into a bad episode of “Lost” with flashbacks, emotion, and horrific pain. Still, I hope it doesn’t turn you off.
This isn’t an attempt to tell people how to survive loss, nor is it a guidebook on how to be a parent. Like others before me, I’m making this up as I go along. By the same token, I’ll accept comments, but please understand this is an outlet for me. I’m not asking for advice, just typing my thoughts and probably venting a lot of frustration.
So look forward to observations, frustrations, probably a lot of music, pictures and whatever else comes into the blender that our lives were thrust into.