I sit here, now, in the Denver International Airport, a woman lying on the floor to one side with painted toes and her best Jackie “O” sunglasses on hoping that I notice her trying not to be noticed while we survived the drunken sot who thought the best way to survive getting on an airplane was to drink himself to oblivion rather than a Xanax or a Benadryl, which would have been cheaper and let him stay on the airplane, and I realized things are hard, maybe harder than ever, but it could be a lot harder.
My whole point of going home to see my folks, brother, and avoid the anniversary of my wife, Andrea’s, passing was to get to a place where we could avoid being around the mass of people who might mean well but would inundate us with thoughts and well-wishes. In reality, though, we got inundated anyway and we looked at all the message because we just couldn’t help ourselves. It’s too easy to wallow in misery and hope that it feels that much better when you stop. The problem is, it doesn’t stop and you don’t feel better.
One thing that did cross my mind, though, as we walked down the security passageway at Eppley Airfield, was that it was harder to go back to California than it was to come to Nebraska and face the anniversary of what we lost. The day came and went, the kids surviving OK – partly because of the exercise of our video – and we weren’t better or worse. We were the same. The reality that hit me is how much I miss my family and the peace of mind of just being near home.
I don’t dislike California, let’s get that straight. My father has a soaring loathing of the state and all it stands for. He visits and stays there because of us and that’s all there is. At his age, hating to fly, driving to see us may not be an easy prospect for much longer. The kids go out every summer and spend a couple months with them. It’s not that I miss the break or want my parents to wait on me. They don’t, nor would I let them – and God help me if I thought to tell my Mom that I wanted her to. You’d find pieces of me floating in the Elkhorn River a few years from now. But I was able to endure and stand up, just like they helped me one year ago when I needed it.
I should never have made any decisions in the hours, days and weeks following Andrea’s death. So many of them had to be made, though, and as hard as it was for my Dad to be there and endure the grief and sadness that hung over our lives like a fog he knew it was easier to help me than to make me decide on my own.
This last week was no exception. I could have stayed home, taken the days off, sat there and wallowed, but I knew that’s exactly what I would do if I stayed. Leaving the checkpoint to the gate was harder than the week itself because I felt the distance weighing on me. My kids see where we are as home. That’s what matters and is most important. If the didn’t, I’d have probably moved home in a heartbeat. The offer was even on the table. My Dad didn’t see too many options before I got my new job. . .neither did I.
So as I left, knowing I had to, I realized it’s going to be a long time before I move on. Before we move on. I cannot tell you the things that trigger my sadness. The clock chiming 9pm in O’Neill reminded me of leaving my wedding reception on that day. Watching a documentary on the band “The Swell Season” makes me tear up and get goosebumps because it touches me in the same spaces that are still bleeding from losing that piece of myself when Andrea left. But a simple day, the turning from 11:59pm to Midnight did not, and I was up until then. Yet that night, remembering my wedding night, the lack of humor I had that night, being angry at her being hungover and then too tipsy on the limo ride to the hotel . . . those things weigh on my mind.
As I said, it will be a long time before I can exorcise the demons from my marriage, the pieces I wish I could forget but seem seared into my grey matter like a cattle brand.
So I sit in the airport seats, looking at my children moving on through the day, and I realize I don’t have it so bad. I could be one of the people I see walking around, tattoos in places that peek through like they’re trying to hide, but really hoping to get attention. The single people who look woefully depressed to be alone at the airport and realizing I had it good for awhile. The woman next to me, lying on the floor, trying so hard to act like she’s inconspicuously aloof but peeking through her sunglasses hoping others will notice her.
Me, I want to get through the day, knowing full well that for now – maybe I never will – I cannot see a moment tick by without thinking about her in sadness. I look forward to the day that I can be reminded of our wedding day and not see it as the day our marriage started and ended together.
I am going to make a lot of people very angry, just to let you know, when I criticize the following statement:
“I am my kids’ Mom/Dad”.
I don’t dispute its accuracy, I am my kids’ Dad. It’s a fact, a statement, a truth. But what bothers me is the use of that phrase as if it’s the end-all be-all of a person’s life.
Now, don’t hang me up on the cross yet. I don’t say this to offend nor do I say it in order to belittle parenting, single-parenting, parenting alone by necessity (that would be me) or life as a stay-at-home Mom or Dad. What bothers me is the fact that some people make this statement as the only definition of themselves. I think it does a disservice to any child when they believe that they are the center of the universe, that they are the definition of their parents. I wasn’t. In fact, if I had been, I’d have been spoiled rotten. (OK, maybe I was a little spoiled, but I wasn’t mean, I don’t think) I had chores. My two brothers and I did the dishes every night. EVERY night. Not just loading them into the dishwasher and leaving, but cleaning up the table, wiping everything down, cleaning the pans, running the dishwasher and then unloading it when it was finished. If it was on the fritz, which happened, we had to wash it all by hand. I mowed the lawn, trimmed the trees, watered the garden, watered the lawn and trees, used a weed eater on the areas around the hedges, pulled weeds, all of it. In winter I shoveled the sidewalk and driveway. I salted the drive. It was my responsibility to make sure that the block heaters in the car (if you don’t live in a cold climate, nevermind, will take too long to explain). We cleaned our own bathrooms, folded laundry, vacuumed the carpets, all of that.
This, my friends, is not unusual nor is it an inordinate amount of work. I lived, I survived, and I never tell my kids I walked to school in the snow uphill both ways. I just drove in the ice and shoveled the walk.
My Mom stayed at home. It was her and my Dad’s choice, but at no point did I think that she was defined solely by the fact that she was our Mom. We were never ignored, it was like it was her job, but they lived in a beautiful harmony that I only hoped I’d get a piece of.
My kids don’t do near as much as I did. It’s not a complaint . . . well, yes it is, but not my point . . . it’s just to say that we have to survive through working together. As much adjustment as I’ve had to make, some of the kids still have to accept their own adjustment, and I know it’s not easy. They don’t have my Mom, staying home, making sure they’re on track. But it’s not the quantity of the time, it’s the quality. (I can’t believe I wrote that, I know, it’s cheesy, but it’s so damn correct I can’t find a better phrase!)
Here’s the thing, I came home yesterday, and after being at work for a mere 8 hours, they home after a half-day of school, the house looked like a bomb had gone off. The main room, the place with the dining room table, the Christmas tree, my office and gear . . . was a mess. The kitchen is full of dishes. (yeah, yeah, smart ass, it’s supposed to be full, of dishes, these are DIRTY dishes) The boys and Hannah’s rooms look like demilitarized zones. All in less than a few days’ time.
Now, I have a hard time changing those roles. During the morning hours, I’m Dad. I’m cook, breakfast maker, barrista, juicer, clothier and sock darner. I am parental and sign the homework folders. In-between I find my laptop and gear for work, check the emails in case I need to go somewhere before heading to the office or have a source I need to meet to get a story. Then I turn into chauffeur or taxi driver (the real kind, not DeNiro). I spend the day as reporter, producer, legal expert, kind ear, shoulder to cry on, philosopher, writer, desk associate, and investigative journalist. I come home and have to take those hats off again, turning into massage therapist (for the daughter who’s started exercising again) drill sergeant – because NONE of the chores are done – laundress, mathematician, uncle, brother-in-law, Santa’s helper, cook, chef, baker, lunch lady, bartender (for the lunch drinks), boy scout, fire pit fire starter, listener, and both Mom and Dad. I take on both those roles, and it’s not easy changing from one to the other. I don’t know how my parents did it individually. If I’m lucky, at insanely low volume, in the depth of night, I become musician for a few, playing and writing a bit more of my songs I’ve started, and then go back to writer for this blog . . . and then coma patient. I wouldn’t call what I get sleep.
I’m not alone in this, by the way. My Dad wasn’t just my Dad. He was a Pharmacist. He was a boss. He was funny, Persian, tall, bearded, classy, smart, a collector of old cars, a restorer of the Austin Healey he owns, a carpenter, a lover of music and my Dad. None of those was higher on the totem pole than Dad, for sure, but he was Dad. Mom was a genealogist, researcher, census searcher, cemetery surveyor, historical society president, historian, baker, chef, cook, tailor, and also Mom.
To use that silly, singular, “cute” phrase: “I am my kids’ Dad” is so limiting. My definition of myself is ever-changing. When I left O’Neill, Nebraska for college, I was not a confident person. I was gangly, scared, lacked confidence, geeky, lanky, and probably a little mean without wanting to be. Then I met Andrea, and my definition changed. I was none of those things any more (well, geeky, I still had to love my Doctor Who and Clapton records). I was so out of my depth, a geek who deserved far less and ended up with the pretty, California sun-drenched blonde. I was her boyfriend. I was her fiance. I was . . . her husband, and all that came with it: love, shoulder to cry on, pillar of strength, weak in the knees, infatuated schoolboy, enamored lover, best friend . . . and heartbroken widower.
You see, our definitions change. If I’m defined only by being Dad, what does that say to my kids? Parenting is the greatest, most noble and wonderful thing I do. I do it alone because it’s worth it! But it’s not all I do, and I want my kids to know they are the sum-total of what they become, not the singular things they do. If I was only Andrea’s husband, my life would be over, the kids would suffer, and I’d either have died from the wound in my heart that is still bleeding or I’d wish for the end to come. There are days I’m there, but most days I see those four amazing kids and I strive to be better in everything else.
So sure, I’m “my kids’ Dad.” I’m also musician, journalist, baker, chef, researcher, genealogist, Jeff and Kathy’s son, Mike and Adam’s brother, Amy and Amy’s brother-in-law, angry son-in-law, tenacious muckraker, scared home renter, kid project co-artist, pie maker, butcher, baker, sometime candlestick maker . . .
I am who I’m meant to be today. I am the writer of my story.
I’m not perfect nor am I meant to be. I’m Dave. I don’t fail if I try to be more than I am now. I only fail if I try to be someone else.