Tag Archives: single father

The Ultimate Question

No, it’s not the question that leads to “life, the universe and everything.”  (That was for all the Douglas Adams fans)

The question I’ve struggled with, and until just last night didn’t have the courage to ask, was one that’s haunted me for two years.  Just a little more than two years, I guess you could say.

The day Andrea died wasn’t just a wash of grief and loss.  For me, that day was filled with a great deal of panic and fear.  That fear hadn’t really every left me until a very long discussion I had with my oldest daughter, Abbi.

Andrea
Andrea

Let me give you some perspective.  Andrea, my now late wife, was ill.  Not lingering, cancerous, genetic or otherwise ill . . . she caught a cold.  That’s it.  The cold went into her chest on a Friday/Saturday night at the end of March, 2011.  By that Tuesday she was in the hospital having a hard time breathing.  She had an infection on her leg that turned into cellulitis because her circulation was poor and her immune system was fighting infections on several fronts.  By the time Thursday morning had come she was on a respirator.

I had a lot of things to contend with that week.  My kids were still in school and as far as I knew Andrea was going to come through.  I didn’t want to tell the kids their Mom was on a breathing tube because I’d seen what affect those have.  Due to the infection in her leg, that was spreading, the kids couldn’t come into the hospital room.  By Friday night, March 25th, she appeared to be coming out of the infection.  By this point I thought it was okay to tell the kids that their Mom seemed to be responding, particularly to the sound of my voice.  She squeezed my hand.  She moved her eyes.

Here’s where my ultimate question comes in.  I told the kids their Mom was doing better.  I admitted to them she was on a respirator but she was starting to breathe more on her own and the machine was doing less work.  If it continued to improve they’d be able to take her off the respirator.

But Saturday morning they called and asked me to come to the hospital.  No mention of whether it was bad, just that Andrea was “in some distress.”  When I got there . . . let’s just say what it was.  She was dying.  No ceremony, no Doctor House moment of miraculous salvation.  Her kidneys, lungs, possibly other organs had failed.  The pneumonia had turned to sepsis, poisoning her blood and taking down her body.  She’d been without oxygen to her brain for so long even if they managed to revive her they weren’t sure how much of Andrea was actually in there.

When they asked if they should continue…and I told them to stop…I broke down.  Not just because she was gone, though that was immediately what I thought.  Believe it or not, though, the most immediate, panic-inducing thought was this: “the kids will think I lied to them.”

Abbi and me
Abbi and me

That’s right.  In our home, particularly to Andrea, lying was the 8th deadly sin.  You could probably murder someone and she’d have been forgiving but lie to her . . . you were in trouble.  In the swimming, swirling white fog of immediate grief I was getting dizzy from loss and then from the horrible realization that I had to go home and tell the kids that their Mom wasn’t coming home.  Worse, they didn’t get to see her before she left.  But most terrible to me was the worry that they would be angry with me because I told them she was getting better.

Then last night Abbi and I had a very long, very emotional conversation about a myriad of things.  99% of those I will never tell another person, and it’s up to her if she does.

But I told her I always worried that the kids thought I had lied to them, that I deceived them into thinking it would be okay and it got out of control.  I hadn’t, I truly thought Andrea would get better, but I was so scared for two years they were mad at me for that.
“No, Dad,” Abbi said, tears streaming down her face.  “We never thought that, Dad, not ever.”
It was both liberating and confusing for me, mainly because I’d worried about it for so long.
“But I told you she was getting better. . . ”
“But Dad, we knew you were trying to help her.  And…” Abbi was having a hard time with the conversation, and it was hard to get it out…”I had thought about this before, Dad.  If you had died first, I don’t know if we’d have been able to cope.”

Abbi broke down there because she felt guilty for even thinking that.  I don’t know what would have happened if the roles had been reversed, but it’s not worth speculating.  They weren’t.  We both felt the relief that things truly weren’t as bad as we’d thought.

The guilt we feel, you see, is not a survivors guilt.  It’s that we didn’t just survive, we’re actually doing really well.  Maybe better than we would have been in other circumstances.  Things aren’t perfect, not by any stretch of the imagination.  I still live check to check.  I still worry about the kids and whether they’re coping.

But knowing the answer to the ultimate question, the one that weighed so heavily on me, was liberating.  The moving on and living we’ve done hadn’t been for nothing.

We’re thriving, and now we’re even more together than before.

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Yelling, Shouting, Frustrating!

I hate yelling at my middle daughter.  I absolutely loathe it, as a matter of fact.

The other day I talked about how she was starting to show massive signs of her mother coming through her personality – and not in the best way.  Last night clinched it.

 

Andrea
Andrea

Andrea, you have to understand (if you’ve never read my blog), passed away two years ago, on our eighteenth wedding anniversary.  She went in on a Tuesday with a cough and passed away in the hospital on Saturday.  My daughter, Hannah, was joined to Andrea at the hip, and they were inseparable.  For that reason, I worried about my relationship with my middle daughter after Andrea died.

But back to the similarities:  Andrea, when we were first married and first had children in particular, had a habit of picking the absolute perfect moments (for her) of hitting every horrible emotional button of mine.  She would start an argument (or I would, it takes two, I know!) and get my slow build going.  Then she’d needle the little things that bothered me.  None of them had anything to do with the argument at hand, they’d just come out anyway.  Then she’d tell me to lower my voice, the kids might hear, and when the little ones would round the corner throw an emotional grenade at me so I would just blow.  Right when the kids were there.

She always apologized, but for years I looked like the angry guy who yelled and hollered and she was calm and cold.

Bear in mind, there was never anything evil, violent, or worse that came.  Just anger.  Pure, unadulterated anger that she could fuel like Ronsonol on a fire.  When I told a doctor about this after Andrea passed away, that I worried Hannah would only remember those things, the doctor told me it was best she knew that we were communicating.  “You never got violent, nor did Andrea.  You never threatened to leave.  At the end of the night, you were in the same bed together and up the next morning.  She saw you were talking, though loudly, and at least you were communicating.”

Hannah in the middle
Hannah in the middle

Hannah has learned those very buttons to push, though.  In the worst way.

Where I had an equal relationship with my wife, Hannah has the feeling she’s in that position now that she’s tall, hormonal, and graduating middle school.

She isn’t.

Last night the boys came and informed me that payment for their school pictures was due tomorrow.  This, I knew, but I appreciated the reminder.

Then came Hannah, hormonal, angry, and threw out that hers were due today, “Daaaad!”  and proceeded to inform me that her teacher informed everyone of this, that I was late . . . and wouldn’t stop.  Just informing me wasn’t enough, there was an accusation of impropriety.  That’s where I threw her the Dad glare.

“You know, Hannah, it’s nonsense that your pictures are due a day before your brothers’ pictures.”
“So what, Dad?!”
“Okay . . . let me put it to you this way, then.  You want me to remember this and do what you want, when Abbi and I have done the dishes for the last week.  When you did your chores day before yesterday you didn’t finish.  Dishes were everywhere.  I can’t get any more garbage in the garbage can.”
She started to give me more attitude in the least pleasant of voices.
“For the last time, Hannah . . . I have no money.  None.  I get paid tomorrow!  I have a car that has 12 miles left of gas.  12.  That’s it.  I had to plan it out just this much due to your sister’s college deposit, your tuition, all that!”
She moped.
“In addition, HANNAH!  I have THIS much work to do (picture me with my arms wide, like I want a hug) and THIS much time to do it all in! (picture me with my hands next to each other.)  Then, when I have to do YOUR chores on top of cooking meals, making your lunches – which I do every…single…day…and then cook dinner, laundry, vacuum, dust, all of that . . . I have THIS much to do and THIS much time to do it in. Did I mention that I worked 10 hours yesterday and did THIS much work after it too?!”

Hannah’s eyes got glassy, but she was angry.  I saw it in her face.

“So when I miss some little deadline . . . like a freaking packet of pictures that I know damn well they’ll just make me buy the whole packet next week anyway . . . and your brothers’ pictures aren’t due until tomorrow . . . you might want to cut me just a little slack.  You see when I come home I do more work.  You come home, slog into your bedroom, that is so full of crap snakes could be living on the floor you wouldn’t know because of the layers of garbage all over the FLOOR!”

It’s hear the anger left her face.

“So when I missed one little deadline, or wait until the last minute to fill out a field trip form . . . maybe you might consider cutting me just a little freaking slack?!”

Hannah went up to the same said bedroom and shut her door.  Her sister, Abbi, looked at me and though grinning, I could tell she thought I’d gotten a bit too angry.

My girls...Hannah on the left, Abbi on the right
My girls…Hannah on the left, Abbi on the right

“Too much?”
“No . . . I just don’t know how she got it in her head she could act that way.”
“You know that if it had been your grandma none of this would even happen.  She’d have beaten us then made us do it anyway.”
“Oh . . . yeah.  But you’d have deserved it.”
“True.”

I sighed.  I hate getting angry.  It really, honestly, doesn’t happen often.  In fact, it’s very rare.  But . . . Hannah is learning the wrong things to do: the button pushing and the manipulation to try and get what she thinks is most important at the moment.  School pictures or food?  Those were the choices I gave her.

Still, I felt bad about how angry I got.

I got up from the couch, moved to head up the stairs to have a calm discussion with her.

But then I looked and realized it . . . she’d managed to disappear without doing the dishes yet again.  Some things never change.

 

Everybody Ought to Make a Change

It’s not often I upset my oldest daughter in a superior fashion, but I did it not long ago.

The catalyst for the anger really isn’t important . . . and it’s personal so I’m not going to go into major details of what happened.

But it upset her, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since the first weeks after losing my wife, her mother.  That, in turn, upset me.  It’s not that her crying or anger or upset behavior was what did it.  What made me feel the worst was the fact that I had been selfish and ignored any kinds of signs that built up to this display of emotion.  That was silly of me since I’d been keenly aware of her brother, who had not dealt, completely, with his mother’s passing, either.

But in talking with therapists, colleagues, relatives, friends, hell I talked with all but the plumber who lives down the street . . . it’s abundantly clear that my actions alone didn’t cause what was the teenage equivalent of steam blowing out of her ears.

My oldest, Abbi
My oldest, Abbi

This is a year . . . for that matter, it’s a season . . . full of change for her.  What she didn’t realize is that it’s a major time filled with change for all of us.  In the middle of the chaos of her emotions, still swimming – even if she wouldn’t admit it – from hormones and grief, she is facing a massive change in her life.

This wouldn’t even be the biggest issue.  Every kid – hell every family, and make no mistake, we’re all having to face these changes – goes through the stress and uncertainty of choosing and eventually moving to a college.  This signals a change in your life because your daily life is now under your control and yours alone, for the most part.  Sure, just like me, when she needs help, she’ll call her Dad and I’ll do whatever I can whenever I can.  She’s chosen a school on the left side of the country so she’s not so far away I can’t help.

But this breakdown came in the middle of wondering if she’d actually be able to choose or get into one of the colleges she wanted.  Her dream school was NYU, but beyond the fact that there is a major amount of work and craziness to get into their drama department, she also realized that their tuition – with no financial aid given at all – was equivalent to 2/3 my salary a year.  Not something you should take in school loans for an industry she’ll likely make little or nothing at in the first few years.

But add to that the fact that this change comes after two years of horrific, major changes for her.  She lost her mother.  Her father changed jobs (out of necessity).  We lost our home.  Then . . . for the same reason she couldn’t go to NYU . . . I had to move her out of the private school she was attending due to the fact I just couldn’t afford it.  We went from a dual-income family to a sole provider in a week’s time.

Moving schools scarred her.  It really did.  She lost a lot of daily friendship . . . daily friendship that just reminded her, day after day, after day, that she wasn’t there by sending her emails, Facebook posts, Tweets, and whatever other social media reminders of “miss you!” and “wish you were here!” and “why did you have to go?!”  That wore on her.  Then trying to make friends at a school where everyone by junior year had found their social circles . . . even worse.  Add to that the stress of boys asking cute underclass girls to prom and homecoming and you’re a senior with no date . . . for the same above reasons . . . and her life was crazy.

Then I came along with one little selfish event . . . and it wasn’t even the final straw, it was the half a broken piece of hay that flitted onto the final straw on the camel’s back and we watched the humps slam together and jiggle in their collapse as the camel himself broke in twain.

She’s doing so much better now, but the distance . . . the tiniest distance . . . it’s still there.  The tight-knit, insane closeness we always had isn’t quite as tight.

Part of it is my fault.  Part isn’t.  But one thing I realized, and now she has too, is that everybody ought to make a change.  Sometimes for the best…others because it’s just part of life.  None of us wanted the crazy two years we’ve had, but then it came like a storm through the streets of our lives.  We nailed down everything we could, but sometimes . . . things just float away.  That’s what happened with us.

My gorgeous girl . . . junior prom
My gorgeous girl . . . junior prom

But with a college chosen, school nearing its end, the new life, without people asking about what happened to her Mom, or how much work she has to do, or her father’s personal life or how he cares for 4 kids alone . . . that all goes away.

It was a good thing that for once, she sees this, finally, as a change for the better.

Of the sanitary napkin…

My girls...Hannah on the left, Abbi on the right
My girls…Hannah on the left, Abbi on the right

This morning saw something that doesn’t happen very often . . . my two daughters arguing with each other.  Not screaming, “I hate you!” kind of arguments but just . . . sniping at each other.

I, of course, was harping on the middle daughter, Hannah, already because the kitchen – her one chore every day – was a gigantic mess.  From my peripheral vision I noticed Abbi, hair wet, towel wrapped around her diminutive form, barreling down the stairs shouting “I don’t care if you take them but tell me!”

The “them” she’s referring to, of course, is the feminine hygiene products in the home.  Apparently that time of the month had arrived for my oldest and she was out of tampons.

That’s right, I said tampons.

Yes, I’m a guy, but no . . . I’m not flabbergasted or red-faced when I say the word.  I can use lots of feminine hygienic words like maxi-pad, tampon, panty liner, period, uterine flow, Kotex, Tampax . . . need I really go on?  I was already on the way out the door to take the other three – Hannah, Noah and Sam – to school.  Knowing how an 18-year-old without these products would suffer . . . okay, I don’t know, but you know, I know.  It cannot be easy, so I shouted, on the way out the door “I’ll stop at the store after dropping them off and get you more.”

It’s a big thing for your oldest to come to terms with and embrace the fact that her father is buying tampons for her.  The middle daughter apparently cannot come to terms with that yet.  How do I know this?  Because every month I find at least one or more pairs of underwear either in the garbage – which I cannot afford to keep buying new panties every month – or in the laundry let’s say more than a week past their wear date and they’re less than pleasant.  About as pleasant as when her 9-year-old brothers sneak a pair of soiled underwear in there.

Now, before every woman on the planet starts lambasting me, let me inform you that my oldest already told me how embarrassing it is for a girl to have only her Dad to tell her these things.  I understand that.  It would be like the boys having their mother or aunt telling them the specifics of having sex . . . not really a conversation you want to have with a female authority figure.

The problem is, though, there are two older people in the house that she has: Abbi – who is really her sister and not always as responsible as she could be . . . and me.  That’s it.  You can’t call your Aunt to tell them you’re out of maxi-pads and your underwear is soiled.  You can’t tell your sister because . . . let’s face it, I’m the one who does the laundry.  I’m also the one who ends up cleaning the bathrooms – for both girls and myself.  So when that time of the month comes . . . as much as the feminine products dress their boxes up with day-glo colors and butterflies and flowers . . . it’s not the most, shall we say, sanitary of things, those sanitary napkins.

I don’t say this to complain about what women go through.  I don’t pretend I can understand what it feels like or what they go through.  But I am their father . . . I can empathize, I’ve done my best to try.  So when things happen, and I know they will, just tell me.  If you’re too embarrassed . . . then fix it yourself!  Put a liner in the trash can!  Clean your own toilet!  I’ve shown Hannah the tips – peroxide in cold water for your underwear.  Buying dark colored or black panties.  Calendars to track your cycle.  Hell . . . borrow tampons or pads from your sister, but as her sister said . . . tell them!

It should show the progress I’ve made as the sole parent and being a father that my biggest complaint about running to the store and looking specifically for the Kotex brand of tampons wasn’t going to the checkout with tampons . . . it was the fact that I got to work a half-hour late because I had to buy tampons.

But then . . . I never said it would be easy, did I?

Zipper trouble

Abbi in a different dress – prom from this last school year

It’s not what you think.  (Well, I’m not sure what you’re really thinking, but it’s not even what you’re thinking.)

So I got home the other night and my oldest daughter was trying on a dress that she pulled out of her closet.  It’s a beautiful dress, one that she wore some time ago, but not many people have seen it.  She was trying it on because the dress she wanted for Homecoming wasn’t in her size.  She tried on this particular dress even though she wanted to wear it for her prom.

As she was there, in the living room, in front of the mirror, though, I heard her grumbling at her sister, Hannah . . .

“You’re not doing it right, Hannah, you have to zip it and . . . ”
I pushed Hannah out of the way and managed to zip Abbi’s dress up in half a second.  She looked gorgeous, by the way.  She was disappointed, though, because she wanted to wear it for prom.  So I promised – considering I’ve managed to budget OK in the last few weeks – to get her a dress on Sunday.

It made her night.  She turned around and said simply, “can you . . . ” pushing her zipper toward me.
“Of course.”  Then . . . the next part just kinda slipped out.  “…not like I haven’t had a lot of experience doing this.”

Now . . . I didn’t mean it the way it sounds.  Without sounding too gratuitous, yes, I’d *ahem* removed a few of Andrea’s  dresses.  More often than not, though, it was “I’m dying in this dress…will you unzip me?” That was inevitably followed by the pad of her feet moving to the closet to remove said party dress.  The following moments were usually with her in sweat pants and a big Creighton University sweatshirt.  Not really the sexiest of scenarios.  (Though I have to admit, it was nice having her relaxed and lying in my arms.  I do miss that.)

Still . . . it’s not how my daughter took it.
“Ewww.  Thanks, have that vision in my head all night now.  Thanks, Dad.  Ugh.”

That’s what I got.  “Ugh.”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I see myself in the mirror – and even though I’ve managed to lose another 10 pounds, I can’t really look long without being a bit angry with myself for getting here.  Hoping that changes in the next couple months so I’m at least able to wear some of my clothes from a few years ago.

Still, it opens up a major question.  In weeks past, when I’ve had any time alone with any woman, my daughters have had some nitpicky issues with it.  They don’t want to see their Dad with anyone else, I’m fairly sure of that.  It’s not that they expressed the worry, but I know my kids.  I can hear it in their voices and see it in their body language.  It’s funny, too, because none of the moments I’ve had alone have been romantic ones.  They’ve been for work or just meeting for a beer with friends.  Nothing close to putting myself out there.  It really cracks me up they’re that worried for nothing.

But I don’t really use that as a litmus test.  9 years.  I’ve figured it out.  9 years is how much time I have with kids in my house.  That’s not a lot of time, when you consider I still look at Abbi and think of that little girl from 9 years ago.  In some ways the last year and a has felt like ten years.  They will start their lives and I’ll have to make some difficult choices about my own.  In some ways I see time speeding up and I’m losing a grip on the moment as well.  Time has found a way to right itself in our lives, whether we were ready for it or not.

So when I hear my daughter say “ewww” when I simply mention the ability to unzip a fancy dress it actually makes me smile.  These little moments don’t disturb or bother me any more.  They show me that we’re farther ahead than we thought right now.

Though the disgusted “ugh!” I could have lived without.

Through their eyes

Our Easter Family Photo this year.

Ever wonder how your kids see you . . . or more appropriately your actions?  This is something that has weighed on me for far longer than just the last year or so.  It was hard when I had just one – then two – little girl(s).  Then came four kids with twin boys.

When my marriage hit that stressful, swirling 7-10 year mark it was like the prophecy had to be self-fulfilled.  I didn’t have a “seven year itch” but I had a wife who was intent on seeming to push me toward it.  I work in an industry where, by nature of the fact people are on-camera all the time, is filled with . . . sorry to put it this way . . . very beautiful people.  I make no bones about that.  What that statement does not say is that they are very beautiful people I am attracted to.  Just because I happen to go out on a story with an attractive woman doesn’t automatically infer that I want to sleep with them.  In this era I was married . . . happily much of the time.

I can look back now, though, and see the lack of self-satisfaction and low self esteem my wife must have had in those years.  She’d just had one and then two children.  She wanted to lose baby weight.  She was getting flack from her father about being overweight even when she wasn’t.  The one person who never made her feel that way or told her that – to my knowledge – was me.  But that old adage of “you always hurt the ones you love” was Andrea’s mantra.  When she was upset about herself she took it out on all of us.  She was jealous of reporters I worked with.  She was angry I spent so much time at work.  I see now and then that you spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your spouse.  For me it was enjoyable to come home, though, with the person who understood and supported me.

But the image for my two girls at this point was probably their parents at each others’ throats.  Andrea had an innate ability to find the exact buttons to push that would make my blood boil and make me lose all control.  She’d shout at me and then tell me not to shout back because the kids would hear.  She’d hear our daughter coming into the living room to check on us and throw a verbal jab at me just as she was entering so I’d shout just in time to see my teary-eyed daughter walking around the corner.

Yes.  I’m saying my wife, the amazing, beautiful woman I loved, fought dirty and was unfair when she fought with me.

My worry even then was my kids would see my as an angry bully who just shouted when things went wrong.  It was even harder when the very raw nerves I tried to cover would be exposed by the person who knew exactly how to dissect my emotional walls and shut down my self-control.  I worried about this until my doctor once told me something I had never considered.  She asked if I’d ever left saying it was for good or left the house and the kids woke up with Dad not home.  I never did.  What she said pulled a weight off my shoulders like I was Atlas handing the sphere to Hercules.  She said if my kids saw that we ended up together and woke up to see us drinking coffee in the morning or heard us kiss and make up – they heard us communicating.  they had an example that we may disagree but we worked it out.  I still hate how I reacted to many of those arguments, but I almost felt a sense of accomplishment.

Now, though, I see different visions reflected from my kids’ eyes.

I want very much for the kids to see me as stable.  I want them to feel like they have a home, food, money to survive, all of that.  No, we’re not rich and I make sure they know we have our hardships – that’s a reality they are old enough to face. Still, I want them to know they have a roof, I have a job, we can eat, we can see an occasional movie, and I treat them to some things here and there.  When I feel a wave of grief or something that pulls me under I leave the room.  I am fine with them crying or saddened when they think of the loss we faced, but I want them to see me as able to handle that loss and able to prop them up when they need it, not fall apart when they do.

But here’s the thing . . . I still work in an industry where I work with attractive people and meet lots of diverse subjects.  I make friends.  I still talk with reporters from other markets.  I probably have as many female friends as male.  I don’t have the Nora Ephron When Harry Met Sally syndrome.  Sex isn’t in the way.  I’m not looking for a date; I haven’t gone on a date; I’m not sleeping with anyone.

But I’ve seen an odd sort of confusion in my kids the last few months.  I had a friend stay in my house.  I met a friend for a drink one night.  I went to lunch with another.  I’ve traded emails, all of that.  I have photographer friends from other stations who I’ve met for a beer.  I have reporter friend in Dallas who I’ve decided is my little sister even though she’s not related in any way.  I write and am friends with Good Enough Mother Rene Syler.  More than half are male friends.  Many are not.

I try to reassure my kids that I’m painfully resistable.  I am overweight – by 28 pounds – at least.  I have grey hair.  I have wrinkles on my face.  I am, at least for awhile still, a bit broken.  I lived half my life with the same woman.  I’m not jumping into the dating pool.  Not now.  Not sure when I might if ever.  I wonder sometimes if the kids are less worried about my doing something and more worried about my getting hurt.

At the end of the day, I think they know I’m keeping no secrets from them.  I have forced no people upon my children.  Stability is compromised by secrecy so I keep no secrets from them. If out of the blue one day I decided to go on a date they’d know.

Still, what I have to get across to them – and apparently haven’t gotten across very well – is that as much as I love and adore them; as much as I enjoy and soak in every fraction of every second I get to spend with them, sometimes I need to talk to another adult.  Sometimes that adult looks like me.  Sometimes they’re younger.  They’re always interesting and worthy of my attention because I no longer have the teenage hormonal desire to just hang out in a bar and look for the most attractive person I can find with no thought to their thoughts and opinions.  When I get asked “what do you mean it was just the two of you” or “at their house?” or “why are you emailing such-and-such” I see not panic but worry in their eyes.

The thing is, though, sometimes, you need pauses in conversation.  Kids aren’t good at that.  Sometimes you need to talk to someone who thought they were an outsider in their world, like you did, and didn’t really care what others thought.  I thought that sometimes, I don’t believe my kids did . . . which I see as a success in their upbringings.  But sometimes, you need an empathetic ear or a strong word or advice.  Sometimes it’s a guy.  Sometimes it’s a girl.

But sometimes . . . you just need another adult to talk to.

The Brutality and the Birthdays . . .

My family, taken by Amy Renz's Hunny Bee Photography

My daughter and I separately watched movies that brought us down in the last week.  Hers was Phantom of the Opera, which I could have easily told her wasn’t going to end well for the hopeless romantic she is.  (Broadway lovers out there, please for the love of God don’t email telling me how “Phantom” truly is hopelessly romantic.  I get it.  But my daughter is the happy-ending kind of hopeless romantic.  For Phantom, that ain’t it.  Sorry.)  Mine was something I probably should have left well enough alone because I knew it was going to hit me hard.

I should also point out that, while I think from the looks of the ads and the trailers that the movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is superbly acted and brilliantly accurate in how a kid may deal with losing a parent, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it.  I still believe there’s likely no way I’ll ever watch the movie because I know the parent’s going to die and I know the kids will be upset and I just don’t want to watch that.  I’ve already lived it.

No, my piece was a BBC production (no, I’m not a TV snob, I just wanted to watch it.) called “Single Father.”  To be honest, I’d actually wanted to watch long before I lost my wife, it had come out in 2010 and run in England only.  I had seen all kinds of articles and reviews on it, how it was brilliantly written by someone who hadn’t suffered loss but seemed to get it right.  How it was acted so well that the acting made up for inadequacies in the story and the writing.  I wanted to see it for all the talk it was getting.  When I found the DVD on a website eons ago I decided to buy it.  I was depressed, sad, and hurt from loss and thought there was nothing better than to force myself to wallow in it, alone, without the kids so they didn’t see me doing it.  To get it all out so that I could avoid welling up and feeling the waves of grief and depression at the most random times during the day.

But like all things from other countries, they have to get shipped from their respective countries.  Mine obviously came from England.  As a result, it took a long time to get here and when I got it I wasn’t sure I should watch it.

But I’m nothing if not a glutton for punishment and I’ve never been accused of being very smart.  I turned on the movie, whose lead character happened to be a former Doctor Who – David Tennant.  I wasn’t sure how I’d react to a sci-fi star as this major character, but he was brilliant.  Which brings me to the brutality.  The main character, Tennant’s character, is named David.  Dave.  Didn’t make things easier for me.  Dave’s wife dies in a brutal car accident where a cop car hits her on her bicycle.  Cop’s fault, she dies immediately, and says “I love you” right before the end.  The story leaves my parallels there, as it’s not a hospital scene and Dave falls in love with his wife’s best friend just a couple months after losing her.  Guess I’m lucky Andrea’s best friends weren’t nearby my house, might have been all kinds of crazy confused salacious activities going on around me!  I think it’s the lack of parallels that helped me to watch it.

But the one thing that the writer put into Tennant’s mouth, the adjective I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of and used before he cries in a moment of grief, breaking down, tears, messed up.  “It’s just brutal” he says.  “It’s brutal doing this without her!”

Brutal is a perfect adjective.  Yes, I had to perform the activities of daily life long before my wife passed away, but doing them alone along with everything else is just that: brutal.  Easter was this last weekend, and I was so proud of myself that I’d gotten everything done for Easter that I hadn’t realized how quickly my sons’ birthday was approaching.  That’s this Saturday.  The tax refund they said was coming in 7 business days is now coming on the 24th – ten days after their birthday – making my financial situation precarious.  The boys’ friends all had big parties that had all the classmates attend.  I can’t do that, I don’t know how I’m going to get them presents, if I’m being honest.  I’m making the cake (which I can do, other than Freeport Bakery, I can outdo Costco any day!) and the frosting from scratch.  I’m hoping to get the family, aunt, uncle, grandparents, cousins in the park near our house so they can play.  My middle daughter wants to get them a present and I am counting the change in my pocket.  Added to that is the fact that I had no babysitter on Thursday so I have hired a kid down the street who my oldest daughter is friends with.  I have to pay her as well.  I watch the numbers to the left of my bank account’s balance reduce by a digit with each expenditure and I’m feeling the brutality again.

So brutal is a perfect adjective.  No, I’m no longer trying to figure out whether or not I can pay the house payment or anything, but since the rent has come out and the payment for other bills, and the tuition the school gets along with the Extended Day costs for them being at school past the school day, I’m in a world of hurt.  The tax refund would make me even again but I have to wait.  I can’t tell the boys “you’ll get your presents in ten days”.  So I do the financial juggle.  I lean with my head on the kitchen table frustrated.  I think about what I can get them with what I have and how to stretch what I already have for dinners and everything in the house.

These are the things that I face alone.  It’s painful to miss my wife, but it’s also brutal that I have to face these things alone, no second brain helping to push ideas for birthday.  No supportive hands on my back to calm me when I feel overwhelmed.  Sure, people say “she’s up there watching and helping you” but up there doesn’t help or comfort me.  It really doesn’t.  It actually tells me she’s happy and calm and peaceful and I’m left to pick up the pieces and it’s . . . yeah, I’ll use the adjective again . . . it’s brutal.  It really is.

Unlike the character in the movie, I knew I had to do it.  There was no choice, they all need me to be their Dad and not break down and lose it.  It’s very different for my kids who now miss their Mom and simply miss them.  They feel loss, they worry about abandonment, but they didn’t have the mental and emotional backing that I had from her.  Sure, they had their Mom’s emotional and physical help, but they’re kids.  They also fought that backing.  I, on the other hand, wish it wasn’t gone.

Birthdays aren’t brutal.  It’s the buildup and daily life that’s brutal.  It was brutal before she left, but with nobody to help take some of the blows now, all I can do is reflect at the end of the day and take a deep breath and prepare myself for tomorrow.

It’s still one day at a time, and though it’s brutal, I continue to take the beating.  I don’t really have any other choice.