The Single Dad Has Entered the Building
Waking up is hard to do. Violet, 5, and Henry, 3, and me, we lay on the failing king mattress, its promise of support and pillow-topped rest now a thing of the distant past. It’s only a place to sleep now, a big sinking battleship that half-swallows your carcass in the night. I wake up first, usually around 5:30 or 6 in the morning. Sometimes Charlie, four months now, wakes me up. He’ll roll over in his Pack-n-Play across the room and I’ll hear him let out a weak chortle or a sigh. No one making any noise. The hum of the air conditioner will be the only sound on our Earth, the pale morning light pressing against the backside of the Venetian blinds that were here when I rented the dump. One of the scariest parts of suddenly finding myself a single dad, a man without his wife, is the frequent realization that I’m the only adult person in the building. I’m the only one here to protect against a zombie invasion, should it occur. I’m the only one around legal to drive. It took two to make all this happen, that’s what I keep telling myself, so why the hell am I the only one watching my kids sleep and wake up in this room? And why is she the only one to watch them sleep on all the other nights? And it will, of course. I was two things before, I was the Daddy and I was the husband. This morning though, as I sit here and watch this H shape of my own flesh and blood laying there out cold in the predawn chill that paints this air I pay for all of us to breathe, it hits me hard that it’s just me now. There was someone else before, another grown-up, a Mommy, to help pull things together, but she’s 20 miles away physically, probably a trillion miles when it comes to what we had. Probably a lot of guys never want to admit that they get scared at stuff, especially the stuff that’s so heavy, like separation and single-parenting and all. Not me though. I’m scared shitless. You can filter a lot of stuff down through the macho cheesecloth, but in the end there’s nothing much anyone can say about you, or even think about you, that matters at all when you’re the dude on the bed watching the kids sleep away another early summer morning. I move through feelings of peace and gratitude and I waltz down through the garden of beauty or whatever, realizing that I have so much in this world because I have these kids in mine. I don’t doubt myself, really. I mean, I know I’ll probably be alright. But there’s someone missing now, someone who I never thought would go missing. I stare at my sleeping kids and I realize that we’ve all lost something pretty damn huge here along the way. And I just wait around for someone, for anyone, to wake up. Because I’m still here, because I’m dad.