What I Want You to Know About Being “Just Daddy”

On this Father’s Day, I’ve been ruminating on what several people this past year have told me. Something along the lines of, “You’re not just the dad now. You’re the mom and the dad.”

I know what they are trying to say. They are trying to say that I now play both parental parts. That I have to cover for the things that your mom normally would have handled. That you have the same needs as before, if not more, and it is on me to fill them all.

All of those things are true, but I still cringe whenever anyone tells me I’m playing the roles of both mom and dad now.

For one thing, haven’t we learned how many shapes and sizes families come in? That kids with two moms or two dads or one or more of each are just fine as long as they are loved? That there are many people who can step into a child’s life to provide the kind of nurturance and stability the child craves? Aunts and uncles and grandparents, cousins and siblings and friends?

The shape of your family is this: You have a father, who is alive, and a mother, who has died. You have grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends who care for you in all the ways they can from afar.

The other reason I cringe at the comment is that it feels like there is an outdated assumption in it of what it means to be a mother and a father. Like, that I may need to slide out from under the Ford in the garage and come into the kitchen every now and then to make you meal. Or that I might need to dip my toe into the unfamiliar pool of ‘feelings’ and maybe even give you a hug from time to time, if I can stomach it.

Now, your mom and I actually did settle into some “traditional” husband and wife roles early in our marriage. She made most of the dinners. I usually took out the garbage. She cleaned the bathroom and kept things tidy. I did yard work and changed broken taillights.

In other ways, however, we deviated from such roles. I did most of the laundry, and would often fold clothes while watching TV, knowing that was the chore your mom hated most. For her part, your mom would occasionally paint a piece of furniture, or put new legs on a table.

But all that was just a division of labor around the house. It didn’t define us, and we tried not to take the other person’s labors for granted.

Anyway, when it came to being a mother or father, our roles were far more fluid. I often gave you baths while your mom cleaned up after dinner, and I usually handled bedtime since you would outlast your mom by hours when she tried. She made you most of your meals and, being an early bird, packed most of your lunches in the morning. But either one of us could leave for a few days without giving a second thought to how the other one would manage. We both knew how to change diapers and get a bottle ready, how to get you dressed and how to set up the stroller. We knew your likes and your dislikes, strategies for leaving your room without waking you up, your favorite pacifier. We each tended wounds, showered you with kisses, praised you when you accomplished something new, put you in timeout when you pushed the line too far.

Now that she’s gone, I do not have a partner to pick up the slack. I am covering more, so I have had to learn strategies and survival techniques to keep up with all the work. I have relied on the assistance and generosity of others more than I find comfortable, though I’ve been glad to have the help. The house isn’t as tidy as it was when she was here. The meals often come from the freezer or from someone else’s kitchen. But you are fed and bathed and rested and safe, even without your mom here to help with those things. We are managing.

When you were two years-old, you told me, “You’re not anyone. You’re just Daddy.” Well, you were right, and despite how much we both miss your mom, I will never be her. I am just your daddy and that is all I will ever be. Good thing it’s what I love being most of all in this world.

One Comment on “What I Want You to Know About Being “Just Daddy”

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