I’m on to husband number two, but in selecting both mates, above all else, I valued a man who would be an exemplary father. The first time I valued it more than connection, respect, passion, honesty with myself. Both times I wanted a partner who was signing up for exactly 50% of the parenting ride; half the diaper changing, feedings, bathing, lunches, doctor’s visits, playdates – all of it. I wasn’t signing up to be a stay at home mom or a June Cleaver wannabe.
When my marriage dissolved and I moved out to embark on Life 2.0, my son was just shy of 3 years old. As we settled into modern day co-parenting, I never had to worry about my ex-husband’s role as my son’s father. I knew my son would only be at risk of being over-loved or helicopter parented to death. I never had to fret, for one second, in my son’s care. I knew he would be fed organic food, put to bed at a proper time, bathed, helped with school projects, and read to and tucked in every night. I may have lost time with my son, but I never lost one minute of peace of mind and I never called myself a single mom because I had a partner who carried his half.
Unfortunately moving out from your ex doesn’t mean he won’t haunt you on your son’s face. As he went through puberty and his voice deepened, I secretly prayed his cadence and tone didn’t end up sounding JUST LIKE HIS DAD’S. It’s the daily delivery from my subscription to the “Divorce: The Gift that keeps on Giving” Club.
For as much as I acknowledge my ex-husband and I had mismatched personalities, I still recognize his positive qualities and am grateful when I see them echoed by my son. He gets an A+ for politeness, holding doors, saying please and thank you for the littlest things. He is incredibly intelligent with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of all kinds from robotics to Shakespeare to video games to dogs, cats, snakes, birds, and turtles. At my grandfather’s funeral two years ago, my 12-year-old son never wavered from my mother’s side as he held her arm supporting her through the muddy cemetery. My teenager must also have a photographic memory for all science facts because I’ve never see him study for a science test but he nails it every time. He’s also tall and lean.
All of these are qualities I see inherited from his father, my ex-husband.
I met Andrew, my current husband, 11 1/2 years ago as my marriage unraveled, yet still clung to the spool by a dollop of glue. I was not in the market for a new husband, still trying to break away from the one I had. The Sunday which would change my life forever I took my two-year-old son to his first New York City kids birthday party. I didn’t know what to expect beyond a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, pizza, and cake. The kids played with scattered toys, while I made small talk with adults a decade older than me. I just turned 30 and felt younger than ever among this Upper West Side crowd, all abuzz about the impending arrival of “Looney Lenny.” I was a virgin party-goer; what did I know about celebrities for the Under-5 Crowd in NYC.
When Looney Lenny arrived (LATE), with his oversized backpack to a rowdy crowd, I knew I was in store for something special. He wasn’t an ordinary clown/magician, he was a quick-witted performer who had a genius comedic timing targeting the adults while the children gasped at his disappearing scarf. Beyond his genuine showmanship, this man was bursting with genuine non-creepy love – and interest – for children. He respected their opinions and valued their innocence and every week, in addition to private parties, he entertained seriously ill children in hospitals. There is where he did his most mesmerizing work, delivering laughter as medicine to a grateful audience who I later learned charged his batteries as much as he refueled theirs. He genuinely loves to play, imagine, create, suspend reality, and bring his audience into his supernatural world.
We both left the party at the same time, although neither of us would admit it for years to come. My first comment, after seeing him get assaulted by the kids hysteria was “how do you do this time and time again?” He laughed, saying at least he doesn’t have his own kids. From 84th street, we walked the 20+ blocks south together towards my apartment. By the 72nd Street, we had learned we both went to NYU (although only one semester overlapped) and we both lived on 27th Street during 9/11. (He still lived there, I had moved twice.) Both our parents got divorced; mine after 25 years, his after 30.
The day I met him, I knew I would know him forever. Whenever anyone asks me for relationship advice along the lines of “how do you know if he’s the one?” I answer with the cliche, “you know when you know and you don’t have to wonder.” Real love doesn’t allow doubt.
As our relationship evolved, the one constant thing I didn’t have to worry about was how my new clown boyfriend would mix with my son. It’s every dream scenario and it’s exactly how you’d imagine. He taught my son how to play with his toys, had Lego battles with him in Central Park, and took him on road trip after road trip sharing his rainbow-colored view of the world with my pragmatic boy. Before he became his official stepfather, Andrew was the quintessential playmate and the epitome of a wonderful father.
By the time our six-year-old daughter was born, I knew he would step promptly and steadfastly into the shoes he’d been meant to wear his entire life. When she was 5 days old, he held her swaddled little body in his arms, gently singing to her. She stared back at him with her intense dark brown eyes and cooed back at him and I watched the love trample him like a wave as he began to sob, tears streaming down his face, happily joining the “Daddy of a Daughter” (and I’m wrapped around her finger) Club.
Ironically, my husband said he doesn’t feel he is adept with the same instincts and sense of foresight (she’s about to fall!) as I do, as her mother. He attests because she grew inside of me, leaving me souvenirs of everlasting genetic dust, we are eternally bonded. Meanwhile, this man insightfully comprehends how his little girl dreams, how she draws, how she plays, how she is tuned to a happiness default. She was born a performer, just like him, and she thinks just like he does. Some days I’ll watch them both working on a painting, tongues protruding from the sides of their mouths, and I’m equally in awe of genetics as my heart can’t handle such extreme energy pulsing between.
I read this quote the other day and it spoke to me about father-daughter relationships:
“There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years, it gets to be long enough for you to pick it up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself.” – John Gregory Brown
Beyond his role as The Ultimate Dad, my husband is an amazing step dad to my 14-year-old son, who doesn’t remember life without him.
By first grade, my son, unclear of the relationship status between my boyfriend (now husband) and me, called Andrew his best friend. Even to the teachers at school who were concerned his BFF was a grown (clown) man.
Through the past 11 + years, Andrew has made my son’s life exponentially better. He introduced him to comedy, theater, music, and art and miraculously my son soaked up as much of his stepdad’s personality as his real dad. It’s been a phenomenal personal biological and anthropological study. My son, whose two biological parents are pretty uptight, somehow developed the sense of humor of a clown. He can emulate politeness from one dad, but he learned how to love a woman from my husband.
My husband could have chosen any easier path – one where every date didn’t mean I interrupted to say good night to my son. One where when sleeping over in the early years, meant he occasionally had to hide in the closet or under the sheets. It wasn’t enough for him to fall in love with me – he had to fall in love with my son, who was also an everlasting reminder of my ex-husband.
When I lost my job and decided after four years of sleeping over at each other’s apartments and paying double rent, I’d move into his, he rearranged his photo studio and got rid of his painting studio to accommodate my son, making sure he got a proper bedroom. He put his life passions on hold so we can buy my kid new sneakers and organic food and an overpriced air purifier to ease his allergies. (“I Hit the Jackpot” Club.)
“It’s not flesh and blood, but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” – Anonymous