The hard part isn’t being a single father. No, the hardest thing about my life is explaining to Lee why she doesn’t have a mother. She is four now and she just asks so many questions.
Do I not have a mommy because you don’t like mommies? Of course not, I have to tell her, I love mommies. Lee hears this and scrunches her face, in a temper tantrum sort of way. Sometimes I have nightmares about the Terrible-Twos when she gives me this look before bed.
Then do mommies not like me? This isn’t true either. When I tell her that she is certainly not the problem, and that she’s the single most adorable young lady in the world, she mumbles back; so I don’t understand why I don’t have a mommy. It used to be that I would dodge around the question until she got tired to asking, or got distracted by her toys.
Her birthday is today, though, and when she tells me her plans before her party guests arrive I conclude that it is time to stop evading her; “Daddy, I’m going to wish for a mommy for my birthday. I think that is why I don’t have one. I never asked!” Her dainty little fingers are scrawling a beautiful woman on the paper – or at least as beautiful as a stick figure can be, anyway. Chances are that this is yet another drawing of a mommy that she wants. On this particular day the mommy is wearing a blue triangular dress with a shiny gold scepter. I am willing to bet that this is “Birthday Mommy,” the best celebrator of birthdays ever known on Earth.
“Lee, you can’t just wish for a mommy. Having two parents isn’t as easy as it sounds, sweetheart. A mommy and daddy have to love each other.” Four years after Natalia left, and five years after leaving Taylor, it seems that I find the courage to admit that maybe I just didn’t love those women enough. Each of us deserved happier lives, so in the end it must have worked out for the better. As I pull back from the reminiscent fray, I watch my daughter’s eyes brighten. It is a little strange, as I have no idea why a child – or even adult – would find my words hopeful.
“That means my new wish will have to come true.” Her curly brown hair bounces with her as she shoots out of her chair. Our hands clasp together and instantly we’re prancing around the kitchen dancing without any music other than our laughter.
Having a child has brought so much happiness to my life. Moments exactly like this make me realize that regretting any of my past mistakes and experiences seem wasteful. Laughing, dancing, singing, playing, dressing up, tea partying, dance rehearsals and recitals; being a father makes me content with everything leading up to this role in my life because there is nothing better than knowing that she loves me and I love her. Our life together is good.
“What is your new wish, Little Leedy?” As a human being, I feel I should be ashamed by this cheesy, nonsensical nickname. For her second birthday my mouth was full of napkins and I still carried a diaper bag of pull-ups and alternative outfits. My mother was asking me about the birthday girl and I said something to the effect of, ‘oh thees lil leeday?’
Lee loved it instantly so it has stuck around. Little Leedy and Little Deedee.
“I’ll wish for a mommy to love my deedee!” There seems little point in chasing her as she flies into the backyard. I’ll never know how her timing is so perfect that she is always in the backyard to meet her grandmother at the gates, but she is out there once again just as Nana shuts her car door.
Keeping track of the hours that pass while I decorate the picnic tables and ensure proper set-up of the jump house ranks lowest on my priority list. Lee is sitting with my parents in the front yard welcoming guests and ushering them to the backyard where parents leave their kids on the swing set. Most of the folks aren’t sticking around for three hours while kids basically play and smear cake on their cheeks.
Also, I’ve found that many parents do not really socialize with one another. If the kids are friends the only conversations to be had are usually in relevance to the children. At least once or twice I tried to make lunch dates with other single parents but I usually get turned down. Sometimes the reasons are valid; other times the excuse is so made up that it literally would have made more sense to say that the family had business on Mars to attend to instead.
Lost in my thoughts so deeply I nearly miss the alarm on my phone screaming, a reminder to start shuffling the kids around for presents and cake. My mother is taking some of the little girls inside to use the restroom so I ask if one of the grandmothers that stayed behind if she would mind helping me out.
“It is always flattering to have a young man find some use out of an elderly woman like me.” Her granddaughter, Miley, is Lee’s best friend at daycare. The girls love doing art projects together and singing karaoke. Uncertainly, I try recalling her name. I am pretty sure that her name is Eleanor but I don’t want to actually say it and be wrong. Instead I say thank you ‘Mrs. Bayberry.’
Plates are soon filled with cake and kids are poking at the frosting with their forks to pass the time while Lee opens her gifts. She has no order, of course, and the only thing that really happens is ripping and screaming. Lee loves everything she ever receives from anyone. I don’t care why she is this way because it honestly is one of the best things about her as a child. Gracious children are to be admired because too often it gets lost in the angst and formalities of growing up.
After I get the trash gathered and kids are off playing again the only thing left to do is relax. As soon as the parents pick up their children I can start properly cleaning up the backyard. Much more loudly than I intended, I suck in a deep breath that I exhale with control.
“You are a good father, Deacon.” Mrs. Bayberry chirps while shuffling onto the narrow patio with me. We stand there for a second as the compliment fills every crevice of silence. This is a statement I hear often from my family and closest friends but the words mean more coming from a fresh face. It gives me confirmation further that having Lee was the best decision of his life.
“Thank you very much. I think Lee agrees on most days. Although, she was quite angry with me on Monday when I had to take her markers away. Does every kid go through a ‘coloring on the wall phase’ or is it just mine?” Small talk is something that Deacon has always been able to do – it is, after all, a big part of being a loan advisor. Being relatable is a vital trait to have in his career field and Deacon does it quite well.
Mrs. Bayberry nods along in a slow manner that is something I consider a trademark for all elderly people; it’s a sign of recollection. This is when I stop paying attention to all other things, usually, because the stories that come from our elders can be phenomenal. It is not unlike having a book read to you and I love it. How special is it that this person is sharing his or her memories with you? Literally no words accurately describe how much I enjoy conversing with the old and wise.
Even if my eyes are following every child in the yard, my ears do not fail to hear her; “I remember my sweet Priscilla used to draw tiger lilies in the corners of her closet when she was mad at me. She may have hated being in that tiny excuse of a room but she is quite the painter now. The murals that woman can do – dear me – I can hardly believe that only twenty years ago she was my moody teenager crying over a bad prom.” Together we sigh; her at the memories of her daughter and myself at the memories of being young.
I remember my own bad prom. Taylor had gone with my best friend’s brother. I had taken the head cheerleader who got my name wrong twelve times during the night. Taylor’s date dumped her at the door where I wish my date had left me. We started talking at the punch bowl about what terrible nights we were having and ultimately ended up hailing a taxi together to meet up with a crowd that had already ditched the dance.
If only Taylor and I had been clearer about our ambitions then, about what we each needed out of life in order to be happy. That never was the problem, though, and I know now. Knowing doesn’t stop me from lapsing on the information but I try hard every day not to blame the failed relationship on her because it really wasn’t just her, not as much as I want to pretend that it had been…
“You would like Priscilla. She works hard all day but no matter how hard she works she comes home to her two children with a smile. They are everything to her and I see that same love in your eyes.” Now, I know Priscilla well enough. Being that the girls are very good friends we do often have to communicate to schedule play dates and parties. Last year our families went trick-or-treating together.
Unfortunately, she had been seeing someone at the time and I had never considered her as anything but a friend. I am far from foolish and I can tell that Mrs. Bayberry means very specifically that I would like Priscilla as more than just a friend. Regardless of her saying this, I am hesitant to believe that there is a possibility that she is single; “I do like her, actually. Priscilla is a good mother to Miley and Evan.”
Evading what she really meant was not the correct response; “I mean to say that you two would make a darling couple. I could talk to her if you’re interested.”
“Do you always hustle your daughter out like this or is mine a special case?” Concern about the topic at hand fades but my smile does not. My own mother is the same way, always trying to proposition me to women she fancies for me. During their generation it was okay to be so leading. I’ve sworn most days that I will do no such thing with Lee because there is a lot more to a person than their romantic value.
“How do you know that Priscilla hasn’t asked me to break the ice for her?” Mrs. Bayberry emits the softest chuckle. It is easy to laugh right along with her until I see that she is walking away from me. Instantly I fear that I have in someway offended her. I am nearly off of the patio before I realize that Priscilla is actually standing only a few feet away.
For how long, I haven’t a clue. Judging by the grin pushing her cheeks back, though, I can only assume that it doesn’t matter. Ever joyous and free-spirited she saunters nearer, clarifying quickly; “I didn’t ask her to do that but I may have mentioned that I was hoping to snag a coffee date – without the kids.”
Well, that was easy.
“Say yes, daddy. Say yes because it’s my birthday and you have to!” Before I roll my eyes, I see that Priscilla is shrugging her shoulders playfully. Miley appears out of nowhere in exactly the same fashion that Lee has, and together they all three giggle. Both girls promptly skip away to talk about how their parents are going to go on a date with the remaining toddlers.
A voice in the back of my mind is assuring me that I’m not ready for this at all. My marriage failed and whatever I had with Natalia never could have qualified as a relationship. Am I even capable of doing this the right way?
I did figure out how to be a pretty good dad on my own, though. Who says that the opportunity to be a good boyfriend, or even husband, has passed? I am the only person that decides what I am capable of in my life. Daringly I make direct eye contact with her; “Sounds good, actually. It sounds really good.”
Priscilla walks away without saying much else, but I’m not sure that we need to either. Each of us already knows what happens when love fails. We are mature enough to know that it’s a date – not forever.
Unless, of course, Lee gets a say in what happens.