Sunday, May 04, 2008

Loneliness whiplash

One week ago, I was on day seven of my tenure as a solo dad; today I'm on day four of my tenure as a dad without a boy or his Mama.

Two days after Mama flew in from Kampala, she and 3B flew out to the farm to visit 3B's Grammy, who is looking after her mom, 3B's Great Grammy, who had a stroke a few weeks back.

The adjustment from being a solo parent to being simply solo has been hard. That first day, I couldn't shake that feeling that I'd forgotten something. I walked out of the house without a boy, a diaper bag, a stroller, or even a sippy cup, and it took all of my concentration to keep moving toward the car. I felt like I needed to run back into the building because surely I couldn't be traveling without any of those.

It almost felt like that first day back at work after 3B was born, but I think this was different because for a whole week I'd been focused on nothing but him, and now he was gone. It was loneliness whiplash, and it got me thinking about what each of us goes through as a parent, as a mother, or as a father.

Before becoming a parent, I could see that the expectation of mothers was that they be nurturing, compassionate homemakers who were content with nothing more than the joy of their children's achievements. I often wondered how mothers who didn't fit any or all of that profile dealt with the tacit pressure from all sides to conform to that model, but I never wondered about the expectations placed on fathers.

As it turns out, despite any social changes periodically heralded by the media, fathers are pretty much still expected to be tough, strict working men who are content with nothing more than supporting their family financially. A father certainly isn't expected to have a tough time saying goodbye to his wife and child, to worry about them, to ache for the comforting chaos of a long summer day spent together, to stand in the doorway of their child's room feeling as though a hole had been cut through his gut.

And yet, I've spent most of my days without them distracted and somewhat confused, as though I woke up and were suddenly right-handed. I can still do everything that I used to...but everything seems somehow vaguely out of place.

I'm not even sure what to do by myself. Go sit at the playground and watch other kids play? Take a ride on the little train in the mall by myself? Push an empty stroller along when I walk Barky?

When a friend in NYC asked if I was going to see Iron Man this weekend, I realized that I could go, and so I did. Yes, by myself. I debated asking various friends, but then it dawned on me that I was not only free to go to a movie, but free to go without having to coordinate two or three or a dozen people's schedules to do it. I also did one thing I love to do, and made a little half-and-half movie myself.

Half of it is for 3B and half of it is for me, who misses 3B and Mama. The original idea was to create a vehicle to allow 3B to hear his favorite John Lee Hooker song while he's at Great Grammy's. According to Mama, he was "playing the blues" on his ladybug xylophone all the way to the airport in the Super Shuttle. Mama was glad that he was preoccupied, but she wasn't so sure that the other shuttle passengers were.

(And while we're talking about lonely papas, go over and give MetroDad some companionship. He needs it right now.)

Updated: Added in paragraphs 3 & 4, which I realized that I'd thought out in my head, but never put down. What can I say? My mind isn't all here.

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  1. Awwww.... Poor Papa!

    I have to say: I have no idea how that feels. Hubby has never just gone off with Gage anywhere. I often think: that would be so nice. But then...I think: what would I do with all of that time? And then at night, who would snuggle me? I need to snuggle Gage as much as he needs to snuggle me!

  2. Anonymous12:24 AM

    I don't want to alarm you but I think I love you.

    Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration -- let's just say I like you a whole lot.

    Just found you via the Hygiene Chronicles and I really like your writing and tone.

  3. Anonymous10:10 AM

    Funny. Being alone, I went to see Iron Man by myself on Saturday. It was great being on my own schedule.

    Meanwhile, thanks for the kind words, my friend. Hope all is well.

  4. Anonymous9:18 PM

    It is sad that fathers aren't expected to really miss their families. I guess we really don't allow men to have feelings just yet in our culture.

    I've had a variety of responses to having my kids go away. One time the boy spent a week away with grandparents, and honestly that was a little bit of heaven. (Papa and the girl were still here, but they're mellow. The boy is fairly high maintenance.) But it was weird after a few days, almost like my toe or finger was missing. If he had been gone longer I'm sure it would have progressed to an arm or a leg.

    It's one thing to be more or less forcibly separated from your family, like what's up with MetroDad right now, and another to really just want some alone time. The alone time is precious, the other, not so much.

  5. Over here I expect my boy (and man) to be loaded with emotions and to miss me horribly when I am gone. The other rule is they are not allowed to have any fun when I am not there, like when they are old enough to go to birthday parties without me.

    My husband could care less and has even ordered me to not miss him when he is gone.

    I went over to offer some kind words to metrodad, but he seems to have plenty to read through and probably didn't need mine... from someone he doesn't know.

    Alone time, or down time is important but it is difficult when it happens for days at a time. Your father would always be there with us after work and on weekends and he told people he worked with many times that they had to get projects to him early in the day because he always planned on leaving on time. You take after him in making family important. I am proud of you.

    If you need to go to the park, since mama probably has the diaper bag, you can take a sippy cup and possibly an empty stroller. I strongly suggest the stroller empty or otherwise when you go to the happiest place on earth. I was sad when I could no longer use it as a cart because, well, the baby was in 4th grade.