For what may seem like obvious reasons, we don’t do a lot of fatherhood over here at Mama Non Grata. We have nothing against fathers, but in a two-mom household, they just don’t get the same airplay. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that a certain amount of posts, usually the ones that make people cry, are devoted to my mother, who merits her own tag. My dad — who is en route to Thunder Bay as I type this — has tended to play a supporting role.
But make no mistake about it, people: people win Oscars for supporting roles. And the fathers in my life are some serious contenders.
There’s Rob, who breaks out in hivestimes when the word “father” is used, although that doesn’t stop Rowan from testing out the word “dad” every so often. “This is my dad, Rob,” he’ll announce to anyone in the vicinity whenever Rob visits — every six to eight weeks, each December and March break, any stopovers he can finagle on other travels, month-long stays each summer. It’s not clear to me that Rowan understand entirely what “dad” means — during one of Rob’s last visits, he asked, dreamy-like, “Rob, do you have any kids?” And when Rob said, “Um, yes. Yes I do,” Rowan asked, “Are they big kids or little kids?” But it’s a name for someone special in his life, someone who shows up, as Rob does, dependably, regularly, constantly. Rob is not a 24/7 parent, but he is, increasingly, a parent, if an occasional one — someone who can be counted on to care for, to jump in and play chase, wipe a nose or a butt, make or clean up dinner, or babysit the kids for four days while their mothers go to New York City. They had a blast, apparently — I returned home to a tidy house, dinner in the crockpot, mostly unfazed children, and the ultimate parental backhanded compliment: My first evening home, Rob looked perturbed as Rowan and Isaac engaged in their usual pre-bed squawking and tussling. “They’re rangy tonight,” he said. “They’re always like this,” I replied. “Interesting,” he said: “They weren’t like this with me.”
I forgave him, though, because, well, getting to go to New York was huge — huge because I got to launch my book (more on that soon), huge because Rachel and I got to visit one of my favourite cities in the world, huge because we got to go to that city without our kids and know that they were happy, huge because it’s precedent-setting: we can go away AGAIN. Further away. For longer. Even as we mused on how much fun it would be to take the kids to Manhattan, New York was exhilarating because it marked the beginning of a new sort of freedom for us as parents: the freedom to not parent, for days on end, to be grownups not in charge of anyone but our own selves. Freedom to read a magazine in an airport lounge and then sleep on the airplane. To drink champagne on a rooftop before dinner, then go to bed at 1 AM, and not worry about having to get up the next morning.
New York was also exhilarating because my dad — proud Papa — showed up, unannounced, at my book launch. He flew in from Toronto, camera in tow, to surprise me, sprung for dinner at Prune — with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain at the next table, no less! — and then flew home again, only to prepare to drive up north to help us celebrate Isaac’s birthday. Because, twice a year, my dad and his wife show up, unfailingly, with suitcases full of presents and bagels, for the boys’ birthdays. They also make it possible for us to fly south to see them — to Toronto and, for the past couple of years, to Florida.
So, the fathers in my life don’t see me or my sons daily, or even weekly, but they are a constant presence in our lives. They support, in every sense of that word: strong, dependable, helping us to hold up and nurture ourselves and each other. And for this, they occupy an unparalleled place in our hearts. And for this, we love them.