For my Children

Hey kids.

Dad’s sleeping. He needs the rest, and he’s not feeling good. So if you’re going to call him, do it tonight, okay?

While he’s sleeping, let me tell you some things about him you probably don’t know. Or maybe you do, I don’t know. But today’s definitely the day for it.

A long time ago, when you kids were very young, he made a decision. A conscious choice. It started when Thomas was born, and expanded when Matt and Sophia came into his life. His choice was to be as involved as possible in day-to-day, hands-on parenting. He wanted his kids to *know* him, and he wanted to know his kids, and not just be a figure who sailed in and out of their lives between business trips. His dad, like mine, traveled for work, and while he loves his dad, he was aware of his father’s absence, and he didn’t want to miss his kids growing up.

So even before we were married, he came over to my place after work and had family dinner with us. Sometimes he cooked, but more often (because we like food), I cooked while he helped with homework or read books or played games with the kids. He spent one night a week visiting Thomas, because he pushed hard in court for as much time as he could get.

I know you all know how hard he fought for custody. It was a major part of our lives for so long, I can’t imagine that fact slipped past you. Three years of battling in court for custody, and then revisiting the issue later when Thomas’ world became a hellscape. Those were hard years for your dad, when he was fighting as hard as he could but couldn’t convince the court that Thomas’ life was turning to shit. He didn’t sleep much.

Thomas wasn’t the only one he fought for. While the battles were different, he showed up for every single one of Matt and Sophia’s tilts as well. Every surgery, every Cub Scout and Boy Scout event, every teacher conference, every IEP. He showed up unless I asked him not to, which was rare. Single moms are treated very differently from moms who show up with a dad. I still did the talking, but he backed me up.

Do you remember those months when he was your primary caregiver so I could work? We’d exhausted every possible childcare option, a limited list when you have a child with a disability, and I was going to have to quit my job. He made arrangements to work from home so he could pick you up every day. I think Sophia was in half-day kindergarten at the time. He was on duty at my place pretty much all day. Sometimes, he even had dinner ready.

But most of the time, not, because we like food.

Every weekend, when Thomas was only with us for two days, we had family time. Not the “Dad’s got to make up for this divorce by showering the kid with expensive outings” kind of weekend, but the “hey, let’s go do something cool together and make memories!” weekend. Sure, we had our share of Navy Pier trips, but we also went to nature centers and local bike races and kids’ science centers and concerts. We really liked to do big Sunday dinners, but that became complicated with the time we had to return Thomas to his mom’s house, so we started going Sunday big breakfasts; feasts of his favorite foods, including biscuits and gravy, homemade Cinnabon rolls, omlettes, fruit salads, the works. And we’d sit around and talk and laugh and pig out.

He was not perfect. He still isn’t. I hate whitewashed reminiscence, where the ugly stuff disappears because you just want to bask in happy memories. There was ugly stuff, to be sure. We were a blended family dealing with two divorces, one unpleasant custody battle, nine surgeries, meddling in-laws, financial troubles, and (truly, the least of our problems) raising kids. There was a lot of stress, and neither of us handled it perfectly. And both of us carried a whole lotta baggage from our own histories into this little family unit, so we made some big mistakes. Not going to air that dirty laundry here, but…it’s important to admit that this was not all family bliss.

But damn, he tried. He worked his ass off to be there. For all his flaws (we’ll talk about mine later), he never stopped putting in the effort. He still does. He is not the person who just walks away when things get difficult or complicated. That’s when he digs his claws in and hangs on like his life — or yours — depends on it. Yes, his tenacity is one of his flaws; but it’s also one of his great gifts. He sets his eyes on a goal or a task or an ideal and he just will not quit.

Did you know he turned down several lucrative job offers because he refused to travel for work? He could have made a buttload of money, but he would not sacrifice the time with his kids to do it. This was not a popular choice with his family, but it aligned with his principles. This is what family means to him: time, experiences, interaction.

We both decided early on that it was important to give all of you — but especially Sophia — opportunities for experiences you might not get in the natural course of your life. That’s why the crazy stuff we did was so wide-ranging, and it’s why we hardly ever said “no” when an opportunity arose. Matt’s opportunities came largely through Scout events, which we encouraged enthusiastically. But because Soap wouldn’t have the chance to explore independently until she was older, we pushed the envelope purposely every way we could. There would be no lounging at home because it was difficult to do something with the wheelchair: we did it. Sometimes Tim had to bite down hard to keep his objections in check, but he realized the risk of her missing out was greater than the risk of injury. By and large, she came through unscathed. I don’t remember a fracture happening while we were on an adventure. Maybe I blocked it.

Dad made a choice to have a life *with* you kids. Not just to be the person who funded the adventures, but to be on the adventures with you. Not just hearing about your day from my dutiful reporting as he ate leftovers in the recliner, but to hear about it from you, to learn what was important to you, to understand your voice and your viewpoint and watch you learn. He did it all, kids. All of it. And I am really glad you got to have him as your dad. He’s pretty special not just because of his inherent skills and personality, but because of the choices he’s made.

He made almost every one of those choices for you.

So. In the inimitable words of Mike Meyers, give your father a kiss or I’ll kick your teeth in.