While technically you could give me the tag single dad -- and I've been known to milk the image dry for public cuteness points when my daughter and I are out together -- I don't come close to earning the title.
I have one easy kid who's with a fabulous mom most of the week, and when she's with me, I'm drowning in help on all sides. But it's still parenting, and when it's time for school and you're trying to force-feed a kid or force-braid a head, it's as hard as anything.
I'm truly humbled when I see an example of a truly single dad, who has to fight the whole fight by himself without a day off. And if he's wrangling multiple kids at the toughest ages, all the more so. The LA Times had me really thinking when they described the life of a 32-year-old widower.
Matt Cook longs for another hour of sleep, but since the accident happened, he's the only one there to respond to his daughter Ellie's persistent cough. He trudges down the hallway into the 3-year-old's bedroom. She doesn't appear to have a temperature, so Cook brings her downstairs and allows her to help stir pancake batter. His 21-month-old son, Carson, gets a sippy cup of juice while the sausage links brown. And just as the young family has done for 17 months, they carry on with their routine as best they can -- a routine that's without its center.
God. I'm a notoriously easy crier, but I thought I could at least get through the first sentence without losing it. Nope. The "center," of course, is Cook's wife Cari, who died last year just a few blocks from their Countryside, California, home.
In a scene that you wouldn't dare write in fiction because it would seem overwrought and unrealistic, she was killed by a car while carrying one of her kids in a Baby Bjorn and pushing the other in a stroller.
And the picture is of Cook running a brush through a toddler girl's hair, which will forever be for me the symbol of difficult fatherhood, the moment when I most felt like quitting. To have to do it daily, without the option of handing off the brush, is staggering.
Losing half of your parent team is incredibly difficult for men or women, but men tend to be very slow to reach out for organized support.
The Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation is a national group that gives support to parents in Cook's circumstances. Their leader tells the Times that two years ago they had their first meeting, and hundreds of parents came -- only one a dad. Last year the number bumped to 10. So progress, but slow.
I think all parents would agree that the hardest part is what I've come to call the everyday-ness of it. You can't quite imagine it before you have kids, that you have to get up early every damn day. That the kids don't understand the concepts of weekends or exhaustion. But most of us end up in circumstances where we get the occasional break. Not all of us. As Cook says:
It's like you're walking a thin line between just totally breaking down and being OK ... It isn't moving on, it's just living. We had to keep living, I guess.
Yeah, we all have to do that, dude. But for some of us, just keeping that thought in our head is in itself a triumph. I'm turning in my single dad medals and sending them to you.
Image via NealFowler/Flickr