This is a tribute to my dear husband Joe, who is father and grandfather to Amanda. We married when I was 51 and he was 40; we never expected to raise a child together.
I’ve been a single mother and a married mother, and married is way better. Amanda has two parents to love and support her, with different views and personalities. We share the work. We figure out knotty problems together. Most of all, we rejoice together as we watch her grow.
A single mother’s mood controls the emotional weather at home. When she is angry or depressed, tired or stressed, the child has nowhere to turn.
With two parents, when one is angry, Amanda can go to the other for comfort. When one of us is in a conflict with Amanda that is heading downhill, the other steps in and takes over. Joe is brilliant at distracting her from her angry stubborn stance until she is ready to cool down and comply.
Joe and I balance each other. By nature I am a little too controlling and rigid, he is a little too loose and laissez faire. This certainly produces plenty of conversations, some of them loud. But with the benefit of both our perspectives, I let go of a thousand things that don’t really matter, and he supports me on those I feel strongly about. We confer on complicated issues of how to handle behavior. (We both believe rewards rather than punishment are the way to go with this child, but that’s WAY easier said than done!)
I do most of the practical work and logistics. I set up schedules and systems for behavior, chores, homework, bedtime routines. I arrange afterschool and summer programs. I’m usually the driver and cook, the nurse when she’s sick. I’m the protective one, the strict one. I do more parenting; Joe does more playing. He’s more fun than I am.
Since she was very young, Amanda has loved the beach. The first time we took her was a blustery, chilly day, but that didn’t stop them.
Since then he has taught her to make drip castles and ride the waves. Last weekend they rented a wave runner and went charging around in the ocean at Miami Beach. He let her hold the throttle.
When she was little they’d play toddler hide and seek. She’d hide in the sofa cushions, he’d call “Where’s Amanda?” And she’d pop out crying, “Here she is!”
They’d dance in the living room to Bob Marley, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and he’d spin her high in the air. She’s too big for that now, 55 inches and growing, but in May they went to the Girl Scouts’ Father-Daughter dance. She had a most spectacular magenta dress with spangles, jeweled sandals, and rhinestone earrings. Joe said, “You look beautiful. But I think there’s something missing.” He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a wrist corsage of pink roses.
Joe’s grandfather taught him to explore nature; his father taught him to sail. Now Amanda shares his love of rocks and fossils, and they sail Hobie Cats at Lake Wauberg. He loves Disney World and wild rides as much as she does; I stay home and enjoy the silence.
When she’s earned enough screen time they watch videos and share popcorn. They love monster, space alien, and adventure movies. They also love nature movies (especially when one piece of nature eats another piece of nature).
His favorite part of fathers’ day weekend was going to see Men in Black II, and wading in the creek with the dog and Amanda. She was particularly impressed when he ran into a banana spider’s web.
My own father was not a romper. I remember watermelon seed spitting contests. I remember my little hands inside his big ones as we washed up before lunch. He made up stories about a little girl, her doll, and two dragons. But mostly I remember him as distant, a little scary, someone to be avoided. If he announced it was time go for a walk or a drive, I knew I was in for a lecture.
Researchers believe that fathers play a key role in developing girls’ self-confidence and self-esteem. A strong relationship with their father can be a shield or antidote to all the possible toxicities of their young encounters with boys. (This is not to say that daughters raised by lesbians suffer; research also suggests that children of lesbian couples have stronger self-esteem and self-confidence than those of heterosexual couples.)
I began writing notes for this when I was at a five-day writers workshop in St. Simons Island, Georgia. When I asked Joe he never hesitated, “You should go.” He is the main cheerleader for my writing and genuinely happy when it goes well for me. So I had five days in a motel by myself, responsible for no one and nothing but me. I never had that with the other children until they were old enough for sleep-away camp.
I won't claim that our life is nothing but hearts, flowers, hugs and smiles. The words killjoy and irresponsible have been heard once or twice. Sharing child-rearing and chores produces plenty of disagreements, and we have the occasional eye roll and mutter. But we always end by talking it over. We’ve both learned to listen. I know from experience that two heads and hearts are better than one.
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NEXT POST JULY 27