10 February 2008

The Dad He Would Have Been

As I often do on Sundays, I took the twins to the coop playspace we belong to this afternoon. I see a lot of the same people there week to week, but this week I saw a guy I'd never seen before. I'm sure I would have noticed him if he'd been there at the same time as me in the past because he was John.

Well, OK, he was actually a tall, skinny, hipster-ish white guy who was there with his three-year-old-ish daughter. Most of the parents at the playspace chit-chat as they interact with/supervise their kids, but this guy was an island. I saw him standing in the gymnasium while his daughter played with a Cozy Coupe, sitting on a chair while his daughter played at a train table, and lounging on the floor while said daughter fixed "dinner" in a play kitchen. During all of it, he had a book in his hands and was intently reading.

John would have done exactly the same thing, and with exactly the same split attention. When this guy's daughter needed him, he was there for her. He knew just what she was doing, but he also appeared to be 100% focused on his book. John could do that, too. Not me. I love to read, but when I read, I am physically transported to where my book is set. I am either reading with my full brain or I'm not reading at all, and if I don't have at least five minutes to devote to reading and nothing but, I don't bother. If John could read five words, it was worth it to him. And he could read and do a host of other things simultaneously. It always amazed me.

I have a picture of John and Maddie taken when Mads was about six weeks old. They are sitting on a bench on our deck, Maddie splayed out on John's lap, fast asleep. He is reading to her from Julia Child's memoir. At night, we used to take turns telling each other stories. John told me stories about a family of heroic Dachshunds, the only dogs I like. Sounds lame, but the stories were hilarious. We read to each other sometimes, but our tastes differed, so most often we focused on our own books. John read mostly nonfiction, whereas I'm more of a fiction devotee, but we made converts of each other to a certain extent.

I've never been a hoarder. With few exceptions, I love to get rid of stuff. For a long time, books were one of the exceptions for me. I don't tend to buy a lot of books (thank you, public libraries), but it used to be that if I bought a book and liked it at all, I kept it. Now I'm at a point where I have to love a book like life itself to keep it. I'm happy to put things on the leave-a-book/take-a-book shelf at our local coffee joint, or pass a volume on to a friend. John, while not much of a packrat, couldn't bear to part with books. He also reread books pretty frequently, something I almost never do. Bookshelf space was always at a premium during our time together, and it still is now as the twins' ever-expanding collection jockeys for shelf space. I find that I have lots and lots of books of John's, books that I was always encouraging him to give away, books that I know I will never read that I now can't give away. There were so few physical things that were important to John that the ones I have—such as his books—are difficult to let go. What if Riley or Maddie develops an interest in military history (a favorite subject of John's)? Or what if I decide to read the collected works of Hesse (which for some reason he owned)?

John's ashes (my half) are on our bookshelves, in the crappy brown plastic box that they came in from the funeral home. He's on the oversized fiction shelf; that's where there was room, and since there was a lot of fiction left unread in his life, I figured he'd want to be with the stuff he never got to. It's hard to see "John" when I'm out and then come home and see where he truly physically is. It's hard to see the dad he would have been, imagine the life we would have had. He would have loved to give me a break, take the kids out of the house for the afternoon hoping that I'd take a nap but knowing full well that I'd putter around and find stuff that needed doing. He would love the twins at this age, with the talkingtalkingtalking and joking around. He'd be better with them than I am: more creative and sillier, less rules-bound. Of course, if he were around, I might be looser, too; my life as a single parent is by necessity extremely scheduled and goal-oriented.

Maddie is really into ownership right now. She spends a significant portion of each day saying things like, "This Maddie's jacket. This Mama's shirt. This YaYa's froggie. This Mama's soup. This Maddie's bag," etc. Today, in my room, she said, "This Daddy's hat," and pointed right at John's Detroit Tigers baseball cap hanging on the closet door handle. Yes, Mads, it is Daddy's hat. Wish he were here to wear it and take you to KidSpace with his book of the moment. Wish he were here to see you, and Riley, and me.

37 comments:

Sunny said...

Huge hugs and a beautiful post! I felt your heart in every word!

Andria and Co. said...

Beautiful post. You are doing such a great job of keeping J's memory alive for the kids. :)

Caustic Cupcake said...

This post made me cry. It's beautiful.

buddha_girl said...

Your words will remain with me for a long time, Snick. Although I understand, believe, and feel your words - the ones which gave background to the last paragraph, I savor the sharing of this memory of Maddie knowing that her daddy's hat is in her world. She knows her daddy because you realize and amdire the wonderous man John is and how important it is to keep his memory tangible for your beautiful babies.

Flicka said...

The heroic dachsunds made me cry. When Sarge was so very, very ill I read him the Chronicle of Narnia to help him fall asleep. I did all the voice parts for him to make him laugh and distract him from the noise in his mind. Your description of John's stories reminded me of those times.

I'm thinking of you and holding you in my prayers. I don't often comment but I lurk. I'm here.

littleangelkisses said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

Eva said...

This really is a beautiful and touching post.

Heather said...

Imaging "the life it would have been" has never gone away for me. I think of it less frequently these days though. But, always, always with the same strong longing.

debangel said...

That just made my throat close with tears. I think you're the most wonderful guardian of John's spirit. Your words made him come alive for me. I know kind of how you feel, because my mom and I for so many years looked forward to when I would have a baby and we'd have SO much fun together. I guess we did, it just wasn't for nearly long enough. Whenever I get mad and scold my daughter, I try and think about what Grandma might do, or tell me over the phone to do, if she were still around. I feel like that makes her part of our life and that way Seph's not completely missing out on her cool grandma.

I know I'm not saying this all right but just know that I think you're a fantastic mom, and that nothing will ever convince me that John isn't somehow seeing all this and feeling so very, very proud of his family.

Amy said...

I too wish he was there with you, now, today.

Very touching post..

If in your shoes I would keep all of his books for the kids. Let them decide what they want when they are older. I am sure they will treasure anything their dad did, if only as it was his.

Rachel said...

Such a sweet and moving post. I could picture John as I read it.

And keep the books! The twins might want them someday.

Karen said...

Wonderful post. Made me cry. Thank you.

Sitting in Silence said...

What a beautiful post.....

You are keeping your husbands memory alive is such a wonderful way....

Sitting in Silence said...

*In

B.E.C.K. said...

You are a wonderful mom. *hug*

peach said...

ditto to all posts already made, you are awesome.
Laura

bostongirl said...

I'm so sorry John isn't there with you right now, to do all those big and little things with you and the kids. Your post is a simply beautiful tribute to a wonderful dad. I think of you all often.

Cass said...

I've never really wanted to hug a stranger before. I just wanted to say that I was sending you some positive energy.

glove said...

Nothing earth shattering to say. Just - this was touching. The life that might have been. It was beautiful, and bittersweet. And I think keeping the books is a good idea. The kids will read them one day, when they are curious about who their dad was and what he loved.

Jolene said...

Beautifully said. My heart ached for you as I read this. I guess my heart has never really stopped aching for you since the day John passed. How I wish he was there with you and your beautiful babies, physically as I know he's in your hearts every day. *sigh* Life just isn't fair sometimes. I hate cancer. I hate it so much.

Mama Nabi said...

I notice that many European parents in my area are the ones who bring books to playgrounds... Such a sweet moment with Maddie - *hug*

Clover said...

Sigh... What a beautiful post.

mames said...

thank you for sharing about your husband and your memories...i could see him reading with a little six week old, julia child, no less.

Strawberry_Lamb said...

Bless you all. Such a lovely post. By talking about him you keep his spirit alive. Maddie knows her dad's hat, I love it.
Thank you for sharing, it is a lovely post.
Karen

Julia said...

This brought tears to my eyes. How I wish it for you too.
Keeping the books seems like a great idea-- they seem to bring comfort now, and they might in fact some day give the kids a glimpse of their dad, multifaceted and silly and loving as he was.

bg's Little Sis said...

Lots of love to you and babies Snick.

-lil'sis

Yankee T said...

I thought of you this morning, as I drove to work, as I so often do. This post is so moving. I'm sorry, Snick, I really am.

Rev Dr Mom said...

What a beautiful, poignant post.

Hugs...

janet said...

beautiful. just beautiful.

i relate to this on a different level and had an interesting conversation about this with my 13-year-old daughter just yesterday. she lost her father when she was 3, though the family circumstances were WAY different.

i could totally highjack your comments section for this one, but i won't. email me if you'd like. jsongbird4 (at) aol (dot) com

Anonymous said...

what a beautiful post. as the last comment, my dad died when i was 4 and i am so so grateful that my mum has kept his books, his teddy bear, his shirt, his favourite jacket etc etc, cos it brings him oh so close. i love a half hour flicking through a book or two of his - imagining him doing the same, years before....and i cling onto the belief that my dad knows what's happpening in my life and i hope is oh so proud of what he sees. I'm sure john laughs when you laugh and cries when you cry. i KNOW that he is immensely proud of you, Riley and Maddie. his memory lives on .......in you and in your two lovely angels too. Wow!

Anne said...

Lovely post. I know it's not the same, but my father died in 1991 from pancreatic cancer. I sometimes imagine the sort of grandfather he would have been to my kids based on the kind of father & man he was. I know he would have been so proud and been an advocate for my youngest.

Leucantha` said...

Wow. This is my first visit, very powerful well written post.

Jana said...

I wish he where there for you all, too. But you're doing an amazing job of keeping him "there" even if he's not.

Christine said...

What a beautiful post -- I'm wiping tears from my eyes after reading it. John was a special guy, and I miss him as much as you do after reading that. Not much else to say, except keep expressing yourself so beautifully and freely.

Anonymous said...

I wish he were, too.

-Shelley

halfmama said...

I'm tearing. I wish he was there for you too. I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

I don't know you and you don't know me. I came across your blog from reading another one. You are amazing and this post was beautiful. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 7. I'm so thankful for the few things I have of his. Your kids will be as well. The memory is worth so much.