family story

I got to hug my son on his last day as a high school Freshman this morning. Tomorrow Truly graduates from fourth grade. I feel like a real Dad, savoring these moments of success with my kids. Usually I feel more like a one man fire crew putting out the latest brush fire. How wonderful to be enjoying these milestones. Our lives are finally starting to feel spacious. We have room not only to grow but goof off, make mistakes, brush ourselves off and get back on that horse.

We’re arriving, yet again.

I used to think there would be one great moment of “arriving” in my new life as a widower and single Dad. Wouldn’t that be perfect? I wouldn’t be done grieving, but I would get to open the next chapter, turning that first page in our new life. There would be meaningful acoustic guitar playing a humble yet hopeful rift as I took those first steps.

Maybe that moment would be at the funeral. I’d look up and see the kids playing off in the distance, struck by the greatness and burden of their future, now reborn in my tired hands. Or, a little less dramatically, it happens when we move into our new place in that new town where we were starting over. That’s where all the Hallmark channel movies establish the “arriving” moment. Stepping through the front door of our new home with its old fashion entryway and a grand staircase, I plopped down my suitcase with a sigh of relief as the kids rushed past me to get the best room.

“I get the room with the bathroom!” I’d yell after them.
“OK but I get the biggest room!” Tadg would say.
“NOT FAIR!” I don’t have to tell you who would say that.

That’s my favorite arrival fantasy. I love old houses and all the secrets we’d discover in the attic on a stormy night when the lights went out. We had the pandemic instead, which turned out to be OK for us. We have a beautiful new town. A ranch home instead of a grand victorian, I suppose I can be happy with that. Not Hallmark but close.

There have been many arrivals for us. Year two was that actual moving into a new place and new town moment. If someone filmed it I would have looked more like a zombie collapsing into a giant pile of boxes. It wasn’t until year three that I started thinking about our futures again. What happens after Tadg leaves and it’s just me and True? He really started declaring his teenagehood back then, becoming his own man. Year four was publishing my book, Wilder Grief, about the previous three years. That felt good, something I had to do. Oh yeah, Covid happened somewhere in there too. This year feels like I’m on one of those moving walkways at the airport. “Oh shit, this thing is really moving! Hey wait, lives are unfolding all around me!”

True is getting stronger in herself every day. Her IEP (Independent Education Program), designed to support some of her learning challenges, really started to pay dividends. She is confident, knows that things will come her way if she only persists. She’s right where she belongs. Now, if she can only get Dad to find her a new Mom. 

This morning Tadg and I were talking about the possibility of foreign exchange programs for his junior year in high school. He’s doing so well he might have little to occupy the last half of high school. I see his future as a man of the world creeping towards us, like light through a window moving across the carpet as the day passes. I can see the excitement in his eyes as he imagines what that new space might hold. Once he spreads those big wings we might not see him for a long time.

True and I were stewing in anniversaries last month. Mothers day, our wedding anniversary and Terry’s birthday are spread evenly across May. Rather than being overcome by grief I got moody, dark. I felt like a bit of an asshole every day. That’s a sure sign that grief is in the mix. True felt it in her own way, crying over all the deaths she’s known: Guinea Pigs, Hamsters, Dogs and Momma. She was feeling it all. Tadg … he was just doing Tadg.

This seems to be the year of me letting go of feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been in denial about that, which has been kind of nice – pretending that I’m perfect. It wasn’t obvious, just a lilt in my voice when I talked about myself. “Yeah, I’m OK. It would have been twenty years today… our wedding anniversary I mean…”


I don’t feel sorry about being a single Dad. My kids really are the best part of every day for me. I’m just sorry that I have so much to take care of on my own.

Sorry for myself that if the car dies ½ way into True’s school I’m basically screwed.
Sorry that I don’t have someone else to take up a little of the slack so I can work more, earn more and create more of a cushion for us.
Sorry that single, widower Dads are so invisible in the world and in a way suspect at many social events.
Sorry that there is nobody to hold me.
Sorry I didn’t ask her to hold me more when she was alive.

After three weeks of feeling crappy I realized feeling sorry for myself was keeping me stuck in those feelings. I decided it was OK to feel sorry for myself, I understand that. But hey, it’s really not doing anything for you anymore, so maybe it’s time to let go? Do a little adulting here? Maybe… we’ll see.

The best part of arriving this year has been our new dog, Dandelion. We raised her from 8 weeks old. That makes the bonding deep, especially for Truly. Rather than “crate training” we chose “Truly training”. We turned her bedroom into a crate, where the two shared a bed at night. For two months I woke up 3 times a night to let Dandi out to pee. Then True and Dandi moved to the couch in the living room. I got up 2 times a night then. She’s now 7 months old and knows her place in the home without being told. She puts herself to bed at night, with a little help from me. No more getting up 2-3 times a night. But I admit getting up at 4 am to snuggle with her for an hour before I get ready to get the kids off to school is a slice of heaven. She’s one of those dogs that doesn’t mind falling asleep on top of you, beside you or just tangled up in everything that’s available.

So good.

True and I went through 12 classes of dog training with her. Little miss D.D. Maroooo is every bit as smart and trainable as her German Shepherd (GSD) ancestors. Of course we all carry battle scars from those first months of puppy teeth. GSDs are notoriously mouthy. None of us escaped unscathed. She’s very good natured though. Even if she hits 85 or 90 lbs, she’ll still be safe for the kids to play with.

Tadg will take a short flight on his own this summer. I’m still paying off last summer’s vacation (lilt) so we’re only mailing one of us off somewhere. Truly has horse camp and school camp and friends near and far. I have more writing projects, and less driving (I hope). We all feel more at ease, each of us stepping more fully into ourselves.

I like this arrival. It’s full of possibilities.

I guess this is the moment in that Hallmark movie when I sit back on the front porch, a cup of steaming coffee in my hand, looking wistfully at the kids as they tussle in the front yard. I’d say something to the soft summer breeze like “wish you were here to see this honey.” But I know she’s always here. And I stopped drinking coffee a long time ago. And the kids are online way too much. So maybe just a glass of wine as I stare out front at the unmowed lawn and think about the wave of summer driving that’s about to crash on top of me. “Honey, I bet you’re glad you’re not doing all of this driving.”

That’s good enough for me.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

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