A brief tour inside the mind of an every-other-weekend Dad.
VISTORS, by Steve Safran
When the kids come to visit… STOP. RIGHT. THERE. When my wife and I separated a year ago, I swore words like “visit” and “my apartment” would never be a part of our collective vocabulary. We don’t visit. These are my children… we see each other, we hang out, we eat and fight and laugh and watch YouTube videos. It’s not my apartment. It’s ours.
What do you call people who show up at your place with suitcases, who get clean towels, take-out food, and temporary control of the remote? What do you call these people who pack up their suitcases after two days, leaving you to clean up the mess?
And what do they call the big place with their own bedroom, the dog, a backyard, the good computer, the video games… and Mom? That’s their house. My place is the apartment and Mom’s is home and the sensitive language police can’t change that. When I ask these young visitors to call the place they stay every other weekend their “home,” I’m really asking my kids to tell me that all of this is OK. And of all the things we’re asking of these exceptional kids, I can’t insist that they make me feel better about it.
I’ve done what I can to make the apartment feel like a home. There are video games, toys, and other trappings. When I was first looking for an apartment, I imagined a four-bedroom place for the four of us. Absurd. I scaled down, searching for a more reasonable, three-bedroom place. “Let the boys share a room!” I conceded. Ha. We’re in a two bedroom, where my daughter’s “room” is the living room, and a couch bed substitutes for her far more comfortable quarters at, well, home.
Then there’s the “Zoo Dad” conundrum. I don’t want to be a “Zoo Dad.” I don’t want the pressure of taking the kids to ticket-requiring weekend events with all the other Sad Dads. But I don’t want them to have nothing to do, either. If we were all together at “home,” a lazy weekend would be just fine. But a lazy weekend at my apartment feels like lethargic parenting. I only have 40 bi-monthly hours with them, so I should probably be filling those hours with something other than pizza? I don’t know; there’s no pamphlet for this crap. Do they watch Netflix and sleep late at Zoo Dad’s?
Sometimes, in the darker hours, I look to the kids for comfort. And sometimes, simply watching them is a relief. Kids this great mean I’ve done OK. Sure, they fight, do strange things, and have odd notions of proper public behavior (they are, after all, my kids). But we’ve done all right. And after untold hours spent comforting them, it is all too easy to look to these too-quickly growing bundles of my own DNA to assure me I’m not fucking them up. I will take unearned credit where I can.
Who will comfort the comforter? (And, for that matter, who will wash the comforter? That thing’s huge and does not fit into an apartment-sized washing machine.) Making sure the home feels like “home” and that Everything Will Be Fine is my job. Putting my kids in that role is scary, and unfair, and weird. Part of being a grownup is artful pretending, and unfortunately, I suck at it. I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve guy. And my own children come and they leave because they are Visitors. Cousin G put it into perspective: “They were going to leave eventually. With you, they just left sooner.”
The child shrink has told me not to indulge myself by showing my pain. Well… screw that. You might as well ask someone passing a kidney stone to sing “When You’re Happy And You Know It.” My youngest son has learned as good a lesson as any: grownups cry, too. Especially mushy, fluffy, squishy grownups whose idea of “being a man” is more Alan Alda than Alec Baldwin. So, yeah, I tear up.
Especially when my visitors go back home.