Fatherhood for the Long Haul
Updated: Jun 24, 2022
It was a hard road for this divorced parent.
It’s not quite 7:00am. I’m nearly out the door before Laura wakes up—so I blow my new wife a kiss and dash for the car, stepping over the cats. Make a quick stop at Semifreddis for a blueberry muffin and coffee. With luck, I’ll dodge the worst of the traffic on 580 and be in Novato by 8. I absent-mindedly eat my breakfast at the dashboard diner while waking up behind the wheel. Thirty-nine miles in under an hour. Not bad.
I cross the parking lot and see that it’s almost full. Typical. Harry likes to say that we’re working on Internet Time—and that means if you think of something, it’s already being done. So we need to do it first. And faster. It’s been a year and I’m still adjusting to work in high tech. Magazine publishing was a grind, with a deadline every month, but it was predictable. Now that I’m designing consumer software, in a much more competitive market, the deadlines are farther apart but the daily need for innovation is exhausting.
Wednesdays are hard, because I need to get in early and out earlier. A typical day as senior art director includes six hours of meetings, leaving me little time to do my design work, much less deal with personnel issues. God help me if something unexpected comes up. I spot a couple of product managers headed this way and duck into my office. There’s still 55 minutes to get something done before my first meeting.
I log in to the network and wait for my computer to load. Still need to review sample interfaces for the new build. Now that I’m here, it’s hard to focus—I’ve got to talk to Leslie about the boys. Michael and James are having trouble again—third time this semester. So what else is new? It’s a miracle those guys have made it this far. Identical twins stick out to begin with, but when they have to attend special ed, insist on dressing like west coast rappers in a wealthy white school and have chips on their shoulders to match... well, they have targets on their backs.
12:15pm The morning flies by in a blur of progress reviews and finger pointing. The schedule for our next release is slipping. Engineering blames the product managers, the PMs blame market research, and the art department has to pick up the slack. Since I can eat in my next meeting, I take a break to get off my ass and workout a little. In the office gym. On the treadmill.
1:00pm. The afternoon starts slowly as I pick at my partly-thawed leftovers. This meeting of department heads is about to leave a worse taste in my mouth. There are probably cutbacks in our future, and word has come down that we need to evaluate our teams and decide who is expendable. Harry is careful not to use language like that, of course. A small, energetic man with a bottle brush mustache, our VP looks and sounds like he should be running a deli on the Lower East Side—but he delivers his message in perfectly-calibrated corporate-speak.
4:00pm. Where did the day go? I gotta get out of here. Marcus walks me down to the parking lot, concerned about the rumors that he’s heard. I play dumb and tell my number one designer that I don’t know anything. Because I really don’t. I don’t know when or if the axe is going to fall, and I don’t know who I could do without. I’ve already had to wield the hatchet here once before, and it was awful, to say the least. I have other things to think about now.
Like, how am I going to get to Dublin from Novato in under 90 minutes? It’s rush hour, on a sunny June day, which means I can’t expect to do anything like the speed limit for the next 62 miles. Slogging through a sea of red lights, squinting through the low sun, I shift in my seat trying to get comfortable. Then I realize I’m sitting on my wallet and my butt is jacked up on one side. Stupid. I have to remember to stop doing that.
Why did I agree to this arrangement? It seemed like a good idea at the time. When Leslie and I divorced, she wanted to keep the kids as much as possible, and I didn’t want to fight about it. Quality time over quantity, I thought. Who was I kidding? I see them every Wednesday night and every other weekend, because we’re close enough to drive and pretend that the miles and the hours between us don’t matter. It’s been five years since I moved out, and each year we’ve gotten a little further apart geographically and emotionally.
Not that my three kids don’t need me. But I’ve been working harder and harder to support myself and take care of them. When we first split up, I was turning over 85% of my salary, and living on rice and beans in a tiny studio apartment. I took any and all freelance work and still couldn’t make ends meet. We did our own divorce, just like the book from Nolo Press, and I ran up $40 grand in credit card debt instead of lawyer’s fees. Getting into the software business gave me a bigger paycheck, but also more responsibility—a longer commute, and less free time. And then, I got married again.
Damn, it’s 5:15pm and I’m gonna be late. I wish I could call ahead but I don’t have the time to get off the freeway and find a phone. So I just keep driving, my stomach knotting up with anxiety. Living with Laura has definitely made some things easier, and having her in my life is definitely a comfort, but she’s not interested in being a stepmom, either (I knew that going in). So as a parent, I’m on my own. I didn’t expect being a divorced dad was going to be this hard.
It’s 5:40—only ten minutes late, but I feel like I ran all the way here. When I get to the door of Leslie's apartment, she tells me that Mike and Jim aren’t even here—they went to visit a friend. Annoyed, I want to ask their mother why she let them go, but I stuff it. The boys are almost eighteen years old and spending a couple of forced hours with their Dad at the park isn’t exactly top of their list. Still peering inside from my discreet vantage point, I squat down to greet Jessica, who just turned eight. She’s wearing her typically cheery, pink-and-purple ensemble paired with a long face. “She just found out that her best friend Parisa is moving away this summer,” Leslie whispers.
I motion for the kid to hop on my back and she wraps her legs around my waist and her arms around my neck. We gallop to the car and head out for dinner. “What do you feel like having, punkin’?” “Taco Bell!” she squeals. Her mood is a little brighter and I manage to tease out a few giggles with some cartoon shtick: “Duck Season! Wabbit Season!! Duck!!!” (She likes my Bugs and Daffy impressions.) My mood is lifted too—after a day of struggle to get from one thing after another, it’s nice to just take in the simple pleasures of a seven-layer burrito and my little girl’s smile.
By 8:00pm, it’s over. Jessie is headed for bed, the boys are nowhere to be found, and I’m on the road for a fast 32 miles back to Oakland. I’m too tired to think about much of anything, but the dashboard lights up and I’ve gotta stop and to refill the tank. By the time I pull into the driveway and grab my briefcase from the back seat, another hour has passed.
Our little house looks awfully inviting, with an orange glow illuminating the windows from within. Can’t wait to just relax for a minute. I enter to find Laura curled in the big blue papasan under a lamp, beloved Kaesta purring in her lap. The scene is perfect—except for the furrows in her brow. “Hey,” I say.
“Hey backatcha.” She closes her book and takes a breath. “We need to talk.”
Shit. Couple more miles to go.
* * *
These memoirs are the product of my continuing work with dramaturg, actor and coach Suze Allen. If you're interested in writing your own stories, I recommend you check out her website ManuscriptMentor.com