Last week Lileks wrote about an argument being bandied about these days, that both a mother and a father aren’t necessary. He had heard an anthropologist on the Dennis Prager show who claimed that the belief that a mom and dad family was in any way better than a mom and mom or dad and dad family was based on “superstition.” Read Lileks, he had much to say about that. And it was said beautifully, as usual. Here are my thoughts on that statement.
Today I was sitting at the table with Raphael. He was playing with dominoes; I was cutting out coupons (because yes, I’m just that domestic). In the companionable silence Raphael piped up, “Ah’m so glad yoo my mama.” This is one of his favorite phrases these days, and far preferable to his other favorite, “FIRE! FIRE! HEY GUYS! FIRE!” He likes to belt that out so loud that ears bleed, window shatter, and birds fall out of the sky.
Anyhow, I smiled at him and gave him my standard reply, “And I’m so glad you’re my Raphael.” He nodded and went back to the dominoes. He picked one up and started bouncing it among the crowd of dominoes on the table. “Daddy?” he whispered, “Daddy? Are yoo here?” He picked up another domino and held it facing the first. “Ah’m yoo daddy.” Little boy domino said, “Hi, Daddy.”
“Hi,” answered Daddy domino.
“What yoo doing?”
“Ah not doin’ anysing.”
“Ah’m so glad yoo my daddy.”
“Ah’m so glad yoo my Raphayll.”
I watched him act this out. Raphael should have no reason to long for a daddy. He has three loving adults in his house. We adore him. His brothers adore him. His grandpa (Appa) flies him around the house like Superman. His life is full of love and action and everything a child could need.
Tre and Max knew their dad. The remember how it felt to walk in front of him and have him reach down and palm their heads in a loving, protective gesture. They wrestled with him, a flurry of arms and legs. It must have felt like being in the middle of a tornado, and they knew they were hopelessly overpowered. But they laughed and threw themselves back into the fray again and again, because as powerful as he was, they knew they were safe. They have something to remember, something to miss.
The only time I can think of Raphael being with his dad was when he was about six weeks old. Raphi was lying on the floor, in that charming fencer’s pose newborns have. On his back, head to the side. One fist in front of him, waving before astounded eyes. The other fist behind him, at the back of his head. His dad laid down on the floor next to him. Not in front of him, but perpendicular and head to head. He wasn’t looking anyone in the eyes at that time. Raphi’s fist somehow brushed his dad’s hair and he grabbed it. His tiny fist tangled itself in that glossy black bristly hair, gripped tightly, and he pulled. His dad laughed and cried, “Oww!” And Raphael pulled. Tre and Max watched and laughed and soon they were all belly laughing together. Their dad had tears in his eyes from laughing so hard, and because Raphael was really pulling.
But before Raphael was old enough to sit up alone his dad had moved out. And in the six months before he checked out completely he saw the boys for a total of 11.5 hours. I kept track in little scribbled notes on the calendar. Raphael wasn’t even there for all those hours, since he was a nursing infant.
So what did he ever get from his dad that he could miss? What could possibly be lacking in his life now?
If children were logical beings, if hearts made any sense, there would be no reason for him to look for his dad. Some may say he’s absorbed the societal expectation of a father from books, TV, movies, things like that. But he’s seen many wonderful things in stories that he doesn’t wish for. He loves to watch Jay Jay the Jet Plane, but he never asks where his plane is. He knows sisters exist, but he doesn’t think he should have one. But a dad. He knows there should be a dad. Since he was 18 months old he’s been occasionally peering around corners and calling out. “Daddy?”
“Ah can’t found Daddy.”
He knows there should be a dad.
When I think about my ex I wish he were dead. Ahem. Should he turn up murdered, let me insert this disclaimer: I would never hurt him. I couldn’t. I don’t wish him harm, a statement that may seem odd coming from someone who just admitted she wishes him dead. It’s not that I want him to hurt or even actually die. I just want to know he’s safely out of our lives. I feel the spectre of him hanging over us, and I want to tell him, “Go away. Leave us alone. I’ve put this family back together without you, thank you very much. Don’t tear us apart again.”
I’m not even the same woman he knew. He knew the woman who loved him. Although I’ll always love him -in a sense - I’m now the woman who’s survived him. If I want anything from him, I want to be safe from him.
But the boys.
I looked at Raphael today, quietly playing out a part of the landscape of his heart. If their dad got his act together and wanted back into their world, I’d have to let him. I’d have to encourage it. I’d have to work to recreate the bond he shattered.
If he was healthy enough to try I’d have to swallow my rage and terror and hand my sons over to him.
That’s not fair.
But neither is it fair that Raphael doesn’t get to look in his dad’s eyes, eyes that are so much like his own, and hear him say, “I’m so glad you’re my Raphael.”