Car rides were (and still are) my go to opportunity when my kids were younger to just talk about anything and I took advantage of those times when I was carting them to and from school stuff to just catch up on what they were thinking. There’s something about the quiet in a car that has them opening up.
I don’t get that chance much anymore since they have their licenses. But the other night we decided to get take out so my younger one came with me. Driving along in the dark, he asked me about his dad and our relationship.
“Do you think he wanted to marry and have kids?”
I was thunderstruck for a few seconds, pretending to be intent on the traffic (which I was) and the rain storm that had begun. I was also choosing my words carefully as I know this one has been trying to figure his dad out since he left years ago and only occasionally has any communication with the kids.
“Yes, he did. Why are you asking?”
“Well because it seems to me he doesn’t really want to be a dad anymore. He didn’t want to be married anymore either. Do you think he just did it because it’s expected?”
“Yeah, you know. Expected at a certain age to marry, to have kids. His parents. Society…expected that. It was easy because you were dating for years so he did what was expected of him.”
“And then he didn’t want to do what’s expected anymore. He didn’t want to be a husband, a father, so he ran away.”
I took a deep breath. This is a weighty subject and I’m unsure where he’s taking it.
“I can’t speak for him. I don’t know. But I do know that he asked me to marry him and yes, he wanted children. You and your brother were planned, wanted and we were very happy to have you. You remember how your dad would always play with you, don’t you?”
“Yes, but we’re nothing to him now really.”
We were stopped in the take out line by then. I turned to look at my son.
“He loves you. I only know my experience which wasn’t easy, but I’m here to be with you through yours. Your dad loves you. I don’t know what happened that changed him so much. He doesn’t talk about it. Perhaps even he doesn’t know for sure. And I’m sorry.” My voice trailed into the darkness. Platitudes don’t work with the kid whose constant question as a toddler was “Why?”
“I know. And we have you. Single parent. And him, on again, off again. Here and then he disappears. But you’re always here Mom. We count on you.”
“I count on you too. We’re a team!” I tried to enthusiastically smile in the darkness. “Sometimes we don’t know the answer to ‘why?’ so we just have to find peace without it.”
“I know. And I know it’s not us. It’s him.”
I peeked over at him and he was quietly contemplating as well as staring out into space. He noticed me looking at him and turned to face me.
“Yes, it’s him. Not you, nor your brother. Perhaps he’ll come around one day. Perhaps not. I don’t know. But I’m here for you always. Your brother and I are here for you.”
“We’re a family. I feel like we’re closer since he left.”
“I feel that way too. I’m grateful we have each other,” and I reached over to grab my son’s hand and squeeze. Three times as I’ve always taught them.
One for each word: I Love You.