Physical exhaustion.

I had no idea that those two words could actually be a state of being, a plateau of consciousness that the Hindus or Buddhists neglected to reflect upon for the rest of us. It’s like, suddenly, I looked at calendar and realized “Holy crap. It’s 2012 already,” and I had no recollection of how I’d gotten here.

Those two words also explain the reasons.

Here’s the thing: we’ve gone through one of the worst stresses any family can endure, losing my wife and my kids’ mother, and tying to figure out how to keep going without her. My wife, Andrea, was a force of nature. When she smiled, people were lifted just a few inches off the floor. I could see a sparkle, dare I say a twinkle, in her storm-blue eyes.  This amazing, beautiful woman saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself and helped me become the man I am today.

So now, after all that, after living in the shadow of such a bright, shining presence, how do you move forward?  Maybe you don’t want or need the partnership that sees every major and minor decision as a joint effort.  We did.  So when Andrea left us, I was left standing here, day by day, making decisions like whether I take that new job, whether or not my daughter can handle moving to the public school, decisions made on my own, without that dialogue, without that discussion.  Not only is marriage, but parenting is a partnership. It isn’t just easier, it’s a necessity.  Your decisions can have a major impact on the rest of your child’s life.

Which brings me to my point: fear itself is what leads you to simple, physical exhaustion.  I have spent the last nine months struggling with daily life, exhausted just from the simple routine of living.  I have four kids: Abbi, 16; Hannah, 12; and the twins, Noah and Sam (who insists that in public to others I refer to him as Samuel…don’t get me started) who are both 8.  They each have different personalities, all have their own likes, dislikes, needs and cares.  I don’t fight the fact that I am doing this alone but sometimes I wonder if it’s hard for me to accept.  You see, I’d actually evened out my household.  When Andrea was pregnant with twins, my first thought was that it was twin girls and that I’d have five women in the house, all having PMS on a different week because God, after all, has a sense of humor.  So when I found out it was two boys, I wasn’t just happy, I was breathing a sigh of relief.

Today I have two girls, one in the throes of angst-ridden, teenage hormonal hell and the other in the awkward, frightened, middle-school phase, both with typical young girl issues and both with a Dad and no Mom. I find myself trying, maybe too hard, to understand what goes on and what they need and failing miserably. It scares me to think I might not be able to fix what’s wrong.

An example: Abbi was sneaking looks at a prom dress, something I could tell she desperately wanted, but when asked she told me she was going to use the dress she’d worn at homecoming last year.

“I’m in a new school, Dad, nobody’s seen it.  I have shoes, jewelry, it will be . . . fine.”

Fine. There’s the fear again. We’ve trudged this whole nine months through “fine”. I took it upon myself to make it more than “fine”.  I wasn’t going to fail.  I was going to be more than the Dad who didn’t know what he was doing.  After all, I can cook very well, thank you very much.  I can clean, I can dole out chores.  I can make this better.  So I snuck around, looked through the internet, discussed with my sister-in-law, female former colleagues. I found a similar dress, I ordered it, had figured out the size by my friends, and it was drop shipped just in time for Santa to deliver it.

But I was wrong. You see, I’m a Dad, a guy, and it became abundantly clear I don’t have a clue when it comes to many things about girls. It will come as no surprise to female readers, you see, that I failed because I neglected to take her . . . ahem . . . boobs into account.  The amazing, dazzling, twinkling smile of her mother’s on Abbi’s face faded when we couldn’t get the zipper more than halfway up her back.  “Umm, Dad, you didn’t take the bust into account,” she said, my brain having already wrapped its head around that. (I also had to whip my head around because I didn’t want the little ones to know it was me, not Santa who brought the dress.  Fear again.)

See, I’m Dad. How awkward is “Can I measure your bust, dear, no reason, it’s just a simple thing” when you aren’t . . . Mom. I have to deal with my middle’s first period still. I have to contend with prom, breakups, Hannah’s tomboy ways confusing her because her best friends, all boys, now look at her differently. That’s all on the horizon. When I worry so much about keeping the daily routine going, I fear for the events I don’t understand by nature of who I am. I am exhausted trying to figure it all out.

Then a friend gave me the best advice I’ve ever had, advice that applies to everyone, not just me: “You can’t fix everything, Dave.  Sometimes, you just have to let them figure it out on their own.”

I’m not “Super Dad”.  It sinks in, all you have to be is . . .there.  That’s the biggest part. Present, listening, and loving, and the rest will somehow figure itself out. So I ordered the new dress, correctly sized. I’m doling out chores, to everyone, so we have time to be together and I can hear what things I need to be worried about.

That way, when I need to face buying tampons at the grocery store I can at least hold my head up and know I got something right.

Dave Manoucheri is a writer and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons.  His blog, Our Story Begins, is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan and check out on his Facebook page too.