Our Story Begins:
A Note to Patton Oswalt
I wasn’t going to write today about Patton Oswalt. Not that he doesn’t deserve it, he certainly does. I just didn’t think he needed any justification or notice or reassurance from me.
Oswalt wrote an essay in GQ Magazine this week where he talks about where he is, just a few months after losing his wife. Coincidentally, that’s when I started writing every day to cope with being a single dad in a dual-parent world.
Patton, you see, is where I was just over five years ago. In April of this year, his wife Michelle McNamara passed away unexpectedly. Patton Oswalt became the only parent to a seven-year-old little girl. Never mind the fact he’s crushed by the weight of grief, he’s also got to help carry the weight his little girl feels.
And he has to figure out how to do the laundry.
I’m not kidding here, I’ve been where he is. It sounds so simple: “Well, you just do what you have to do!” But it’s really not that simple.
When I took over as the literal – not 1040EZ version – head of household I found out that so many things happened as a result of my wife’s handling them it wasn’t even funny. I had no idea what laundry detergent to use. I didn’t know how much bleach to add to the whites. Hell…the last time I’d done my own laundry I was a single man and throwing everything in the washing machine at once…damn the blue tint to my white tube socks.
We were just a couple months from Mother’s Day. Mom got a full high-tea for her day. Never mind the dichotomy of that, I get there’s a glass ceiling, but Mom got a full tea and scones and socializing. Dad got “doughnuts with Dad” and it was a fundraiser for the book fair. I had to navigate the fact that, if your Mom couldn’t come to the Mother’s Day tea . . . the kid was taken to a separate classroom and couldn’t participate. Forget how unfair that is to working mothers – and it’s horribly unfair. Think about the message that sends to kids who just lost their Mom. “I know you’re doing your best to cope with the fact your Mom’s gone…but we’re going to single you out and separate you from everyone else…just in case you didn’t feel bad enough.”
Parenting is possibly the most confusing, frustrating, aggravating, and ridiculous job on the planet. No sane person decides that they want, for a long span of time, to wipe poop, pee, throw-up and other fluids that belong to another person. No smart mind thinks they’ll accept the incessant noise, crying, worry, and panic.
Related: Our Story Begins: Older And Wiser
I worry, even today, about boys (because I am one) around my daughter. I worry incessantly about “sexting” and porn and bullying and everything that kids face today.
But I never thought for a second that I wouldn’t do it. I would put forth that, for the first time, I grew up and became a real adult the second I watched my wife’s last breath leave her body. I came to the realization that if I could walk in the door and alter my kids’ lives forever, telling them Mom isn’t coming home . . . laundry, cooking, jackass boy/girlfriends and, flu, norovirus and whatever other things that happen couldn’t live up to that horror.
For the record…I did send Oswalt a note via Facebook. Not looking for praise or response. He need not respond at all, frankly, I don’t honestly mind if he doesn’t. I want him to know that, when he thinks “I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this” he’s likely saying it as he’s actually doing it. I want him to know I’m heartened by what he wrote because…I was where he was. I thought I couldn’t do it, either, and then…I did. I don’t even remember doing it, but I blinked and my kids are as big as I am and getting bigger.
While he is still trying to figure it all out, he’s not lost. He knows what he has to do. Finding out how to do it isn’t really the hard part. Knowing you don’t have to be perfect is.
What about you? Do you reach that threshold sometimes too and wonder if you can do this job of parenting?