We sat around our well-worn kitchen table bearing deep scars from long forgotten but most certainly forbidden, hours of playtime fun, fingernail polish covering almost an entire end, leisurely discussing our day, when some unidentifiable provocation caused my five-year-old daughter to interject:
“I just have one question. Who even is your Dad?”
I shot a pleading glance across the table at my husband. What was the five-year-old appropriate answer to this question? My husband offered no backup. Instead he shrugged compliantly, as if to say, “There’s only the truth.”
My daughter plunged onward. “I mean, I know Nana is your mom, but I’ve never heard you talk about your dad, so I’m just wondering, like, do you even have a dad?”
All eyes at the table stared at me expectantly. “Eh-hem. I want to preface this by saying your Daddy will never, ever not want to be your Daddy anymore. He loves you very much. That will never change, okay?”
My daughter shook her head knowingly and said, “So your dad decided he didn’t want to be your dad, and so then you just kind of got a new dad?”
I pondered. “Actually, yes. That’s exactly what happened.”
“But you don’t see the new dad very often. That’s why I don’t know him?”
“Okay. That’s what I thought. I just wanted to make sure.”
Before I knew it, she was back to discussing which toy she’d most prefer on her next birthday or at Christmas, and I was reeling over how complex this life we lived was, and over what a freaking genius I was raising. How could such complex, layered issues be laid out so simply for her?
My husband and I are blessed with three children to love: his daughter from his first marriage, my son from my first marriage, and our wildly inquisitive daughter together.
When I’d envisioned my life and future family – as one does, perhaps, in the eighth grade, while Mrs. Robertson drones on about an algebraic equation that might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics – it contained neat and tidy edges, lacking any mess or complications. What I, in fact, produced, has been quite the opposite.
It seems I may be quite prone to “Who’s your Daddy” sort of complications.
In the early days of the blending of our family, I often wondered what in the world we’d done. I watched our older children pack little bags like tiny vagrants and wander back and forth from home to home. I cried myself to sleep thinking surely we’d ruined their lives forever.
It wasn’t that this shuffle wasn’t already occurring, from Mom’s house, now to Dad’s or vice versa. It was all the new players in the game. It was the new normal we’d given them to adjust to right when they had adjusted to the old one. It was the two new homes and families forming with different sets of rules and cultures. I couldn’t fathom how disorienting it all must be.
I knew my husband and I had chosen this. But our children had simply been plunged into yet another new landscape without a map to guide them. It seemed so cruel. How would we ever create a tiny universe within our home where everyone felt safe, valued, loved, seen, and yet still free to love the people within their other home with the fullness of their hearts? How would we ever help facilitate and support those relationships while also nurturing the ones within our own home?
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I kept myself up at night wondering how I would one day explain to her that her brother and sister had different parents than she did. How would I explain why her brother and sister sometimes went to live at other homes while she stayed behind? What would this teach her about the permanence and stability of homes, parents, and family units?
Within 48 hours of delivering my daughter, my son’s father came to pick him up for the week. At that moment, I realized how much of their lives my son and daughter would spend apart. I cried until my tears intermingled with the honey mustard dressing on my salad and the two became indistinguishable.
Along the way, the questions have come.
“Who is my sister’s Mom?”
“Why do I not have another Dad?”
“Why did you decide to marry Daddy?”
Oddly, the answers that came to me in these moments surprised me: “Because, baby, there is life after divorce.”
These words were spoken to me when life was still little more than rubble and ash in the freshly new ruin of divorce. I clung to them, believing they would hold true for me. There would be life for me again.
Divorce was never the ending I envisioned for myself. Nor, was trading out my own dad as a grown woman. Life is complex and imperfect. We don’t always find ourselves at the ending we’d anticipated or hoped for.
And yet, there is life after the first act.
I’ve come to realize there is goodness in my daughter learning this now. While it sometimes makes for tricky dinnertime conversation (and I confess to cringing when she explains the intricate details of our “Who’s your Daddy” set-up to random cashiers), I can assure you there is life, and life abundant, albeit a bit complex.
Who is your Daddy? Not sure? Is the answer tricky to pin down? Who is your baby-Daddy? Is that complicated, as well?
Good news: Life is complex regardless. Perhaps, yes, your five-year-old will spill all of your business at the grocery store. But if this is the worst that happens to any of us, I’d say we’re doing pretty well after all.