Best of 2009: Evolution of a Father, Family

The following is a re-post originally published March 9th, 2009. Incredible how far we've come since then. Thank you, universe.

When Archer was born Hal was between jobs. Money was tight and we lived meagerly on unemployment checks and my two part-time jobs copy writing for an adult website (chicka bow wow) and hosting an online chatroom for (sick bodied, healthy minded) kids. We were stressed as hell about money, exhausted from staying up nights with Archer, totally lost. But we were together. Even as we turned our backs to one another and crossed our arms.

Still, Hal and I were determined to make it work, to fall in love with each other as a threesome. The mother, the father, the child.

We were a family from the outside. Over time to build an interior: a family with an inside was our plan. We prayed for the strength to dig into each other with our shovels.

Those first two months were made up of some of the most difficult days of our lives. The manic depression of new parenthood, the rollercoaster of I love you, I hate you, I want to leave you, fuck you, fuck you over, kill you, hold you, please no don't let go. Hal's temper was wild then and I couldn't pull my head from my hands. He yelled. I cried. He yelled. I cried. Restart. Go again. Skip a turn.

Hal longed for a job so he could support us, said he hated to feel like he couldn't provide. I refused to understand, preoccupied with my inability to breathe in an apartment the size of my fingernail, my shame for the screaming matches that occurred in front of Archer, our perfect new child.

It takes time to become a family and we were no exception. It might have even taken us longer than normal. Even though we were together every day, every night, every hour in between for the first two months of Archer's life. The hardest months. Months starved of sleep and good hair days and cigarettes when all I wanted was to chain smoke cartons at a time. Sneak away behind the bleachers and scream.

We would eventually hold each other's hands and hearts, shatter one another to pieces, then glue each other back together again, like new, but improved. Much improved.

But not without a fight or hundreds of them.

I remember one fight in particular and how disappointed I was that Hal refused to wear Archer in the Baby Bjorn. I hated him for it. Because all the other dads seemed to be wearing their babies wherever we went and why can't you be more like them, huh? Why do you have to be so... the way you are?

"Because it makes me feel weird, okay?"

And even on the bad days, when I thought I hated Hal, couldn't possibly stand to be married to him for one more minute let alone a life, I'd see him with Archer, see him as he truly was. Remember why I fell in love with him. Why I married him in the dark. Why we decided after weeks of deliberation to bring a child into the world together.

With Archer, 2005

Why we were going to make this work. Why we had to.

If it wasn't for Archer, Hal and I would have broken up years ago. We remind one another of this all the time even though we don't like thinking about it. It helps to know that once upon a time we weren't so happy. Puts things into perspective, places blessings in our pockets and stars in our eyes.

If it wasn't for Archer, there would be no Fable.

No story with a moral and also no girl. I whispered this in Fable's ear last night so that she might know how far her parents came. Just like I tell Archer, if it wasn't for you? We wouldn't be a family. You saved us. Thank you.

Those two months out of work were two of the most important months of our lives, chaotic but also important because it was in those months that Hal became a father. And it was that father that brought the mother in me back to him, kept me from running away, him from slamming the door. We're all in this together, take my hand.

"It takes dads longer," he said, "to really fall in love."

He said it again, hours after Fable was born.

"Dads don't fall in love immediately. It takes a minute or two I think."

When Fable was born Hal had to go back to work right away. Fable was born at 3:23 am and five hours later Hal was in his car on his way to The Valley, because television shows have deadlines even though babies are only born once. After work, Hal returned to the hospital, his eyes heavy, dark. He handed me a sandwich and I handed him our daughter who he held and gazed at and smiled down on, her hand wrapped tight around his ring finger. And I wondered if he was in love with her yet.

How long does it take? Does he feel it, now? What about now? Is he there yet?

The first four plus months of Fable's life Hal was working, a relief financially and also quiet. With an easy baby we had no sleepless nights. No fighting. No threatening each other. No question marks haunting our dreams, our sentences. Such is life without the stress of the unknown. Hal had a job lined up for when his job ended and we were in love again, knew each other well enough to talk without screaming, touched our pieced together flesh, appreciating scars.

"We're so lucky," we said to each other. "New baby and you're not unemployed this time. New baby and we're older."

Except the job fell through last minute because television shows have a tendency to forget to keep their promises. And Hal once again was unemployed.

A part of me was afraid. Of the fighting, the arguing about money, the frantic Craigslist searches and me emailing every magazine trying to sell ideas to out of order machines. Sorry, we're not interested. We already wrote that piece. Something like it. Try again. Come back later. No solicitors.

And then I stepped away from my fear, hands in my lap. I looked away long enough to watch Hal cradle his daughter in his arms. He didn't have to go to work, kiss her forehead as she slept, to say goodbye. He got to be with her, bond with her, much like he was able to do with Archer.

Blessings in our pockets...

Such is life with the stress of the unknown. Except without the stress part. Have we changed so much that we can wake up well-rested? Lean on each other instead of our parents, our friends we once confided in when we couldn't confide in each other. Express ourselves without I hate yous because he understands that I need space and I am aware of his need to provide, his feelings of weakness and vulnerability when he cannot.

Has it become possible for us to speak without raising our voices higher and higher until we all fall down? Can we press our faces to one another to catch a buzz? Inhale without exhaling smoke?

It seems that yes we can. We do. Cause you've come a long way, baby.

Six weeks of Hal's unemployment later I have stopped wondering if he finally fell in love. One day his eyes just sparkled.

With Fable, 2009

He was there yet, serenading Fable with his guitar in the middle of the night because she doesn't go to bed until we do.

Not without a fight or hundreds of them.

Just like Hal rocked Archer to sleep those early months. When his full-time job was understanding what it meant to be a father, self-taught like he had known the secret all along. Like he still does.

Now, pushing Fable's stroller behind me, behind Archer who insists on being the leader and "follow me, everyone! Into town where there are smoothies." All of us in a crooked line, one after another.

Don't worry, I'm right behind you.

We can survive for another few months on what money I make and unemployment. Confident that a job will find him or us, that we'll soon be back in the thick of our normal routine. For now, though, there is much to be celebrated in how far we've come, the sparkles in all of our eyes even as we brace for the possibility of darkness. We have owned the night before and can once again conquer it if need be. The blessings in our pockets are like fireflies.

Look for lemonade and silver linings. And don't forget to tell him how much you love him for wearing the Baby Bjorn this time around.

We're all in this together. Take my hand.