Friday, June 18, 2010

First Father's Day

There are some dads who have always known, without a doubt, that they wanted to be dads. My husband isn’t one of them. Before getting married, Jar and I never talked about whether or not we wanted to have kids. We both just knew that we needed to be together and take the journey no matter what. For a long time I was convinced that we weren’t meant to be parents, and we both sort of made our peace with that. “You’re my family,” he would tell me.

We spent our five years of marriage and a few years before that in our own little world: traveling, hosting get-togethers, working, dancing around our living room, producing a play together, planting flowers and riding bikes—over the Golden Gate Bridge, down the Venice Beach boardwalk and through Forest Park in our home neighborhood of Queens.

Sometimes we would fight because we’re very different at the core. I’m ambitious, critical and a free spirit. He’s set in his ways, and more of a dreamer than a doer. When it came to the tough stuff—quitting smoking, getting out of debt, health issues—we always succeeded when we tackled it as a team. Like with most couples, life’s challenges made us stronger.

I am grateful for those years that we spent as a “family of two,” and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. No matter how impatient our family members were for us to have a baby, Gilly arrived at the right time—when our hearts were ready for her. It didn’t matter that we didn’t have the perfect suburban house or the minivan or the nearby grandparents or the means to be a one-income family. And it’s not that we don’t want those things either. We’re simply still figuring it out.

Jar would be the first to tell you that he’s not a “five year plan” type of guy. Though he’s a dedicated employee who’s been with his company for more than 16 years, he doesn’t play the ladder climbing game. He was raised to believe that as long as you had a paying job, you were doing OK. College was never discussed when he was growing up, though he did manage to go as an adult. A couple of years ago, in the middle of one of our “Are we going to have a baby?” talks, Jar confessed that he was scared that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his family in the way that he wanted to. “I’m almost 40 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” he said.

But all of that changed on December 29, 2009. Because on December 29, 2009, Jar become a father. And when Jar became a father, it became very clear, very quickly, that I was living with a man who had finally found his calling. I think I made the mistake that a lot of people do—thinking that someone’s “life purpose” had to be tied to their career. But here, finally, was his destiny, and she was staring us right in the face. Gilly had Jar’s facial expressions and she fit perfectly in the crook of his arm. Our family of two became a family of three.

After my maternity leave ended, Jar was lucky enough to be able to stay home with Gilly for 8 weeks, thanks to his company’s generous parental leave policy. Those 8 weeks, he said, were the best 8 weeks of his life. He would do “music mornings” where he would introduce our daughter to a different genre or artist—show tunes, classic rock, salsa, and yes, even the Bee Gees. He would swirl her around the living room “dance floor” to the strains of Mr. Bojangles, and then get down on the floor to help her practice her roll-over and sitting skills. He would write down every bottle she drank, take her for walks to the park, sit side-by-side with her on the couch to watch TV, and—my personal favorite—text me pictures of her throughout the day. I loved hearing about their days, and I loved seeing how happy he was being a dad.

These days we’re both back to work full time, so we’re learning how to split parenting down the middle. Jar wakes up early with Gilly in the morning and feeds her breakfast so I can sleep in a little. Then I get her dressed and take her to “school.” He races out of work every day at 5pm so that he can hop on the subway and pick her up before her daycare closes—which is always a stressful feat. Then he gives her dinner while waiting for me to get home. Then I read to her, bathe her, sing to her and give her the last bottle of the day. And so it goes. A true 50/50 team, like we’ve always been.

So here is to my other half, my partner, a late-blooming dad, but the very best one I could ever imagine for our daughter. Happy first Father’s Day.