My seven brothers and sisters testify to the reality that families come in all sizes, shapes and colors. We range in shades from straight coffee to cafe latte to cream.
My daughter’s mother is Japanese, and since birth my daughter has had two households. I understand how unusual this is in Japan, but for her it’s normal. That her mother and I do not live together is more of a logistical reality than the emotional handicap that some people might think. The important thing is that it works for us.
The reactions we get range from confusion to concern to censure. But the questions are the real gems.
“So, how does she eat?” Usually with her mouth.
“So what do you do when your wife is not there?” Same thing I did yesterday.
Twice my daughter and I went to Australia for three-month missionary training. (Yes, there is a God.) The first time, I toilet-trained her and the second time she learned to swim in the Indian Ocean. Just last summer she went to the United States by herself.
Oh, she is still very much a little girl. This spring she gave me this priceless explanation of why the plants were out of their pots: “But I just wanted to see how they ate and went to the bathroom, Daddy.” OK, Mary.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who yell at small kids and those who are aghast at the idea. As the former can attest, the latter have never been a parent. I often consider parenting to be the most exhilarating and humiliating human experience. I have felt wonder, magic, shame and contrition all in the course of 24 hours. But this is the fate and joy of parenting, and I would not trade the ride for anything in the world. I love being a father.
As a single parent you don’t get to pass the baton. You are on your own. The parent-child relationship can be intense. When I lost it one night in Australia and Mary put on her coat “to go back to Japan,” I was the one who had to take a step back and make things better. When I fractured my arm, I gave baths and changed diapers with one hand.
While this does not necessarily make me a better parent, I feel it does set me apart from other fathers. Whereas they can ask their wife to do something, I am not afforded this luxury. And contrary to conventional wisdom, men are quite capable of handling household tasks. I know, because my daughter does not starve nor run around naked. Here’s another gem — “You cook and sew?” Not when the maid is around.
I doubt we look like your parents or family, but I assure you I am a parent and we are a family. This is not some part-time gig until something better comes along. I don’t have “my time with Mary” nor do I “play Daddy.” And least of all, my daughter does not need any sympathy, as anyone who has ever met her knows. Whether she becomes a full-blown terrorist is anyone’s guess. However, she has a mother and father who love her very much and she knows who these people are in her life. What she decides to do or become is up to her.
So families of all stripes and shapes, get up and shake your pride. Sing it like Sister Sledge, “We are family — all my brothers and sisters and me!”