By now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t really get you anything for your birthday last week and Father’s Day yesterday. But you said we were on a budget, remember? For the copper tub? And it’s not my fault you were born so close to Father’s Day. Blame your mother.
And so, in the spirit of both frugality and celebration, I thought I’d write you a special poem instead of buying some big, expensive gift.
(Besides, I did get you those turtles, which may not make a whole lot of sense until now. Honestly, you did look kind of confused yesterday when I showed them to you.)
Oh, and I know I titled this post “A Love Poem”, but it’s not really a poem. Don’t be silly! I can’t write poems! I can barely write the regular way about how you love the Fourth of July and give me weird presents. Instead, this is more of a letter about all the things you do to drive me crazy.
Car trips. By the second hour of a long car trip I am always thinking there is no way I can grow old with this person, I cannot last another second with this man. The gum, Joe. The gum! Your fifty million containers of pink Orbit Bubblefresh gum, scattered all over the front seat and stuffed into every cup holder. And that’s not even the worst of it. The way you snap and chew and cram three pieces at a time into your mouth could make a person go insane.
One time you turned the radio off in the middle of our wedding song. You said you couldn’t stand that racket any more.
Last Wednesday night I was scrambling to get to a meeting and you were trying to fix a broken water pipe at the office and Jack kept asking me why he couldn’t start packing for our trip to Texas even though it was two weeks away and Rose was crying because she wanted a date night with Daddy and Henry couldn’t find his sneakers and Joey wouldn’t stop playing catch with Charlie in the kitchen. Balancing the phone on my shoulder as I corralled them, I hissed at you to just call Hatch already, referring to Matt Hatch, the plumber we’ve worked with for years and affectionately refer to by his last name.
And you said, “I’m not taking Hatch away from his family at dinnertime. He has little kids. I can fix this myself.”
This made me very, very angry. When I dropped the kids off to your office a half hour later on my way to—ironically—a reading from the book I wrote about parenting and family, I was enraged. As we transferred whiny children and a greasy pizza box between cars in the pouring rain, our irritation with one another escalated. Words were exchanged. And then the words became shouts. Things like we have little kids too and why don’t you calm down and it’s not always about you were said before we each huffed off to our separate evenings.
We are not given to passive-aggressive niggling or quiet stand-offs. Instead, our disagreements are loud and dramatic. We are still learning how to fight fair and communicate under pressure and stay out of arguments in rainy parking lots. We are a long way from perfecting the messy art of our marriage. But every single day we show up and we do our very best, and sometimes that just has to be enough.
After nineteen years together, my stomach still does a little flip every single time you walk in the door.
Patiently, you give me the space to live our life out loud and reveal our lowest moments, our epic fights, our struggle to raise our family. You do this even though it means all of your brothers and sisters and friends and patients know you wore mismatched shoes for an entire year. You do this even though it means sacrificing your own privacy. You do this for me.
That being said, it makes me nuts the way you come in the door and empty your pockets and leave your keys and receipts and junk on the counter, like this:
Last week I called you, panicked, as I left Jack’s eye appointment. Just as surprised as I was, you stayed calm while we talked about our options, tried to figure out how to shorten the four-month wait to see a pediatric ophthalmologist.
Throughout lunch at Bertucci’s you kept your game face on, sipping iced tea and playing tic-tac-toe with Jack. And then you went back to your office and called every single person you’d ever met who was in the field of optometry and ophthalmology, tirelessly exhausting your every resource until we had an appointment four days later.
And watching you cradle our long-legged son in Children’s Hospital as we waited for his eyes to dilate, I saw that all along, you were as scared as I was. I saw it in the way you rubbed his back as he whimpered I am tired no more looking at my eyes, in the tender way you held his hand to help him navigate the hallway, the relief on your face as Jack identified letters on the chart.
Because before you are a dentist or a Yankee fan or a brother or a son, you are a father trying to figure out four boys and one daughter; how to clip a pink barrette into fine blonde hair and attach Legos together to make a battleship and make pancakes shaped like Batman. You are a father trying to figure out autism.
Happy Father’s Day.
This weekend Henry and I were shopping in Pier One, and he spotted a giant terracotta turtle with matching mini ones—the kind you put in your garden for decoration. “Wook!” he shouted. “A big Daddy turtle! With his babies! ” And together he and I counted out five “baby” turtles to go with the Daddy.
As I watched our youngest child clutch his small green turtle with his chubby fingers, it occurred to me that you’ve also been living our life out loud. By fixing things yourself and making sure Hatch gets to eat dinner with his kids and saying things like come on Jack one more letter you can read it, you can do it, Daddy is here, you’ve been quietly teaching all of us what it means to be a family.