By Eric S. Elkins
It was a spring-like Sunday in mid-March when Simone decided to arrive in the world. She was a full four weeks early, precocious even before she left the womb. We worried a bit that day — her heart rate would drop during each contraction, which meant the umbilical cord was probably around her neck — but phone calls with my baby nurse mother were steady, and she calmed our nerves with her knowledge and expertise. Simone’s mom’s parents caught a flight and arrived at the hospital minutes after their new granddaughter vociferously expressed her first opinion (Not. Happy.). My (now-former) father-in-law, normally hemmed in by his mid-western stoicism, hugged and kissed me in the excitement of the moment.
That was ten years ago.
It’s hard to believe that the tiny, ruddy, screaming bean of a creature, her nose still flattened from labor, but gorgeous and miraculous in her very existence, has grown into the empowered, opinionated, high-energy, charming pre-adolescent who lives with me today. Simone the premie, Simone the infant, Simone the toddler, Simone the little girl…is now Simone the young woman.
She and I have been through so much together.
From day one, I insisted to my employers that I would work from home two days per week, so I could be with my little girl. Before she could walk, or even speak, Simone would go on assignment with me, curled up in her carrier (strapped to my chest), getting a backstage tour of the local aquarium, or finding herself plopped into the Stanley Cup. She met movie stars and authors, traveled to Orlando and to Hilo. For the first three years of her life, Tuesdays and Thursdays were my favorite days of the week.
Simone weathered the divorce as well as she could; her occasional meltdown when I dropped her off at preschool shredded my heart as I left her behind. I’d pull the car over a couple of blocks away from the school because my heaving and weeping made driving impossible. I’d cry until I could pull myself together and start the car again, feeling pathetic and powerless to stop the moving freight train of our fracturing lives. I didn’t know how I’d make it—wanting to give up, to shut down, the despair so potent that I’d finally drift into work, numb and pale and silent, and sit at my desk in a fog. Simone doesn’t remember those days, but I still feel the scars of that tumult.
But we found our equilibrium, the two of us. It took some time, but we settled into our routines, our banter, our understandings and conventions.
Simone’s mom offered up a different sort of stability by marrying fairly quickly and starting a new family that Simone could be a part of. But, though the last seven years have been lonely for me at times, I’ve been able to build a relationship with and create a household for Simone on my own– she has met a few (very few) of the women I’ve dated over the years, and that has allowed us to grow together in a way her mother will never be able to understand (or approve of, sadly). I’ve provided the stability of being there for her, and only her. I’m happy that Simone has a little sister and a mother and a stepfather who love her, but I’m also happy that our home is an outlet and a respite.
We’ve come a long way from the days she didn’t want to leave her other house. Now she tells me she wishes she could spend more than half the time with me. I tell her how important it is that she have time with both parents, that her mother would miss her, and that she needs to be there for her sister, but she talks about how there’s “a lot of yelling” at her other house, and that her mom is pretty hard on her. All I can do is offer her love, a peaceful environment, and a different kind of structure — looser in some ways, but still with statutes and high expectations. If my household has been less structured than Simone’s mom’s, it hasn’t been less safe, and it hasn’t left Simone without a sense that we have rules here, too. I hope it’s also allowed her to find the fun in spontaneity; something her mom was never a fan of.
Our move from the suburbs to the city had a huge effect on our quality of life, and it gives me great joy to see how Simone has grown into an urban sophisticate. She knows her city well, and she understands the satisfaction to be had in walking to amazing restaurants, the Mexican bakery, the grocery store, the playground. She has learned to be aware of her surroundings; to give odd strangers a wide berth, to pause before crossing an alley (even though we still always hold hands when crossing the street). For her, it’s normal to be recognized when walking into a restaurant or boutique, and to be welcomed by name. And her manners are impeccable — “please” and “thank you” come naturally; sparking conversation with a grownup comes easily; she can make a reservation for dinner and order off of any menu. She’s been to grand openings, events, festivals, and preview dinners. She can recommend a place to eat or a good spot for ice cream. Denver belongs to her.
Simone has grown lanky and clumsy in her new body, and her poise and sophisticated take on the world could make it easy to forget she’s just a child. But she is still a little girl in so many ways. She loves her plush toys, she cries when she’s disappointed, she still whines and fusses and begs; she still needs snuggles and hugs and reassurance that I’m sticking with her no matter what.
You know, I haven’t quite given up on the possibility of having another little one. But I’m coming to terms with the idea that it may not happen. I’m starting to feel an equanimity with the future — allowing myself to be happy with either outcome, and letting things happen as they happen. And part of that tranquility comes from feeling so ridiculously lucky to be Simone’s dad, and to have a daughter who’s so uniquely comfortable in her skin. She’s empowered, which can be a problem when you’re only 10 years old, but I know her confidence will serve her well over time.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the last 10 years. I have been far from perfect in my parenting, though I always strive to be better. To do better. People tell me I’m a great dad, but I don’t take those compliments to heart. They’re not privy to my doubts, my slip-ups, the stupid things I say or do. They’re not with me at the end of the day, laying in bed, realizing how I could have avoided an argument or a shouting match. But the good news is that I do feel like I am pretty good at being a father.
Ten years ago, I was just a guy sleepwalking through life, doing okay, but knowing I could do better. Now I’m the father of a funny, smart, and beautiful 10-year-old who’s secure in herself because she knows she’s loved and appreciated. She keeps me present; she forces me to be awake and aware and appreciative of what the world has to offer.
I know it won’t be long until we’re sharing our happiness with someone we both adore. But, for now, it’s easy to appreciate the gifts we share with each other.
Eric Elkins’ company WideFoc.us (http://widefoc.us) specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at DatingDad.com , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.