Monday, June 16, 2014

Lost time: A Cautionary Tale

Yesterday was Father's Day. It's a day that is very difficult for me.

My kids lost their Dad to cancer in January 2013. Father's day is hard not just because we miss him, and not just because of the future that will never be (though those things are very, very hard) It's also hard because of the past that never was.

The thing is, my kids missed a lot of time with their dad. It's really hard to write about this, but I'm writing about it because I know that we are not the only family to walk this path. It happens all the time... we get busy, we work too much, we confuse our priorities because we always think we'll have plenty of time in the future. But sometimes we don't. And then it's too late. This is a cautionary tale, and I hope that if you have small children, you will pay attention to what I have to say.

When my kids were babies, their dad and I fell into very traditional gender roles. I stayed home with the kids full time, while he worked a full-time job. In addition to his day job, he was really passionate about his theater work. Most nights, after work, he'd head over to the theater for whatever show he was working on, coming home long after we were asleep. He was rarely home for dinner, which was sort of a sticky point for me, because when I pictured us with kids, I pictured us having dinner together as a family.

Now mind you... it's not that he didn't love his kids. He did love them so, so much. HUGE amounts. He bragged about them all the time to anyone who would listen (and probably a few who wouldn't). He loved his kids more than anything, but he just always thought there would be more time. Don't we all? He would promise that after this show or that show he would take a break, and spend more time at home. There were a few times when he did take a break... times when I worked on a theater project of my own, and he took a month or two off from his commitments to help out with the kids in the evening. But those breaks were few and far between and they never lasted long. His creative work was such a huge part of who he was, and he was really so, so good at it. Everyone wanted a piece of him, to share in his talent, and he was always offered the chance to do one project after another.

But while all of this was happening, the kids were getting older. They weren't babies anymore, and already he had missed so much. Our marriage became really strained, and we eventually made the difficult decision to separate.

Ironically, our marriage ending gave him the chance to get to know the kids in a way he never had before. It was the first time he ever really spent big chunks of time with them, on his own, on a regular basis. It was a little rough going in the beginning, and there was a definitely learning curve. We started "practicing" with him taking the kids on Sundays while I would go out for the day, to give them time alone. When he moved out we settled into a schedule where he had them Tuesday evenings and every other weekend. But even then, there was still lost time. There were visits missed, because of shows and other commitments. He was supposed to have the kids for three weeks of vacation time each year, but he never did take all three weeks, due to various commitments. He kept saying, "Next year... "

Soon, there was no more "Next Year." He became ill early in 2012. The last weekend he had the kids overnight was in February of 2012. He was diagnosed shortly after. That last year of his life, they didn't see him much at all... just a few hours at a time, not even once a month. He was so very sick. The kids did spend the last week of his life with him, as we all kept vigil at the hospital while he finally lots his battle with cancer.

I cried not only for the loss of the father of my children, and someone who was a very important part of my life for 26 years, but I cried for the time he missed with them: his empty seat at the dinner table all those nights, the Little League games he missed, the visits and vacations that never happened.

I have to say it again... this was NOT a negligent father. This was a father who loved his kids SO HARD, but who just thought he would always have more time. But he didn't.

Please remember that your babies won't be babies for long. They grow so fast, and you can never go back. Be there. Don't miss it.