He was turning 10, a milestone in and of itself, but this year - rather, the year leading up to 10 proper - made it special in a way that surpassed my ability to put a name to it, what he’d seen, what he’d felt, what he’d lived. There wasn’t a medal big enough.
What to get him: that was solved on a warm winter day. “Dad, do you want to play baseball catch?” Oddly specific, but with us there were a few catch options: rugby-catch, lacrosse-catch, football-catch. I’m far from a baseball fan - I enjoy it enough, played a bit of Little League as a kid and fancied myself a good three-beer first baseman as an adult. (Rec League softball, but still.) And yet, that innate thrill. Having a catch, as the movie said, the only thing missing being an Iowa cornfield as a backdrop. And a memory: my first actual baseball glove, given to me by my dad, his glove, a relic from the 50’s, stuffed soft leather worn to beige. So, a baseball glove. There was a certain satisfaction to the idea, his first real glove, a gift that only a dad could and should give him. The big-box sporting goods store down the street from my apartment had tons; there was one that fit him that I could afford. He’d outgrow it anyway, I thought as I looked at the $65 model next to the $30 one I’d picked out, and this one seemed fine, and thinking any more about it would take me through doors I’d been working to nail shut.
Shortly after I stopped writing for my dadblog, I stopped reading them, other dadblogs, even those written by friends. Shutting down my site was, in the end, a relatively easy decision: despite the yearly predictions (mostly from fellow dadbloggers) that THIS was The Year of The Dadblog, success never came. I should say “success”, as in financial success, which isn’t quite the real thing; there were the occasional sponsored trips, and a little money, and the ego-boosting that comes with getting to speak at blog conferences. If there was actual success it came wrapped in discovery: I learned to be a disciplined writer, to work under pressure, to have a voice, to be inspired by good writers but to not ape them. To have the sheer balls to insist upon getting paid to write because it’s a thing I can do well. There were meetings with publishers, who wanted me to write a Dad Book. I had my own ideas. Some of them even made mention of the fact that I’m a dad. After my separation I wrote a couple of posts, attempts to make sense of the new normal, writing simply to hear myself write. But in the end, at the end of one life, there was nothing more to say. So too was there nothing to hear - the triumphs and tragedies of my happily married fellow dadbloggers were as meaningless to me as the static picked up by SETI radio telescopes. What was once a language I knew became alien noise, emanating from regions so far off as to be non-existant. I’d read a few blogs written by divorced dads and their truths, punctuated by anger, despair, loneliness, had little to do with mine. I needed a restart. I wanted to be as new as I could be. Tabula rosa. For me, and for my kids.
It was raining on Saturday so we were stuck inside: Zoe brought her Candyland game, and was very excited for Lucas and I to play, and so that’s what we did. I won the first game, and Zoe said “you’re really good at Candyland, Daddy” and I almost told her that skill had nothing to do with it, that it was all luck, but instead I thanked her, and when she won the next two games Lucas and I complimented her on her Candyland abilities, and we ate some popcorn and watched the puddles form in the parking lot of my apartment building. For dinner that night I made spaghetti carbonara. They liked it, because of the bacon or course, but also the peas, and when I told them that the “sauce” was actually a raw scrambled egg, they went wide-eyed. And asked for seconds. Later when they were asleep I was cleaning the dishes and looking at the pictures on top of my fridge, the kids, Kelli. That which keeps you going, that which fills the slate of your life.