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Last week, my wife flew to Dublin for business. She left on Saturday evening and returned the following Friday. Her job wasn’t easy — she had to leave her kids for a full week (the longest yet), she had to pump about 642 times, she had to drag her jet-lagged brain to meeting after meeting and be present. My job? I just had to keep everyone alive.
Before she left, my wife took my son to the doctor to have an abscess reviewed. His armpit had been clearly bothering him and had been harboring a growing thing for about a week. We had been watching it, but his demeanor hadn’t markedly changed over the week, despite the reddening underarm. But that thing became uglier and uglier. So she took him in a few hours before her departure, and the doctor recommended to wait 48 hours and review again on Monday morning. My first task had been set: take one kid to daycare on Monday morning, then bring the other to the doctor, then head into work. Seeds of anxiety began to grow, despite the seeming simplicity of that plan.
Sunday came and went, with a long, nippy walk around a local lake, a face-plant by my daughter on the playground leading to her first bloody nose, and a 7-course meal (and by 7-course I mean one course of noodles). On Monday morning, after navigating a meltdown over socks, yogurt in the hair, and a pooping daughter just as we were walking out the door into a near-blizzard, I dropped my daughter off in the chaos of pre-school, then took my son to back to the doctor. I had barely removed his shirt when I heard the words “take him to the ER immediately” cross his pediatrician’s mouth. Cool.
As I stoically crossed the threshold into the Boston Children’s ER, I was overcome with a wave of humility. I saw kids. Lots of beautiful kids. Each one accompanied by parents. Kids in wheelchairs. Bald kids confidently pushing IV towers. Parents willingly wearing the weight of their role as if cloaked in it. I asked myself how my wife and I had been so lucky to have been given 2 healthy bundles. The abscess was nothing compared to what any of these families is going through. Absolutely nothing. But it’s my own something. And I’m doing it on my own. So let’s be okay with that.
I had barely removed his shirt when I heard the words “take him to the ER immediately” cross his pediatrician’s mouth. Cool.
I’m going to make a long story very (very) short: my son was a total rockstar. Through 3 blown veins (yep … I lost it after the second one), 15 minutes on the operating table (and a ketamine drip), and almost 6 hours without sucking down an ounce of milk, that kid was a model human in exercising coping mechanisms he (and I) didn’t know he possessed. It was me who had to call in a really good friend for support.
I had quivered. I was not just bearing witness to a scenario we parents all fear — a bright room, too many doctors, too many beeping machines, too sterile a smell, too little assurance — but for those few hours, that was my scenario. It didn’t matter that he was just having an abscess drained. What mattered was that I was his everything. That I was, in a very raw and tangible way, carrying his life in my arms. I felt it completely and that was my job. The weight, the solitude, the focus on what matters in front of me, and nothing more. The common thread that brings every parent together into one weave.
As quickly as we had crossed into that world, we left. My son was awake, babbling as if nothing had happened, completely demolishing a popsicle in recovery. On my car ride home, he fell asleep, and I connected with my wife to bring her along on our journey. It was quiet, we were together, and he was content. The sun was shining and the morning’s snow had melted. I felt head-over-heels in love with my son.
The rest of the week was a cinch after Monday. I surprised myself with how much patience I carried into the chaotic situations. Daycare drop-offs where one kid didn’t want to take off her shoes, evening meals when the little dude was overtired, my daughter shoving a water bottle in my son’s face upside-down with the apparent attempt to water board the kid. I felt capable and peaceful, precisely in the moments when life had told me to feel the anxiety of parenting on my own. I wanted to make my wife proud to be my partner. I wanted to make my kids happy. I wanted to prove to myself that this was no big deal. I wanted to show the world that being a single Dad doesn’t need to be something that’s questioned, but instead that it’s a way of parenting that’s connected, vulnerable, patient, and beautiful.
Here’s to confronting it all, and to the Dads doing this every day.
Mike Gutner is the COO at Mimo Baby. He spent 9 years at Google running teams in advertising technology, consulting, and product development. Father of 2 amazing children.