Welcome to Great Moments in Parenting, a series in which fathers explain a parenting hurdle they faced and the unique way they overcame it. Here, Jason*, a 37-year-old recently widowed dad from Atlanta, explains how he stepped up for his daughter on a rocky flight.
My wife died nine months ago. Losing her was as hard as you think it was. I hate that phrase, “losing her.” It’s silly. I know where she is, you know? Anyway. We were together for 11 years and she was the rock of our family. I’m starting to do okay. Or as okay as possible. It’s taken a lot of adjusting and these past months have been terribly hard. She was way tougher than me. I’m the sensitive one. She was always the one who had her shit together and was always able to make me feel okay. She was an incredible wife and she was an incredible mom. What she did I could never make up for. When she was here she did way more than her share. There’s definitely a lot missing in every single part of our life. But, we have a 3-year-old daughter, so I’m just trying to keep things as together as I can and give her the stability and comfort she needs.
Our community has been incredibly supportive. We have a lot of friends and coworkers who have opened up their homes and volunteered their time to watch my daughter to supplement some of the cost of daycare while I go to work or to just give me some time to be alone. There’s a lot to deal with, but the community helps. And my daughter is just the strongest little girl ever.
My parents are a 3-hour flight or 18-hour drive away. They stayed for a few months after my wife’s death and now call every day — they’re as supportive as can be, too — and so we made plans around Thanksgiving to go home and see them. They were really persistent about it and thought it would be good to spend the holidays with family. My wife’s parents passed some seven or eight years ago. My folks even bought us the tickets. I thought it would be good, too. My daughter loves her nana and pop-pop and was excited to see them.
But I don’t like flying. Actually, I hate it. The terminal, the security line, the flight itself all make me anxious, which makes me less tolerant of everyone around me, which makes me deplete myself more easily. My wife never had such issues so she would put up with me and we’d laugh things off together. It’s funny how you look at things when someone is gone and see all the little things they helped you out with or made you feel better about. I worried less about the airport when I was with her because I was with her. Without her here, I was nervous. It would also be my daughter’s first real flight. We traveled with her once when she was about six months but that’s it. So there were a lot of factors at hand.
The day of the flight was actually pretty smooth. A friend drove us to the airport early, we got to through the gate easily, and we ate before our flight. So my stress levels were fine and my daughter was having a good time. She loved the moving walkway — we went back and forth on it a few times because she loved it and so I could try to wear her out a bit — and there was an emotional support animal at our waiting area, a small white Terrier, that she loved.
Then, we got on the plane. We took our seats, I gave her a small snack. We looked out the window and I told her about take off and landing and how her ears might feel weird and all that and she played with my phone for a while. But she was definitely a bit on edge. Maybe I was projecting onto her, I don’t know. Maybe she was just tired. But there was something about the seat or the smell or the close quarters of the plane that she didn’t like. We took off. She started to cry. Then stopped. Then started.
She fell asleep for a little while mid-flight but then we hit a little turbulence. At this point, I’m anxious, I’m nervous. She wakes and starts crying immediately because, of course she does. But I don’t want my little girl to be scared. I try everything. I rock her. I distract her. I offer her food. She’s just having a helluva time. I’m getting nervous, too. But I think of my wife and how she would’ve handled it. And my wife used to sing these silly songs to her. I don’t remember the name. I don’t think she named them. I’d only sung them a couple times since she’d passed. So I start singing one of them quietly into my daughter’s ear and rocking her a bit and she calms down. She could’ve easily tired herself out. But my daughter actually laughs when I get to one of the funny voices in this song.
That’s it. The rest of the flight was pretty smooth. She nodded off for the last hour or so. When she did, and I had a moment, I cried a bit. I missed my wife. I still do. I always do. But I was genuinely proud of myself. I’d had a motherfucker of a year. It still is one. But seeing my daughter through that moment helped me feel better. Tomorrow will be different. The next day will be different than that. But this helped.
*Out of respect for privacy, names have been changed.