Another thing about this father’s holiday is…. well, you know, Zack has a second father figure in his life: my boyfriend, who lives with us, and has lived with us for more than a year.
Frankly, I have to admit I’m still amazed that this is allowed to happen. The fact that I could meet a man who loved me *and* my son, and who agreed to take us both on (of course, without his even knowing what was in store for us just weeks after he moved in, but that’s another story unrelated to divorce, and you’ll have to go here to read about it), just seems like an impossibly lovely occurance. But if I learned anything from my divorce, it’s to stop expecting that you have any idea when the good and the bad will make their grand entrances in your life. They don’t really care about our schedules, it turns out. So you just have to say howdy and pull up a chair when they decide to visit.
The process of Zack and my boyfriend’s getting used to each other was an amazing thing to watch. In my case, my boyfriend was more reserved about making the connection than was my son, being worried about overstepping his bounds. But Zack’s like me: a big, sloppy wet-kiss puppy waiting to love any creature in an 8-foot radius. So Zack learned to adjust to his slower pace, stopped draping his body all over D’s, waited for all the signals to align. One night as I was putting Zack to bed, he said to me, “Mom, D—— doesn’t love out loud like we do.” Exactly. But the important part was, clearly he was feeling D’s love anyway.
So Zack has spent a lot of time investing in the language of ownership. Last year at the 1st grade school picnic, he screamed delightedly when D showed up, “My mom’s boyfriend is here! My mom’s boyfriend is here!” I blushed, because something about the nomenclature made me feel like D and I had just escaped our love nest, with the hot blush of nookie still on our faces. A few weeks later, Zack said he wanted us to get married, especially because we had a family trip to Hawaii coming up. (I don’t know how he knew, but he said, “Hawaii’s perfect for a wedding! You can get married on the beach!”) He also admitted, when I asked him to tell me more about what he was feeling, that he didn’t like calling him “my mom’s boyfriend,” he said. It wasn’t like everyone else. But what I really think was going on is that that term didn’t capture Zack’s very own relationship with my boyfriend; Zack, ever a wordsmith, knew he wasn’t included in that language.
So when we were in Hawaii, we got sent a little piece of grace, in the form of a sprite-like 4-year-old blonde charmer in a flowered bikini who struck up a conversation with Zack in the pool. She said, “Is that your daddy over there?” And Zack said, without hesitation, “No, that’s not my dad. He’s back in Brooklyn. But he’s like my stepdad.” I quickly hid my face behind my puzzle book, so Zack wouldn’t know I was listening, and I threw an elbow in D’s ribs to make sure he was catching it. Then the little girl said, “I have TWO daddies. And we live in Atlanta.” Zack said, “Oh, cool.” And the two of them paddled and splashed around the stairs until, sure enough, the darling girl’s second father showed up, and jumped into the pool to swim with her.
We’ve had many more “stepdad” and “parent” incidents since then, but each one stil feels like a totally original pearl, a thing of beauty born out of heartbreak and hard times. On Memorial Day weekend, D was trying to teach Zack how to ride a bike. Pedal-pedal-fall over; pedal-pedal-fall over. I was standing by, guarding a stair railing that might impale Zack if he tipped in the wrong place. Z fell over again, this time the pedal scraping his leg as he went down. Indignant and furious, he stood up and said, “You two are the worst parents EVER! I’m calling the police on you!” before he started walking back toward the bike.
D and I just raised our eyebrows at each other, before Zack could see it, and Zack walked over to the bike desipte his anger, and got on and tried again, content that two terrible parents were helping him through this rite of passage.
I’m posting a picture of my son and his third parent (though my boyfriend would be very unhappy about it), because I wanted you to see their expressions. You can’t make this stuff up. Which, it turns out, is the truly great part about it.