I can’t tell you the waves of emotion that traveled through me while I watched this heartfelt commercial. I normally try to filter out as much as I can on my social media feeds as an hour better dedicated to something constructive can evaporate quickly. I have posted before about the negative side affects of comparing yourself to other parents. I haven’t spoken about the empty feeling you have when you feel “less than” your own capabilities or worse that you could be thought of as “less than” in the eyes of your child. Though they listen to you, your children have a pull over you unlike anything you care to describe. For some parents their duty operates on a singular delivery of food, shelter and clothing with nothing beyond. The simultaneously exchange of emotion — of love — isn’t contended with because it invites a wider range of necessities: acceptance, understanding, peace for BOTH parties involved. You are just as vulnerable as your children to the hurt and disappointment that love travels with. As a loving parent and more importantly as a loving father you stake your claim to a portion of that hurt. Even though you know you will be punched in the gut one day you still welcome it.
I hadn’t been working for about three months and my unemployment was still being cut in half by a court order. I had the time to pick up my twin daughters but not enough money to always make sure there was food in the house. I usually relied on friends and family to fill in the gaps [which is part of the reason I decided to start this site]. I had been waiting for an unemployment check to hit my account. When it did, my negative account balance left me with $3. I had exactly 3 bus fares to pick up my daughters and I still had to buy groceries for dinner. My saving grace: I had $2.75 in quarters in a jar in my house.
I walked to the bus and waited for longer than usual creating fears that I may be late. When the bus finally arrived the answer to what I would make for dinner had not come to me yet. I was half way to their school and worry started to fill my thoughts. I didn’t know what I was going to do. They couldn’t go hungry and I
could would not sit them down to tell them what state I was in. No, I had to figure it out. I don’t know why I got off the bus but before I could turn around it was pulling away from the curb and I was quarter of a mile away from where I needed to be.
2 bus fares and a transfer left.
Then the answer came to me, fast food. $3 wasn’t much but I could get enough to satisfy two second graders, or so I thought.
“Can I have a cup of chili and a single cheeseburger?”, I said to a uniformed teenager.
“How much is the cheeseburger?”, I question.
“$1.59 plus tax.”
“Let me just get the chili”.
I try to a hand my debt card with confidence. It approves and I leave with the figure of $2.92 in my head. I pick up my daughters with hugs, kisses and no hint of the dread growing into the pit of my stomach. We get on the bus. 1 fare left and one transfer. I fill up the 45 minute ride across town with inquiries about their class and the multiplication tables.
“Daddy what are we having for dinner?”, my daughter asks me. “Good food”, I smile and lie back.
We get off to take the second bus. It comes after 20 minutes. We use the transfer. 1 fare left. It was starting to get dark.
My daughters never complain though. We get off and are finally making it home.
“Girls lets stop at the grocery store for a second.”, I tell them. They comply happily.
$2.92. $2.92. $2.92 $2.92 dinner for $2.92…..then I see….a sale! Chef Boyardee was .97 a can. “Girls pick up two cans for me.” The total at the cashier was $2 and come cents. I sigh deeply. Approved! My daughter then asks me, “Daddy are you ok?”
“I’m fine sweetie”, I lie again. When we finally get in I am still nervous that somehow I have cracked and revealed just how much desperation is swirling inside my body. “Girls, take off your clothes and wash your hands”. I opened the fridge and saw rotting fruit, condiments and stale butter. Magic. I need magic. I create some. The cup of chili and two cans of Chef Boyardee created a meal enough for second helpings.
“Daddy you want some? Aren’t you hungry?”
I was starving. “I am fine. You guys eat”, I lie again. “Make sure you wash your hands after you’re finish and lets go over homework.” Two glasses of tap water and three homework sheets later I breathe a sigh of relief that I have survived the day then like a virus the worry creeps in again; breakfast. I lay on the couch and eat the last spoonful of dinner and decide to tackle that problem at sun up.
1 bus fare. Hardly any money on my bank card…….the $2.75!!…..sigh breakfast for $2.75??
We get up and the question comes, “Daddy what’s for breakfast?”
“A treat!”, I lie and say. Around the corner they sell cups of oatmeal; $1 for a small cup, $1.50 for a medium and $2 for a large. I buy two small cups. “Thank you Daddy. Hmmm…this tastes good.” “Daddy do you want some?”
I lie. 1 fare left. Not enough to get across town and back. I start to walk and talk. The girls follow me enjoying the conversation, ignoring my distraction. I use the .75 in my pocket to split a bowtie doughnut with them from a street cart on the way. It melts perfectly with their now lukewarm oatmeal. We had walked to the second bus and they hadn’t noticed. We board. No fares left. We arrive at their school.
“Bye Daddy”. I kiss and wave them inside. I walk back to the bus. I had no way of getting home really but I wait anyway. I slip in my card and act shocked when it says its out of fares. The bus driver doesn’t blink and waves me on. When I get off I walk the rest of the way. I get home and quietly thank whomever was guiding me through the day. I wash the dishes from the night before and remember to not breathe a word of my anxieties to anyone.
I’d like to think, like the father in the video, I mask things from my children well. That’s a lie; they are probably just smarter than I give them credit for and they just make me think that I do. In either case the days when I feel less than capable I remember how much my daughters love me and even if I showed them the rips in my cape they would still accept me the same. You know by now, as do I, that’s a lie to.
– A Single Dad