As I mentioned last week, I attended a football game at Stanford University. Michael 2.0 offered me tickets to the Stanford versus U.C. Davis game and I thought it would be fun, even though I knew in all likelihood, Davis would get crushed. (They did.) I’d planned to leave my daughter at home with a sitter, but when the sitter fell through, I decided to bring Katie along with me to the game.
There was traffic, and when I finally reached Palo Alto, I was rear-ended by a man in a Mercedes. (Nothing serious, but I suspect he was texting.) When we finally reached the tailgate party in Chuck Taylor Grove—sweaty, tired, and dusty—I realized it had been a mistake to bring Katie. She watched Michael 2.0 hug me and sized him up, stared as if weighing how long to punish him for his absence. But it passed, and soon she was holding his hand and saying, “Michael, come home with you.”
He looked at me, puzzled.
“Katie, say come home with me.”
Stunned, he staged whispered, “Don’t teach her that.”
“Why not? She needs to master pronouns.”
Katie yanked on his arm. “Michael, come home with us, come home with us.”
Flustered, he stammered an excuse and broke away.
Katie watched him, pouting. She waited ten minutes and then slipped over to him, grabbing his hand. “Michael, come home with me.”
I asked what she wanted. “Come home with you … Home with me, please.” Lately Katie often invites people home, but I could sense this was something more, something bigger. Something she didn’t have the words to say.
Michael 2.0 humored her for a few minutes, then slipped off again.
The tension built as the afternoon progressed. Finally Katie grabbed Michael’s wrist as he walked past and grabbed mine with her other hand. Standing in the middle, she pulled us closer. Suddenly I saw what she wanted. She wanted a family, a traditional mother and father. She showed me everything she couldn’t say, and it broke my heart.
There are many things money can buy: more childcare, better services, intensive therapy, even a horse for therapeutic riding. But there are other things money can never buy. If I could go to Target (or even Nordstrom) and pick out a daddy for Katie, I would do it in a minute. Believe me, I would. Even in the vast world of online dating, I can’t seem to find suitable daddy material, and Michael 2.0 for all his many worthwhile qualities, wasn’t up to the task. So I keep putting myself out there, contacting men like I’m prospecting for gold, but for all my years of effort, I’ve turned up nothing.
My child doesn’t care about that. She simply wants what others have and take for granted: a dad. After all this time she still doesn’t have one, and that fact frustrates and saddens me. For a few precious days Michael 2.0 gave her that sense of family, but then, like so many people in Katie’s life, he vanished. Now he was back and she wanted him to stay.
How could I not have seen this would happen? Duh, duh, duh.
I was angry with myself and could feel a meltdown approaching from Katie. Michael 2.0 said, “Katie, I have work to do but I’ll be right here. I’m staying here.”
Taken at it’s most literal, this statement was not what she wanted to hear. Katie pulled harder. We peeled her clenched fingers off his wrist. “It’s okay, Katie. It’s okay.”
But it wasn’t okay, not really, and she burst into tears—loud, dramatic tears that I knew would escalate into something worse. I pulled her towards the path, away from the discretely staring eyes, and said I needed to use the bathroom.
Stanford restrooms have marble floors and walls and granite countertops, making them nicer (and cleaner) than the bathrooms in our home. She headed for the oversized handicap stall and kicked the wall several times, the slumped in the corner and cried hard. I cried too. She wailed, took a breath, then wailed some more. This went on for awhile until she eventually calmed down.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“You don’t need to be sorry,” I said. “Mommy is frustrated and sad too.”
“Frustrated,” she said, wiping her face on her sleeve.
“I know you like him,” I said. “But Michael isn’t good daddy material. We need to find a better daddy, Katie. We’ll keep looking.”
She perked up a bit. “Mommy look. Mommy look for daddy.”
“I will look for a daddy. I promise.”
I wanted to hug her, but when I asked she said no. We were both wiped out.
We washed our hands our hands and splashed water on our faces. We returned to the grove and my friend Dee Dee said, “Oh the poor kid. Are you guys leaving ? I think I’m ready to go too.”
He wants to, I thought, he just can’t make the leap. In that respect, he is exactly like Michael 1.0.
Katie glanced back once as we left, but as soon as the grove was out of sight, she happily followed Dee Dee’s son and his friend and tried to talk to Dee Dee’s teenage daughter. It’s not a struggle for them, I thought. Why is it so hard for others?
I may never know the answer to that question, but I know I want my daughter surrounded by people who love and accept her despite her differences. The people who find it easy.
Katie invited three people home that evening in Palo Alto, including a super cute (and married) traffic cop, and everyone politely declined after a round of laughter. We’ll both keep looking—each in her own way.
Until next time,