|The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad
"I have something to tell you," I tell Charlie as our boots crunch through the moonlit snow.
Our mission is to return some shirts to a nearby retail store; in truth, I don't even know if
the store is open.
Those six words seem so cheesy, as if I’m about to reenact an after-school special. But it’
s the best introduction I have, and it paves the way to a few more carefully-prepared —- if
equally trite —- key phrases:
“Only one Mommy. Only one Daddy. ”
“More people to care about you.”
“Nothing is taken away.”
“Everyone loves you.”
I stop Charlie, kneel down on the cold pavement, and look him in the eye.
I lead with the Mommy thing, the Daddy thing, the more people thing, the nothing taken
thing, and the love thing. Then I say flatly:
"Anne and I are going to get married. She’ll be my wife. I’ll be her husband.”
It needs to sink in, all the way.
"I KNEW it!" Charlie says instantly with glee and proud satisfaction. "I knew you were
going to say that!"
Charlie, wise beyond his years but short of his own estimation, wears his presumed
omniscience with tremendous pride, maybe too much.
"So…are you okay with it?" I ask.
"Sure," he says simply, as if I'd just asked him to pass the Cheerios.
"Nope. I get it. I like Annie."
I’m instantly taken back to the day nearly a year ago when my children first met Anne in
the children’s section of a Borders bookstore. Within minutes of the introduction, she
eagerly took my girls’ hands to look for princess stories, and asked my son to share his
hypnotic attraction to Star Wars comic books. My kids took to Anne almost instantly. It
doesn’t hurt that she makes French fries from scratch.
On Charlie’s and my way back to the apartment, where Anne’s watching Food Network
and my five year-old daughters are asleep in the soft glow of a night light, Charlie and I
talk about the wedding, the ring, and the proposal.
I asked Anne to marry me by colluding with a restaurant's staff to redesign their dessert
menu. Below the descriptions of molten cake and crème brulee was a final offering: "A
Lifetime of Happiness." Anne looked up to find the ring box waiting for her attention.
I casually tell my son this story, just as I did so many colleagues and friends. But Charlie
processes it differently.
"A lifetime of happiness…" he repeats, pondering deeply.
Had I just implied to my son that he sits outside my circle of happiness? That I could have
complete personal satisfaction to the end of my days without my kids being involved at
all? Would he consider himself merely a bystander to his father’s deepest joy?
I’m ready to break out the Mommy thing, the nothing thing, and the love thing all over
again, but by then we’re home, and Charlie quickly becomes distracted by Iron Chef. I don’
t want to badger him.
The next day, Charlie and I huddle with the girls — all of us in pajamas — and I break the
news again, the same way, in the same order.
Miranda, who thinks with her mouth, reacts first: "I'm worried."
I brace myself. "Why, honey?"
"I've never been to a wedding before," she says, eyes wide in exaggerated anxiety. "What
do I do?"
“You just show up," I say. "It's just like a party, with yummy food and cake."
"I don't like cake."
Arriving at destination: Normalcy.
On the drive back to their mother's house, the girls play with two animal dolls in the back
of the car.
"This one will be the Mommy, and this one will be the baby," Miranda says to her sister.
"But where is the Daddy?" Cindy asks innocently, as she does all things.
"It's okay. They can be divorced."
At a red light, I glance in the mirror over at Charlie. With his sixth sense, he instinctively
looks up from his Goosebumps novel.
I say impulsively, "Nothing makes me happier than being your Dad.”
As the light turns green, Charlie smiles and gives the most deeply satisfying reply I could
"Breaking the News"