When you’re left to raise a child alone, it’s easy to feel resentful. Yeah, resentment goes down real easy some days, along with a feeling of failure on all fronts, exhaustion, and loneliness. But then you remember that the resentment is directly tied to this child that you’d do anything for. So then you just get mad at men in general. For a while, it seems like all the rude drivers or all the nasty school administrators are men.
At first, as an official only parent, I played around with being both father and mother, making quick changes from power saws and leather tool belts to soup ladles and frilly aprons. Later, I started hiring people. I started with what I thought of as the most bourgeois hire of them all: a house cleaner. The house was stressing me the most, even though I essentially wasn’t cleaning it.
Brad (all names are changed) came highly recommended by a friend. He turned out to be a single dad whose ex had abandoned him with their two small boys as toddlers; they were tweeners when I hired him. He’d been an IT technician at IBM, and he quit and started a janitorial service so he’d have the flexibility to raise his kids alone. Sometimes he brought the boys along, and those young fellows could vacuum and scrub like there was no tomorrow. (When I found sponges in the toilet, I knew they’d come along.) Now I hear they’re all grown up, and Brad has to twist their arms to visit him at Christmas. He has back trouble from an old motorcycle injury and his years of cleaning. I’m sure the smoking doesn’t help. I haven’t gotten up the nerve yet to tell him I’m moving away, because I know he hates the thought of finding new clients. He’s comfortable with his regulars. I’m glad he has a girlfriend these days who seems to have stayed for a while. I’ve seen a few of those come and go.
Next I gave up on my patio garden, finally admitting that I wasn’t maintaining it at all, except in my imagination. Another friend posted a recommendation for a gardener, Marco, who was looking for new work. Marco did in two hours what would have taken me at least sixteen. So he started cycling in every couple of months. Marco’s wife, it turned out, had divorced him and returned to Mexico, leaving him to raise his son alone. He was worried about his son; a good and loving boy, but gone more than he’d like. He had ordered his life so that he could live on very little money, work less, and have time to be a father. He told me I was smart and beautiful and had a lucky life with my daughter. I’ve never met anyone so cheerful.
My painter, Franklin (recommended by a neighbor for his excellent painting skills, combined with good looks and an English accent), was raising his son alone, his wife having taken off to Australia. Apparently, even looking like a GQ model and sporting an English accent didn’t bring immunity to single parenthood. He seemed defiant and angry and unhappy. But he did a fabulous job painting my deck.
My plumber Richard’s wife was severely bipolar and had endangered the lives, both physical and emotional, of their two young daughters. Richard had bought an extreme fixer upper Victorian in downtown San Jose and was rebuilding it, piece by piece, as he had time and money. He told me about the princess palace he was building for the girls’ bedrooms, with custom twin desks for them in the study. And with almost no money, he was fighting for full custody. People don’t smile on a dads taking daughters from their mom, and he ran into a lot of rancor (both real and imagined, I think), at least in his conservative Catholic church. He did win, but it wasn’t easy. The mom was institutionalized temporarily, last I heard. Richard was so lonely and loved his girls so fiercely. He also needed to raise his rates.
My wonderful handyman who can (and is willing to) do any odd job, big or small, was the icing on my home maintenance cake. David, 6’5″, with a shock of red hair, also came highly recommended by a mom at my daughter’s old school. He never mentioned what happened to his wife, but he was raising his daughter and two sons alone. He had been in IT, too, and switched to the handyman trade, partnering with his quiet dad, for flexibility to raise his kids. (He makes his dad do anything that involves going down into the crawl space. He claims he’s too big. His dad does it, but grumbles.) David sometimes brings his teenage daughter along when he works on Saturdays, and she pours concrete, solders pipes, replaces electrical wiring, the works. I recently heard that David’s engaged and blissfully happy. Somehow, I’m not surprised.
At one point, it seemed that every contractor I hired was a single dad doing it all. What lessons was the universe sending me? Don’t dis men, it seemed to be saying. Here I was with a regular income, medical insurance for myself and my daughter, and an army of guys helping me run my little townhouse. Tired and lonely might come and go, but resentment I could do without.
Good-bye for now, all my Silicon Valley knights on white horses (or at least in white vans and pickup trucks).