As “Daddy’s special friend,” what’s my role? by Megan Haas
June 30, 2009
Tim brought Claudia over to my house today. I was sitting on my couch writing when I saw his car pull up. It took him a while to get to the door and when he finally did, I saw that it was because his daughter was with him. When I met Tim he didn’t seem like a man who had children. He seemed like a man who’d go through life never staying with anyone long enough to conceive anything permanent. He seemed like a man who had, in fact, escaped all responsibility.
The morning I woke up next to him, I still had my clothes on and my virtue intact. We lay in bed staring up at the ceiling, talking about this and that. For some reason, I jokingly asked how many children he had, not thinking there was any answer. He told me five hundred, which he then modified to three, and then told me their ages. Twenty-one. Eighteen. Two. I lay there shocked for a few seconds, but adjusted quickly and looked up at the ceiling some more. Then he mentioned Claudia and her age, again, and asked if this was scary for me. At that point he could have told me that he was married and it wouldn’t have shocked me and so, when he told me he was still married, it was par for the course. Claudia was born after they’d separated. They didn’t want to stay together, but they didn’t want to leave her behind.
Tim and I have now been dating for a year. His divorce papers have finally been signed and Tim is ready to ease me into the role of Daddy’s special friend. I’ve only seen Claudia twice, for a few moments in passing. Today is the third time. Our day started with her nap – her sleepy, soft self and blond braid, lying still on my bed where he’d arranged her on top of a towel over a sheet of plastic because she is learning to do without diapers. After the nap, and some playtime, we head out for a picnic at Gasworks Park, and watch the boats sliding back and forth on their tacks. The wind is warm, the sun carries the scent of blackberries. Claudia, after her short coloring session on the floor of my kitchen, is curious about everything, especially me.
We head over to the swings and the slides. I am surrounded by the normal, non-inquiring glances of children and parents. Here we are, just another family on the playground: Tim, a marked baby boomer dad with his silver and dark hair, taut legs in khaki shorts and no inhibitions, paired with me, a twenty-something version of Claudia. And Claudia, running free, easy, wild, and independent, rosy as an apricot, a gypsy child whose hair must be taken out of barrettes at her own insistence so that she can feel it in the wind. She knows the sensuality of this feeling at age three. I hold back, having never spent a full day with her, and I’m still sensitive of making my mark and upsetting the fragile ecosystem of it all. I like the two of them together, and I know that he should have this kind of carefree activity every day but doesn’t. I watch how free he is with her and how every interaction is a subtle lesson. “How many geese are over there by the stone wall?” he asks her. “Count them for me!” And she does.
At the playground I see the happy babies and parents and I wonder why I’m so ill at ease. There are so many reasons that could answer it, but they aren’t my reasons exactly, they are the reasons someone else would think of. I try them on for size. One is that I loved this when I was little and that my father was every bit as loving and attentive as Tim. Am I pining for my childhood? Next is the baby I haven’t had. This man, my lover, would love my child just as much as he loves Claudia. This idea feels tempting but in a slightly queasy way. I’m not eager to give birth. Perhaps, I think, it is because I love to watch her love him, and depend upon him with perfect confidence. Maybe it is the fact that they’re part of a family that’s breaking up but because of this little girl will still be ironclad, even if they are divorcing. Claudia gives me little looks and questioning glances, shy smiles and bold grins. She’s a tiny chameleon with flowing blond hair, wearing nothing but a shirt and panties.