At 37, I've long since figured out how unfair life is. And of course, it's never an excuse, just something you live with - an obstacle that makes you stronger. Kids, however, are still in that learning process. With mine, anytime I say that we can't go to the park because of the rain, or they can't have a toy from the store, it usually illicit the predictable response, "That's not fair!" Then I go into the big parental spiel on how because our choices or even by no fault of our own, life might not always go the way we want it to and nothing we can do will change it. Sometimes I say this with great paternal stoicism, while at others I find my own advice hard to swallow like choking on a fat, dry pill without the aid of water. Certain aspects in being a stepfather qualify as one of those moments.
This weekend was Allie's birthday party. She's seven, but because of her height she looks twelve. It's a trait inherited from her six-foot, four-inch father. The same father who slapped on a big goofy sticker from Chucky Cheese, the word "dad" prominently showing on his chest like he were some sort of superhero. The same dad who squeezed into every photo op, putting his arm around Allie and pressing in cheek to cheek for everyone to get a snapshot before the candles were blown out.
The same dad who never visits until three months latter and only after Allie's in melt-down mode from craving the attention she never gets from him. The same dad who never sent her (or her sister) anything for Valentines' Day, who doesn't attend their school functions, who hasn't made a child support payment in over a year. The same father who, because of his many broken promises, I have to take Allie out of school, and drive to weekly therapy for her anxiety disorder. Then I have to sit there and listen as the therapist shakes her head, "It's so sad that her own dad's causing this. He's doing it and doesn't even get it." I can only sit there simmering.
After the party, Allie and her sister spent the rest of Saturday and Sunday with their dad. Watching them walk off to his car, I had to suppress the worry that they will be okay. Will he get them fed and in bed on time? Allie's getting over strep; will he remember to give her the meds packed in her overnight bag? This is my job to do day in and day out. It felt like handing over the keys to a priceless sports car to a virtual stranger so he can drive it around for a few days.
The rest of the two days I thought about the spite I always have to hold back when he returns them. He will literally just stroll into our apartment like he and I are old college buddies, shaking my hand and grinning as he checks the place out. The will girls throw themselves at his feet dragging him to show off the pictures that I hung in their room this last week. To them he's a celebrity who they're eagerly seeking an emotional autograph from. I'm just the meanie who makes them clean that same room. "It's not fair," Allie says every time she's told to do her chores. You don't know the half of it sister. I would kill to be able to have this sort of access to my own children who have been carted off hundreds of miles away by their over-controlling mother. It makes me sick then, to see this guy squander something so precious.
So here I sit ranting on like a whiny brat. Tomorrow I'll have to act interested as they tell me how great their time with dad was. "Oh wow. What fun!" I'll have to fake as I pack their lunches and make sure their shoes are on the right feet and give them their medicine and entertain them all summer. And one day I'll have to tell these girls how beautiful they look on their wedding day - not right before walking them down the aisle, but five minutes before their dad steps in to do the honors himself. Watching the girls walk away, my hope will be that the men they have chosen to spend their lives with are closer to the father and husband I've tried to be rather than the one smiling for another father-daughter photo op. Fuck it. It's not fair.