Major Change in My Life on the Horizon

Steph returned from Florida very early Thursday morning, and is planning to move there permanently this June.  She’s already burning up Craigslist and other Websites searching for work.  Although we have no future together as a couple, as far as Susie is concerned, we have always been on the same page whenever it comes to her happiness and wellbeing.

Both separately and together, we spoke to her about the changes that will be taking place in the next two or three months.  Most prominently, we would let her decide where she would live, and with who.  There were advantages and disadvantages to both choices, as there always are.  She has lived here in Columbus her whole life, and has friends through school and church, as well as godmothers and proximity to the Unitarian Universalist youth conferences sponsored by the Ohio-Meadville District.  Alternately, Florida would provide a fresh start, a clean slate, the excitement of starting from the ground up, reinventing herself.

We told her she had until June to make the decision.  If she elected to live in Florida with Steph, she would stay here in Columbus until Steph established herself, job- and apartment-wise.  (Steph posted on Facebook that she is looking for preschool teaching jobs in the Tampa Bay area, and is willing to go as far north as New Port Richey.  Florida is one of the 12 states I have never visited, so I don’t know the geography or layout.)

Susie has made her decision.  She wants to stay in Columbus with me.  Steph’s and my final parting is unsettling enough that she feels moving to completely foreign terrain–especially with a parent who is also learning the lay of the land–would be worse without the comforting presence of people she knows and loves, and familiar surroundings and routines.  She is starting at Whetstone High School this fall as a freshman, and, although it is a new school, she will be with many of her friends from Dominion, and it is in the city where she has lived her entire life.

I was a little flippant when I titled my previous entry “Diary of a Bachelor Father.”  I guess I was more prophetic than I realized.  My thought had been that Susie would elect to stay with her mother, mainly because a teenage girl would want to be very close to her mother during this period of biological transition.  Steph will still be a very active part of Susie’s life–nothing will change that.  She will still see Susie during vacations and holidays, and I’m sure they’ll be in constant email and Skype communication.

This is not hitting me like a ton of bricks.  I am, in fact, surprised and humbled by Susie’s decision.  Nor is it the first time when I anticipated single parenthood.  The first time I thought it might be possible was when Susie was less than a week old.  She was born on Monday, and she and Steph left Grant Hospital on Friday. We had been home about three hours when Steph went into congestive heart failure.  The squad took her to Riverside Methodist Hospital, and I stayed behind with infant Susie.  When Tanya and Pat knocked unexpectedly at the door an hour later (Tanya, our midwife, was pregnant–very pregnant–with her daughter at the time), I feared they had come to deliver the news that Steph had died.  But this was not the case.  They offered to take Susie for the night so I could be with Steph.  Susie had her first sleepover at four days of age.

During both heart surgeries, the possibility that I would raise Susie alone loomed over us.  Susie was not quite two when Steph had her first one, in 1999.  At that time, Steph and I decided that I would use insurance money to pay for a housekeeper and nanny until Susie started kindergarten.  In 2008, during the most recent heart surgery–which included my 45 seconds of widowhood–I thought single parenthood was a distinct possibility, and was trying to gear up for it emotionally.

The transition will not be as abrupt this time.  Steph will be here until June, and the past week has shown me that I am up to the job.  (I wasn’t always, and I’m the first to admit it.  During the pregnancy, I often wrung my hands about what a bad parent I would be, since my mother, father, and stepmother were horrible parents.  The paradox is that the more I doubted my abilities as a parent, the more people who knew me believed I’d be an excellent parent.)

I’ve told this story when this blog was at LiveJournal, but I think it bears repeating.  There was a man in his early 60s named Buddy whom I saw on the Sullivant Avenue bus several times a week while going to or from work, running errands, shopping, etc.  He remembers when I’d carry Susie on my shoulders, and he called her “Susie Q.”  (Susie will probably never be a Creedence Clearwater Revival fan.)  One day, I ran into Buddy on the bus and casually mentioned I was meeting Susie’s mom for lunch.  He did a double take.  “Her mom?”  I said yes, puzzled as to why this was such a jolt to him.  “Man, I always thought you were a widower.”  He had never seen Steph with Susie and me, and when he grew up, the father didn’t play as active a role in the child’s day-to-day life, especially if the child was a girl.

As for romantic or remarriage plans for me, there are none.  I am still surprised that I ever married at all, because for most of my adolescence and young adulthood I vowed never to marry.  I echo the words of Abraham Lincoln (in an 1838 letter) on the subject:

I have come to the conclusion never again to think of marrying, and for this reason, I can never be satisfied with anyone who would be blockhead enough to have me.

His life probably would have been a happier one had he stuck to this.  The dreadful novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter failed to explain how a vampire hunter would marry an emotional vampire like Mary Todd.

Susie and me, December 2010