Katerina Zacharia’s son misses his daddy, but still considers his mommy—who often fills the role of both parents—a superhero.
Yesterday was like any other day. I picked my son up from daycare. He jumped into my arms and I tossed him high up in the air a few times and carried him to the car…no easy feat by the way. My son is 3 years old, weights 45 pounds and has a man-size head, literally, I do not exaggerate. He’s a tank. With such a huge head, he has had to develop some serious upper body strength and stature to hold his head up high and run. He’s pure brawn.
When I put my stocky mass of love into his car seat, he started crying out of nowhere. Two minutes before he was laughing and hugging me, and singing with the joy that comes with our daily post-daycare, post-workday reunion: “Mommy. Mommy. I love you. You’re back!” I’m always as delighted to hug him up. It’s the most charmed moment of my weekday.
I miss my little man during the day. With my daughter, I stayed home the first 18 months of her life. With my son, the circumstances in our life demanded that I leave him in someone else’s care at 6 months. I miss that time with him that I had with my daughter and it’s the reason, perhaps, that I sometimes give him a little more cuddling. Toddlers, despite their bipolar tendencies, are scrumptious and he’s a muscular bundle of scrumptious.
As tears streamed down his face, I asked again, “What’s wrong, D?” And he wailed, “I want my daddy.” I kissed and hugged my son. I swallowed back my own disappointment, “I bet you do, buddy. I’m sorry he is not here. But, I’ve got a whole lot of mommy and daddy love for you.”
Later that evening he sighed, “It makes me sad that my daddy is so far away.” Now that he understands that his father is far away and lives in New Zealand, he tells everyone, “My daddy is far away. He lives in Museum.” I find it telling that he pronounces “New Zealand” as “museum”: A museum pays homage to the past. We go there to look at prehistoric remains, artifacts, and fossils. Everything is dead in a museum and in all ways but the physical one so is his father.
He doesn’t remember his father. We left when he was still a baby. If he spends a day playing with one of my friend’s husbands or boyfriends, he asks, “Are you my daddy?”
My son wants a daddy. He’s a boy with a lot of testosterone and he yearns deeply for the dad he sees all his little buddies enjoying. Who wouldn’t? Dads are cool. They use words like “dude,” “kiddo,” and “bud.” They throw footballs with force. They have muscles and stature. They smell like wood, spice, and barbeque. They shoot rockets in the air, build forts with couch cushions, wrestle and tackle with ease, buy Doritos and Twinkies on a Saturday adventure—a genuine masculine treat. Even if a dad stands 5’5″ and carries a frail frame, to a 3-year-old, this man is a superhero of mammoth proportion. Dads bring confidence, adventure, steadfast resolve, and of course, very cool gadgets and toys. (I’m not saying women don’t. It just feels a hell of a lot different when a man brings it).
Now, D is lucky. I am a tomboy. I have taught him to punt a football, tackle, kick a soccer ball high and far, and ride down hills on his bike fearlessly. I can still toss D over my shoulder and swing him high. I can fix the seat on his balance bike and replace the tire on his toy car. He calls me “Superman Mommy!” And, I adore him for recognizing and honoring me with such powerful imagery.
But, he’s getting bigger and I’m not getting any stronger. I do push ups and lift weights in an attempt to grow my muscles and prolong the inevitable, but eventually, I won’t have the physical strength to sustain the air toss or his tackle. There’s a limit to my physical strength and even more importantly, my testosteronic tendencies.
My daughter summed my limit up best the other day when she declared, “You are the best mommy and daddy in the world, but I like you better as a mommy.” I’m pretty sure my son does too. Physically and genetically designed for macho (and perhaps a little bit of womanizing), he asks that I keep my dress on when we return home from the work day, he shows me off when he likes my skirt, he loves the smell of my perfume and requests that I wear my hair down. He’s the boy who opens a magazine, searches out the Nair advertisement and keeps it open to a spread of long legs and smooth skin. He holds the door open for his sister and me. At school, he plays rough with the boys and gentle with the girls. A girl at school pounded him the other day and he took it.
He yearns for a daddy as my daughter yearns for their daddy. She knew him. She was close to him. D just knows that our family picture would look better to him with a daddy.
So, as I move through the world as a single woman who is both desired and desires, my children’s own desires for a daddy becomes the lens, or rather the brakes, through which I look at potential relationships with men. Most people assume I want to find a man so I can rebuild a family unit. But the kids and I have a family unit. Some assume I need to find a man to make things more financially comfortable, but I’m taking care of that. And others believe I should remarry again because life with a husband is better. And quite disturbingly, a few believe I need to date before my looks go so I can find my kids a new daddy.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am open to commitment and open to sharing my heart with someone. I just have no idea what that looks like anymore and I am very cautious. If Demitri asks a random male friend “Are you my daddy?” imagine what he would think about a man who consistently comes to pick his mommy up for dates, sits down for a meal at the family table, or spends an occasional Saturday afternoon out with he and his sister. Imagine the joy my son would feel to have a man around. Now, imagine the pain and abandonment he’d feel if this hypothetical man and I were to break up. You go ahead and do the imagining. I can’t. I cringe at the thought.
Rather than imagine the possibility of adding another layer of loss and abandonment on my children’s generous and yearning hearts, I grab all that I identify as daddy and all that know is mommy, mask my own desires to love and be loved by a man, and I become who Demitri so proudly calls Superman Mommy.
Katerina Zacharia is a media executive, teacher, and sole parent raising two children on her own. She is passionate about her work in media, diversity, and education, her children, her friendships and family, and keeping her sanity. She has no nanny.