Warning: Spoiler alert for a recent movie and some frankly depressing speculation about death. Sorry.
Widowed parents have to deal with a lot of “What if” moments that don’t solve a daggone thing. But they cycle through our brains anyway because our lives didn’t work out the way we’d planned, so it makes sense to ruminate on this stuff. Like…What if our partner was still alive? What if our kids could have had the opportunity to have two parents? What if our partner had died when our kids were a different age – I mean, if they had to go and die on us anyway – so that there’d be more memories?
Having just watched Kevin Hart’s delightful, if comfortingly predictable widowed father movie “Fatherhood,” I’m reminded of my biggest “What if” – What if I had died and my husband had lived?
Yeah. I told you it was depressing. You were warned.
In the movie, which is based on a true story, Hart’s character is widowed shortly after the birth of his daughter, and decides that rather than move them both to Minneapolis, where he and his wife were raised, or just letting his in-laws take the baby, that he’s going to do it himself.
This sets up the usual flailing single father montage – he can’t get the baby, whose name is Maddy, to sleep. Her poop confounds him. Strangers not expecting a single dad ask where Mom is (RUDE). The all-mom parenting group he seeks help from initially assumes him to be looking for the nearby AA meeting because they’ve never heard of a single dad, which makes me want to punch them. Snooty moms.
As I watched Hart’s character, Matt, gamely navigate the wonders of doing a little Black girl’s hair, or try to look good with a baby sling, I think about my husband Scott, and what it would have been like if he’d been left to raise our son, Brooks, who was not quite two, when the stupid widow event occurred. What would he have made of having to deal with a baby Afro? I was the primary diaper changer – would he have mastered it? Would he have taken the baby to the Ravens bar by himself to watch the game each week without me there to take him home at half-time?
Here’s the thing: Scott was an amazing dad. Awesome at it. Lived for it. Still pisses me off that it was stolen from him. So when I think about how he would have fared without me, I chuckle and know he’d have knocked it out of the park. It would have been a smelly mess up in that house for a minute, but he’d have been an ace.
Dude was the most loyal person I’ve ever met, and he loved me like a champ, so I know that he would have done everything in his power to honor me by stepping the hell up. He’d have sought help – I’m sure my mother would have moved in, just like she did when Scott died. He would have bought every single baby book and contraption. The child and he would have matching Ravens jerseys for every single day, and Brooks’ current knowledge of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the Hallmark Channel would have been replaced with wrestling and NFL scouting guides.
I also know that, like with Matt in “Fatherhood,” Scott would have found a cute new girlfriend, because widowers seem to be more attractive in the dating world than widows. And that would have made me happy, because Scott was all love, and that love deserved to be given and received.
So why are we even talking about this? The movie reminded me, as most things do as a widow, that nothing in this world is guaranteed to work out the way you planned. But humans have a wonderful way of stepping up to challenges, a beautiful resilience that crops up from corners of our soul we barely knew existed. Our villages stay close. Our ability to pivot gets a workout. Our priorities change. We learn to go with the flow, even in a direction we don’t anticipate. We just do.
“Fatherhood” is a tribute to how we do what we have to do, whether or not anyone else approves, or whether we do it the way anyone else we love would have. We will get things wrong. We will say or do the wrong thing. We will try really hard and sometimes it’ll all blow up anyway.
Here’s the thing: I get a lot of credit for surviving something terrible that I don’ think I had a choice about. I did what I had to. I pulled it together. Scott would have, too.