When it all started out, I had no idea what love meant. I mean, I knew what Webster said about it, and I had some vague notions about what it would be like to have a girlfriend or a wife or whatever, but the simplicity of things I always thought were so complicated would later astonish me. I thought I understood it all, but I was wrong.
Back then, I wasn't 'Dad', or 'Father', I was just Daver, Mommy's friend. I'd been set up with someone, who I was sure to get along with, “but you should know she has a kid.” No one preps you for stuff like this in a highly traditional Judeo-Christian household full of parochial school teachers.
I was pretty conflicted about all of it. I remember the thought process going through my head at the time: in the back of my head, I was wondering whether things could work out with the little guy. He was only TWO, for crying out loud. No one tells you what it's like to have a 2-year-old until you have one. What if I scarred him for life? And I hadn't even met him yet.
So one weekend I went to visit some old friends up in Minneapolis, and I joked that she should pick me up from the airport so I didn't have to slog through the CTA ride all the way back home. “Okay,” she said. “I'll bring Ben.”
It was the most nerve-wracking flight I've ever taken. Clear skies, perfect winds, and a grand unknown waiting in the baggage claim. I knew SHE was cool with me, but what about HIM? What if he was afraid of me? What if I broke him? I was the younger of only two kids in my house, and was the youngest of my generation in my family: I never held a baby or played with a toddler growing up. I was completely and utterly out of my element. I rushed to the baggage claim with my my mind racing.
The meeting was uneventful. He didn't have many words yet, so all I had to go on was the look on his face, but he didn't run away in terror, so there was that. A big hug for her, and a handshake for the little one, and we were off.
We drove toward my apartment. We talked about colors, and where to eat dinner.
“How about here?” I gestured to the Lincoln restaurant, your typical North Side diner, and she found a spot across the street to park. She fumbled with the car seat and set him on the sidewalk, asking if he wanted to be carried across the street.
He held his arms up to me, I picked him up, we watched for the Walk sign together, and we crossed the street.
At dinner, I made him drink his milk.
When it was time for him to go home, he found some new words: “Bye, Dave,” he chorused mournfully.
He didn't need to be worried; within a year I was asking him if it was okay if I married his Mommy and if they came to live with me. He said, “Sure!”
There it was. I wasn't at the hospital; I hadn't participated in his conception or his birth. But he and I? We were okay. No, better than OK: we were perfect. Ready or not, Dad I was.
It was the best decision I ever could have made.