Fatherhood in the Time of Coronavirus

This is me:

Should have cut my hair that day.

That’s the photo that I’ve used for employee ID badges. They say “use a blank background,” and I’m a stickler for clear and concise instruction.

This is also me:

When you’re hiking you can use any background.

I’m the tallest one, in the middle. There’s also a couple of kiddos in there. You should probably know who they are. Here’s an introduction.

This is Oriana. She is 18 months old and loves cake.

Nom nom nom!

This is her sister, Helena. She is 4 and loves flowers.

She also loves cake.

This is Emma. I won’t tell you how old Emma is. Emma loves Oriana, Helena, and me. We are married. Here is Emma with Oriana:

This is all of us during the winter of ’19-’20:

Dad takes the group selfies.

Now we are acquainted.

“Fatherhood”

I started this website to talk about fatherhood, which I categorize as separate from “parenthood”. Here’s how I’m separating them out in my mind:

  • Fatherhood – the singular pursuit of being a father, trying to be a good dad, figuring out who I am while figuring out what’s expected of me by my growing family. The role that gender plays in my experience of parenting, both within my household and out there in the world. “Me” stuff; how I relate to the world.
  • Parenthood – The process of co-parenting with another person. Joint decision-making. Communicating with one’s partner. Couple stuff.

I know that these are not textbook or inclusive definitions, but they are the definitions I’m using for a specific purpose: to draw a boundary between how I as a person move through the world and how Emma and I move together. This way you’ll know what to expect from the blog. I’ll be focusing on the “me” stuff here.

I’m a stay-at-home dad! I’ve worked and reworked this post several times before going live with the site, so at this point I’ve been home with the girls for a bit over a month. I had been thinking about staying at home, as a concept, since immediately after Helena was born 4 years ago. In the meantime, I began and completed a Masters in Social Welfare (MSW). I’ve been in the social work/human services field for about 12 years, predominantly in homeless and housing services. Recently, something happened which really pushed us toward the idea of me staying at home, though for the life of me I can’t remember what is was…

…in the time of coronavirus.

“Oh yeah, Coronavirus! You mean the thing that’s upended everything about our lives, has turned every decision into a bad decision, has made it impossible to plan anything further out than say, a week? You want to talk about THAT?”

No, not really, but it’s here, and I need an outlet, so I figured we’d give it a go. I mean, I started a whole website just to be able to sort my thoughts, capture this time in my life, and share it with you; maybe get some things off my chest, potentially spark a human connection in one of the few ways that is both safe and available to me, but…..yeah, I guess I want to talk about it. Would you like to talk about it?

“Sure. Go on.” (I’ll pretend that’s you).

Here’s a timeline for you:

  • March 2019 – Oriana is born. Everyone is here! This is us, this is our family!
  • May 2019 – I complete my Masters in Social Welfare. The timing works out so that Emma can go back to work and I can stay home with Oriana until a spot opens up for Ori at Helena’s daycare in July. I’m unemployed but have a job lined up for when Oriana starts “school”. Note – I’ll detail my work experience and how it relates to my experience as a father in another post.
  • July-December 2019 – Emma and I are balancing work and kids and life is, essentially, “normal”. We can talk about what “normal” looked like later.
  • December 2019-February 2020 – Somebody in our house is always sick. It’s usually Oriana or me. I’ve burned through all of my sick time at work and we’re relying on our parents to watch Ori every time she is sent home from daycare. We think she’s just teething, but she’s also had a permanently stuffy nose. She’s had three fever episodes over the winter. I myself have had two fevers this season, which is two fevers more than I usually get. I’m not liking my job so I start looking for a new one. I line one up with a late March start date.
  • March 2020 – Uh oh.

I think the worst part of the initial stages of the shutdown, for me, was Oriana’s first birthday. Ori’s birthday coincided with the very beginning of the shutdown in New York, when all of our relatives were scrambling to learn how to use Zoom so that we could actually see human faces. We had an “online” birthday party. We didn’t yet know how the virus affects children (fast forward – we still don’t) and I think I was just….scared? Feeling scared at a one-year-old’s online birthday party, for those who haven’t experienced it, is bizarre and not recommended. But there we were, doing it together.

Let’s get back to the timeline:

  • Late March 2020- The aforementioned scary baby party. I start the new job and begin training remotely. Emma and I are both working full time and the girls have both been pulled from daycare. We haven’t seen anyone at all, with the exception of our neighbors when we go on our daily walk around our neighborhood. I call to check in on my mom daily. We watch a video of a doctor cleaning his groceries before he brings them into his house. Have you seen the video?

Well, now we’re alarmed. We wonder how we’ll be able to treat our groceries as though they’re “covered in glitter” and clean them as thoroughly as this guy when we have two small kids in the house. I’ll later read an article by Rachel Fairbank in Lifehacker where the author amusingly accuses the doctor of “sanitizing his groceries with extreme prejudice”. It makes me feel a bit better. Here a link to the article:

https://vitals.lifehacker.com/you-dont-need-to-sanitize-your-groceries-1842528397

April 2020 – We continue to work full time. My uncle passes away and I’m scared to go to his wake and funeral. Really, I’m scared to go anywhere. Emma stays home with the girls and I make the hour-long drive and wait outside the funeral home, thinking I can meet my family in the open air at the cemetery. I need to use the bathroom but I don’t want to go into the funeral home, because “indoors” is scary, and “public bathroom” is scary, and “one-year-old online birthday parties” are scary.

It’s just how things are now!

My uncle is being buried at the Saratoga National Veterans Cemetery and the funeral home is on one of the nicest streets in Saratoga, NY. There are mansions everywhere. So I find a Nalgene bottle and take care of it in the car. I’m doing great. My family is still in the funeral home and has been for some time. I wait a while longer, then a while longer. I make the decision to call my mom and tell her that I’m leaving for home; I’ve already been away for two hours. It’s then that I see my family start to exit the funeral home. Everyone looks so incredibly sad. I offer my condolences to my aunt, and tell them that I’m sorry I can’t stay longer, and I share with them what we learned yesterday: Emma’s 90-year old grandmother caught it. I need to be at home.

At a veteran funeral, they typically play “Taps”, but they aren’t doing that right now. I wonder what grieving will look like in the future.

  • May-August 2020 – Emma’s grandmother beats COVID because if you can survive the Holocaust you can do anything. We continue to work full-time and parent full-time. Emma, who is an elementary school administrator, works daily to figure out how school even happens anymore. We open our world up a bit; we go to stores on occasion, we see our neighbors, we see our families and friends. We do all of this outdoors. Most importantly to me: we are able to have a small birthday party for Helena. She has a blast.
That’s right, kid, a goddamn UNICORN CAKE, plus ANOTHER cake. You rule! Thanks, Gramma!

This is, obviously, and abbreviated version of what all has gone on over the past year or so. We’ll dig into the specifics in the posts that follow.

As I mentioned before, Emma is a school administrator, and the determination has been made that elementary school will be conducted in-person in Upstate New York. We’ve been confronted with a choice: are we comfortable moving from how we’ve been living, with each of us working from home and keeping the girls home with us, to suddenly sending Emma to work and both girls to school/daycare? This is a choice that some of you who are reading this may have had to make. Maybe you’ve been confronted with similarly awful choices sometime over the past 6 months. For us, our choice is that I’ll leave work and stay home with the girls. We’ve decided that we’ll make a determination later on if we feel comfortable sending Helena in-person to Pre-K. We can talk more about how we came to this decision in later posts, but in the meantime, I welcome you into my adventures as a stay-at-home dad.

“Don’t. Touch. Anything.”

Until we pick up the thread again (and again, and again, and again).

M

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