Being Mom And Dad

I do not know how to be a Dad.

I believe that most who know me would refer to me as “capable.”  Since Ben died, I think I have adequately learned how to manage things I have never before needed to know how to do.  I have learned how to bank online, get my vehicle repaired, hang a picture using a level and hammer instead of the heel of my shoe, use a drill, update the computer and now, as of tonight, I know how to re-hook up the Apple TV. 

I did not have to do any of those things in my real life because, after 25 years together, Ben and I had come up with a division of labour that worked for us.  Bills, banking, electronics and cars were Ben’s job.  Appointments, sports scheduling, registrations, keeping an eye on the kids' social media, yard work … those were my jobs.  We were good at our jobs, and that division of labour made us both happy.  (Plus, I never had to worry about paying the bills after I spent the money.)

Since Ben died, I feel as though I slid as seamlessly as could reasonably be expected into those foreign roles that I never wanted, and I think I have done a fairly decent job for the most part.  I haven’t yet lost all our money, I’ve managed to pay the bills on time, and currently everything in the house is in decent working condition, including this computer.  I think Ben would be proud of me. 

But here’s the thing …. 

I do not know how to be a DAD.

It’s not something I can learn.  Back before my real world imploded I made a lot of the rules when it came to the kids, but if they pushed back, Ben (aka: Dad) was always there to support my decisions with one or two sentences …  usually something like “The decision has been made.  Done.”  And no one argued.

When the girls tried tears as a means of manipulation because they knew I would cave, their Dad was there to stay strong and say “NO.”  When they begged and cajoled for later curfews and told me that their social lives would be absolutely destroyed if I didn’t give in, Ben stepped in like the Dad he was and said, “Tears don’t work on me.  NO.”  When someone was locked in the rec room for too long with a boyfriend or girlfriend, Ben took particular pleasure in his Dad role by choosing that moment to spend time in his guitar sanctuary (a room right off of the rec room) practicing songs from the 80’s with the amp turned up.  When Zak needed some “man time” his Dad was always there for him in a way that just isn’t the same with a Mom.  When the girls needed to crawl in the lap of their Dad to be comforted, Ben opened his arms and sat down. 

Ben was the parent who taught the kids to drive.  I am a good driver, but I cannot teach someone how to drive.  I am impatient and jumpy and I expect way too much too soon.  Ben, on the other hand, was everything I was not when it came to teaching our kids to drive.  He was calm and clear and his patience was endless.  Plus, he really enjoyed it.  I think he loved the fact that he had an opportunity to be a really positive influence in the kids' lives, and he enjoyed the time he got to spend with each of them while they practiced.  He told me that he had some really good conversations with the kids while he was teaching them to drive.

Eleven days before our older daughter passed her written test so that she could receive her "L" (Learners) and begin to learn to drive, Ben had been told he was dying. He was in pain a lot of the time, and still he insisted on teaching our daughter to drive.  He wouldn't have had it any other way.  

Ben didn't live to see her pass the final test that allowed her to drive on her own, but he deserves all the credit for getting her there.


(That’s Ben, out with Jaime for her very first drive in 2015, still enjoying the moment despite his recent diagnosis. He was always goofing around.)

During Ben’s funeral a letter was read that was written by Jaime to her Dad, in which she thanked him for teaching her how to drive.  (She also added, “Thank you for not yelling at me as much as Mom.”  She actually said that.)  My son also spoke at Ben’s funeral and talked about how patient his Dad was when teaching him how to drive.  He said that Ben never raised his voice and patiently spent hours with him, teaching him how to back into a parking spot and how to pull in between two cars.

In our house, being taught how to drive by Dad was a right of passage.

In 2015 when Ben was teaching our older daughter how to drive, I recall thinking about the fact that he would not be alive to teach our youngest daughter how to drive.  (It is a strange, out of body kind of experience to be able to see into the future like that, and yet being helpless to stop the inevitable.) I recall wondering not only how I would cope with not having Ben to teach Raegan to drive, but also how I would cope with my daughter's rightful disappointment and feelings of being ripped off.  At the moment Ben sent me that picture above, I wondered if my youngest would look at it when it was her turn to drive and think about how completely fucking unfair it is that she doesn’t get the same opportunity.

Well, that day has finally come.  My baby has passed her "L" test and now there is no one but Mom to teach her, and that just isn't the same. Her Option B was requesting that Ben’s best friend teach her how to drive, but the problem is that he currently resides in Iqaluit.  (I live in the Vancouver area.  If you don’t realize how far away Iqaluit is, pull out a map of northern Canada and you will understand why that is impossible.) And although he is moving much closer to us at the end of August he will still be living an hour away.  He also has  a wife and young children of his own to take care of and a job to attend to.  So realistically, how is that ever going to work?  It won’t.)

Raegan just wants Dad to teach her.  Of course she does.  


Ben missed this moment, and I just don't know how to be a Dad.

Neither of us will curl up and hide.  Of course not.  Option A and Option B are not available, so we need to move onto Option C.  I guess we just need to figure out what that is.

Showing 5 reactions

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  • Antonella Totino
    commented 2018-07-19 19:43:01 -0700
    I too don’t know how to be a dad and each time my kids want something or need something that they did with their dad, it breaks my heart over and over again. Life changes for everyone and I have to remember that. Sometimes, I am so entrenched in my own grief that I miss some of their signs of loss.
    Loss of a spouse impacts the entire family on so many levels.
    The remaining spouse/parent has to take on all responsibilities which were shared.
    So hard and only 8 months in.
  • Joseph Kearney
    commented 2017-07-25 05:51:16 -0700
    Thanks to both of you. We all struggle. But we all need positive reinforcement in knowing as we move forward with this burden of grief, that there is still a lot of good that we can do and in many cases, have to do.
  • Lisa Richardson
    commented 2017-07-24 22:26:39 -0700
    Wendy I’m so there with you. My now 19-year-old son is working on his first car and boy is he resenting only having mom. I’ve always felt so keenly aware that the one thing I can’t be for him is a dad. And I too am thankful for Joseph’s positive post. It helps to hear from both of you!
  • Wendy Saint-Onge
    commented 2017-07-24 19:15:00 -0700
    Joseph … thanks for taking the time to leave the positive comments about how the kids may feel in the future. I certainly hope I am still providing them with a good life. Not quite as good as if Ben were here, but maybe almost?
  • Joseph Kearney
    commented 2017-07-24 05:57:55 -0700
    Wendy, I look forward to reading your blog. I can certainly identify with the things you say and how concise they are. There are probably so many fathers out there as well that are in the same boat but not knowing how to be Moms. When a spouse passes another layer of parental responsibility is taken on by the survived and when you think you are prepared to handle it, when it comes down to it, its the little things that you realize that you are not prepared for.
    When your children are older they will realize what you have been through (if they don’t by now) and appreciate you even more for what you did for them and how you were there and how strong you were for providing them a good life even after Ben’s passing.