Single dad and writer Eric S. Elkins shares the victories and challenges of parenting his young daughter while trying to get back in the dating scene after divorce.
Eric S Elkins

A couple weeks ago, I was offered an awesome job in an awesome city, for an awesome amount of money. It was one of those professional and lifestyle opportunities where everything seemed to fit into place. I've had this dream of living in the San Francisco area, essentially since I moved away from Santa Cruz after college. I want to surf before work, even if it means wearing a wetsuit and booties year-round. I want to be able to order Indian or Ethiopian or Singaporean food to be delivered at 11 on a Wednesday night.

Dream job
I want to take Simone to tide pools, and play in the sand with her, and take her to the Museum of Modern Art for free on Thursday nights. She knows sushi and dim sum, she's a sucker for lamb saag -- but what if she knew the names of dishes her schoolmates' families made? You know, stuff you never get in ethnic restaurants.

My littlest sister and her cool husband live in the city, my mom lives two hours away in Sacramento. I'd have back-up, company, support, free babysitting and Simone would have near-daily interaction with family.

So I was offered a plum job, and the salary would have been solid, even by Bay Area standards. I didn't interview for the position; my mentor called me asking for help. I offered to commute a few days per week, staying with my sis and brother-in-law, then working from home in Colorado the other days, so I could be with Simone. I had it all worked out -- alternate weeks in Cali and Denver, traveling on, say, Wednesday afternoons. Sometimes, Simone would come with me, and I'd still be with her half the time. The travel would be wearing, but I do some of my best writing on airplanes, and the frequent flier miles would be unreal.

But the boss said she'd need me in the office every day.

I sent email to the ex, asking if I could take Simone with me, with the caveat that I'd fly back with her every second or third weekend. I had no expectation of acquiescence. I didn't get it. To her credit, Simone's mom recognized the opportunity of realizing my dream professionally and domestically, and she even offered to go to mediation, with the aim of my moving alone and being able to see Simone "once a month or so."

But I see Simone every weekday, because I take her to school in the morning, and we have our two nights per week and alternate weekends together. Rarely does a day go by when I don't interact with her for at least a few minutes. She's my favorite person, my partner in adventures, the most important relationship in my life.

I'm not moving to San Francisco, at least not for another 13 years or so.

It got me thinking, though. In many ways, divorce didn't result in freedom, but in constraint. The implications are enormous, maybe even bigger than I'd originally understood. If I meet the love of my life in, say, Helena, Montana, I can't move there to be near her (not that I'd necessarily want to move to Big Sky Country, but the take-home message is that I don't have a choice). I can't take a seven-day beach vacation (unless four-year-old is in tow) without intensive negotiation first.

I had to skip out on my favorite annual press event this year, because I couldn't find someone to back up Simone's mom on my custody days. I can't stay out all night carousing on a weekday, call in sick, and sleep in, because I still need to be at Simone's apartment by 7:10 in the morning to take her to school (make no mistake: that hasn't stopped me from going out on a Wednesday night and paying for my 2.5 hours of sleep all day Thursday). I've missed lacrosse games, critical film screenings, opportunities for exponential leaps in professional development, hot dates and killer parties. And I can't? well, you get the idea.

And you probably know where this is going, too. So let's skip the wordy transition, and get to the guts.

Here's what I do get:

  1. A pig-tailed, magical being running to me at seven every morning, not caring if my eyes are a real-time advertisement for Visine.
  2. Big laughs at all hours of the day (and night).
  3. Songs sung sweetly from the backseat of the car.
  4. Lessons on the nature of prehistoric sea reptiles and evidence that some of them bore their offspring live.
  5. An excuse to leave work early, or stay home on a Saturday night.
  6. A reminder every day of the joys and wonders that exist in my life, despite its unhinged, over-committed, silly, daunting, frustrating, near-tragic, and sometimes frightening, nature.
  7. A guaranteed weekend wake-up call, followed by snuggles, cartoons, wrestling and giggling.
  8. A cell phone loaded with pix of the girl who fills my heart to the point of pain.
  9. A fridge covered in photos of happy times and artwork that seems to get less and less abstract every week.
  10. A sense of vulnerability that colors every action I take -- in love, in play, in dreams and nightmares.
  11. A palpable, concrete reason NOT to get too wild, not to make stupid decisions, not give up or give in or grow up (much).

So, you know, it's a tradeoff. Hip, jet-setting lifestyle versus endless array of humbling moments, and emotional rewards beyond measure. Hangovers that last three days versus rambling discussions about the nature of cat puke. Lonely, desolate mornings where finding life's meaning seems unlikely vs. being awakened by a version of the theme to Power Rangers Dino-Thunder that no one else has ever heard. Sane versus silly, scandalous versus salubrious, simple versus strenuous?

Who am I fooling?

I'd better go mow the lawn before Simone gets home. We have plans to blow bubbles in the backyard until it's too dark to see.


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