Diary of a Widower

Daily entries by a husband, who stayed behind with his two sons

Archive for the category “Three Guys”

Memorialised on Ellis Island

FRIDAY, July 23 – While on Ellis Island, I tell the boys about the American roots that millions of people began to establish on this little island just off the coast of Manhattan as well as the hardships those immigrants faced when they made the decision to leave everything behind and start a new life in America.

I bring history to life in the stories of Jennifer’s great grandfather who set foot on land here, spoke poor English, and, thus, saw his Greek name corrupted. Then I take them outside, to The American Immigrant Wall of Honor, where countless names of immigrants are engraved.

On panel 627 my own name: Tim H. Overdiek.

It was a gift from my brother when Jenn and I got married in 1996. A gracious gesture to the bridegroom, who in late 1994 quit his job in Amsterdam, sold all his possessions, bought a one-way ticket to New York, and joined his one true love. There’s an accompanying certificate, and my name is inscribed on the aluminum wall on Ellis Island. The boys say they are impressed.  And so am I. I really do have certain roots in America.

Yet, it’s also a bit strange: here I am explaining to my Dutch-American children things that have to do with their mother’s DNA. and how they feel more American than Dutch, and how I – as a Dutchman – ventilate more American sentiments than they are aware of, because they’ve lived abroad for five years. A world turned upside-down, and yet so familiar.

I can’t do any more than help them find their true identity. We are who we are. Children of an American mother and a Dutch father. Roots are important, but they can grow anywhere as long as they are nourished.

Kids go to the US. Without me

FRIDAY, July 9 – They were awfully nervous, and so was I. Sitting there at Schiphol airport, in a small room next to the passport check, where all children traveling alone are handed over to the flight service of our national airline. As I sign the papers, it feels like I’m giving up my children.

It’s just a formality, but still. For over eight months they were under my wing and now the two of them are off to the States. Without me. All this is racing through my mind, but outwardly I maintain a reassuring smile. ‘Everything’s going to be fine, kids. This isn’t the first time you’ve been on a plane. Before you know it, you’ll be giving Grandma and Grandpa a big hug.’

Sander is the big brother. ‘I know, Papa. Don’t worry.’ He looks around in all directions. He’s nervous too.

I go over to the two KLM stewardesses who’ll be keeping an eye on the boys and, in a whisper, explain the circumstances. They are clearly dismayed. ‘It’s good to know, sir. We’ll inform the crew.’

Then, the moment has come. Sander gives me a hug. He’s trying to be strong. He’s the big guy. We give each other a kiss. ‘I love you, Sander.’

‘I love you, Papa.’

It looks as if Eamonn’s not going to let go of me. He’s trying to be strong, just like his brother, but it’s all too much for him. He holds onto me, sobbing. In the end, he accepts the inevitable. We separate and he stands there watching me as I turn and walk away. I decide not to look back. My shirt is soaked with his tears.

Less than ten minutes later, I’m barely on my way home – the phone rings. It’s Sander. ‘Papa, you’re not going to believe this. We’re in business class! I told the stewardess about what happened to us, and she asked if we’d like to travel business class.’

I hear Eamonn exulting in the background. We hang up. I cry tears of relief.

The amazing person, my Mom

WEDNESDAY, July 7 – At the stroke of seven, as agreed, he’s sitting there with the gift-wrapped present on his lap. Next to him a sleepy older brother and opposite him a worn-out father, who has decorated the living room with paper chains, balloons, cards and that one big present. The one the birthday boy isn’t sure he’s going to like. ‘Eamonn, don’t worry. Just open it.’

He looks a bit doubtful as he tears off the gift paper and he sees what’s underneath. He looks at me, then at the present, and then back at me.

‘Papa, this is against the rules.’

‘Yep,’ I say, with a touch of triumph in my voice.

‘Mom would be furious with you.’

‘Yep,’ I say again, with that same triumph.

Sander laughs out loud. ‘Mom would be sending you ‘post-death’ divorce papers.’

‘Yep,’ I say. That’s the morbid humor I share with my older son, which we’re gradually perfecting.

2:00 p.m. – I awake with a start in the movie theater. The film is nearing the end, so I must have dozed off for three-quarters of an hour. On my left are the birthday boy and his brother and on my right three boys from his class. Toy Story 3 is about Andy, who at the age of seventeen, takes leave of his puppets Woody and Buzz.

In one of the scenes Andy is about to leave for college. His mother, who’s standing in his bedroom, is suddenly overcome by her emotions. Behind the dark 3-D glasses I feel the tears welling up. Damn it. Here I am sniveling while the five boys are laughing, chatting and devouring popcorn.

That film fragment went straight to my heart: the mother sees her grown son leave home. Something not reserved for Jennifer and her boys. Boom. I let the tears flow. In the dark no one notices.

7:00 p.m. – Eamonn had made his announcement that morning. Now the moment has come, and as soon as everyone has a glass, Sander broaches the subject. ‘Eamonn, it’s time for a toast.’

He doesn’t mince his words. He’s knows what he wants to say, he’s rehearsed it, and he means it. ‘To Mom. Cheers.’

Cheers! That’s all. What had to be said has been said.

10.30 p.m. – When asked what the best part of the day was, he said, ‘That I’m in double digits now.’ He’s turned ten. A job well done, I say, but it’s also an inevitable and painful step. What makes it so damned hard is the realization that he is no longer nine years old, the age at which he lost his mother. This birthday increases the gap.

Towards midnight I get out the speech that Eamonn had written himself (including the sole misspelled word) and had also been planning to read during the cremation service.  He couldn’t manage it, but that wasn’t a problem. On his behalf, I spoke the following words:

“The amazing person, my Mom

Mom, I only knew you for only 9 years, and I have decided that that is too short. I hope that you can understand that, because you were way too young to die. You didn’t deserve to get hit by that motorcyclist. I remember that you always liked music and Buddhism, and I hope that you always will. We are all very upset about this incident, and we hope that you will have a peaceful life from now on. You were the strongest and bravest Mom that I have ever known. Please be strong and kind forever, and we will always belive in your cheerful spirit. RIP Mom.”

More American than Dutch

TUESDAY, July 6 – The Dutch soccer team is through to the semi-finals. I just bought orange T shirts for all three of us. I haven’t been able to muster much interest in World Cup soccer lately, but this seemed like the right moment to foster a bit of Dutch identity in the next generation. They’re open to the idea and can scarcely believe their eyes when they see the crowds on Museum Square. They feel more American than Dutch, but this is really impressive and that gratifies my paternal pride.

Saturday morning rush hour

SATURDAY, July 3 – Wake up with a start at eight o’clock. The little kid is already sitting on the couch.  I give him his breakfast, take the dog out, look high and low for his baseball stuff which miraculously reappears in the pile of clean laundry. Glad to already be on the road, just before nine o’clock, heading for the baseball field with everything intact and complete – a bit late, but okay. Then just as I’m nearing the field in Amstelveen, we discover that Eamonn’s baseball glove is missing. Damn it.

Don’t worry. ‘I’ll dash home – I can be back in a half-hour. You stay here for the warm-up.’ Back home I fix a sandwich, so he won’t be too hungry by the time the second game begins, grab the key to the other car (where the baseball glove is), arrange with my eldest to pick up his friend before dropping both of them off at the mall for a birthday party, and I’m off again.

Just as I’m approaching the baseball field, I realize that I’ve forgotten the glove for the second time. Cursing, I turn around, drive back to Amsterdam, figuring that I’m now going to be around ten minutes late for everything. Can’t be helped. The game is just about to start as I race onto the field with his glove. He’s crying as he comes out of the dugout.

‘You said you’d be back in a half-hour! I was worried because I thought something had happened to you.’

I sit down with him in the dugout, give him a hug, and make a good story out of how stupid I was – forgetting the glove for the second time – and then give him another hug and kiss away his tears, since giving in to his emotions would only make things worse. Besides, I don’t have the time. Sander has a party this afternoon. So off he goes, with a playful smack on his bottom. I’ll be back in forty-five minutes. Bye-bye, good luck. I’m off again.

Ten minutes behind is a lot. I keep telling myself: stay alert, don’t drive any faster than necessary. That’s asking for trouble. A red light is a red light.

Son and friend are already in the car. I shoot onto the highway and we put on U2 as loud as possible. To calm down.

After dropping them off at the party address, I head back to baseball field.  The little guy is at bat when I get to the bleachers, panting slightly.  He’s out. We toss the ball back and forth before the start of the second game. He’s his old self again. So am I, more or less. With a sigh of relief, I sit down alongside the other parents. It’s eleven-thirty and I realize that I haven’t had breakfast, let alone taken a shower.

‘Here, have a piece of ginger cake,’ says one of the mothers. ‘On second thought, have two!’ I give her a grateful glance. She’s divorced and she couldn’t help laughing at all my frantic to-ing and fro-ing this morning. Single parents have been through the mill themselves. I stretch my legs and get ready to enjoy the day.

New kinda family dinner

FRIDAY, June 25 – Family dinner. Two boys, two girls and two parents. It’s a bit crowded, at the table and in the bedrooms, but it works out all right. 

Kids make a loving u-turn

TUESDAY, June 22 – Another winding road down a French mountain, this time during the day. I ask Sander if things now seem a bit more logical and less overwhelming. I’m pleasantly surprised when the answer is a wholehearted yes.

‘Well, you mustn’t forget that it was all so sudden and unexpected. But I can understand what you want, and how you feel. So it’s only understandable that some day you’ll want to get married,’ says Sander.

I laugh and tell him that we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

But then Eamonn goes one further. ‘And even if you do remarry, then I won’t call her ‘Mom’. I’ll just call her by her first name.’

Whoa!

‘Boys, boys, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. She’s my girlfriend. That’s all for now.’

I hear myself saying the words. My girlfriend. And there’s a grin on my face.

Writing to my late wife

SUNDAY, June 20 – Father’s Day. No breakfast in bed, no card, no present. But this is even better. Closeness. All three of us woke up at the same time, at the campgrounds. We lounged around on the porch of our cabin. All three of us with a laptop. Together. Every once in a while one of us says something:  about a post on Facebook, or laughs at a funny film on YouTube, or fixes something to eat, while Eamonn snacks on his popcorn, and it begins to rain, I write her a letter about my fatherhood.

Dearest Jenn,

I wish you could see us now. You’d almost certainly object to all the time the boys spend on the computer. Believe me, they don’t really sit there all day staring at a screen. I can be strict with them, too. But sometimes – and you may recognize this in me – I’m inclined to give them a bit more leeway. What’s difficult – at least I find it difficult! – is constantly having to correct and guide them, and to step in when there’s a disagreement. Since I can’t ask my beloved wife to take over for a while.

How I’d love to put my arms around you this very minute, as the father of your – our – children, and show you how much I admired you as a mother, what a great job you did, often on your own because I was off on an assignment. That’s what makes me a bit sad today, but it also gives me strength. For many years I failed to pull my weight when it came to bringing up the boys – as you justly pointed out – blithely counting on you to fill in the gaps. In this respect, I have failed in my duties as a husband and a father.

I’ve come back stronger than ever, but it’s awful that the circumstances forced me to do so. I am there for the boys, unconditionally; but for you that was self-evident from the day that you knew that you were going to be a mother. For me, as well, but in my case it was more words than deeds. You regularly pointed that out to me, and last year in particular we discussed the matter at length.  It was time for me to put my money where my mouth was, and to make it clear what was really important in my life and in our family life, and how that affected our marriage.

I wish you could see us now. You’d find a threesome, invincible in spite of the devastation your death has caused. I’m not afraid to say that I’m a good father, that I can make up for your absence (even though I still have trouble dealing with all the everyday stuff), that I slog away but that at least I’m going forward and not backwards, and that I struggle and – most of the time – emerge victoriously.

I make mistakes, and so did you. We made them together, in order to learn from them. I’m afraid of the future, which is so uncertain.  But at the same time I’m confident. You helped them on their way, and I’ll hold them by the hand until they leave the nest. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past eight months, it’s this: ‘Being there’.

Unconditionally – both physically and mentally – providing them with the security and safety they will need now more than ever. This is my gift to them. What I promise them, as a father. I wish fervently that you could see that today.

I love  you.

Getting away from it all

TUESDAY, June 15 – We’ve booked a site at a campground in France. We leave this coming Saturday, and will be back in a week. I’ve had enough and really need a break. We bloody deserve it. Away from it all. It’s not far from C, that too. I want to see what I’m getting into. I want to see her and she says she wants to see me.

Growing at a standstill

MONDAY, June 14 – In Manhattan, long ago, Jenn had made a special trip to get them:  T-shirts with the letters E and S, which stand for two of the city’s subway lines. Eamonn’s was the E line from Manhattan to Queens: a blue and white circle on black. This morning Eamonn put it on and then took it off again.

‘Papa, this shirt doesn’t fit any more.’

Growing pains take no notice of a life that’s come to a standstill. Boys grow out of their clothes, get taller and older. Extending the distance between then and the moments yet to come. Jenn was 41 and would never turn 42. Sander was already taller than his mother and Eamonn was heading in the same direction.

But now, that moment of looking each other in the eye at the same height and cheating a bit with your toes is reserved for father and sons. There’s a future to look forward to. It’s only a matter of time, and already I’m wondering how we’ll look back on this period. In any case, it’s been a process of growth. Fortunately, catharsis does not stand still.

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