He’d already had a son of his own and I’d seen him in action as a father, so when my husband Nick and I married and started a family of our own, I was all “score!” because, even though I hadn’t a clue how to care for a baby, I had Nick “been there, done that” Chiles on my team. Which, in my mind translated to, “Don’t worry! He knows how to hold, feed, change, dress, soothe, and take care of a baby, you lucky stiff!”
I’ll never forget how deflated I was every time my husband would give me the “I don’t know either” look whenever I embarked on a “first” with our newborn. He’ll never forget the time I slammed a lamp against the wall because I was exhausted and my breasts felt like someone had gone at them with a cheese grater and Mari wouldn’t stop crying and Nick, so absorbed in his work, left it up to me to get up from a much-needed nap to soothe her.
He’ll tell you it was post-partum depression. I’ll cop to some hormone-induced rants here and there, but really, I was more frustrated by the feeling that I was in this alone—that this man, who’d brought home a new baby before, wasn’t, like, all the way committed to the “I”ll lead, you follow” baby care I’d foolishly envisioned.
Twelve years into this, our parenting journey, I can say with certainty that I just didn’t give my husband enough credit for the kind of parent he was—the kind he is, even, today. Smashed lamp notwithstanding, there were plenty more days when Nick shined as a father. I distinctly remember the first time we washed baby Mari’s hair—how tiny she looked nestled in his strong hands as he gently held head under the kitchen faucet while I rinsed her soapy curls. I remember, too, how sweet was the sound of my daughter giggling when her Daddy, having bathed her and helped her into her jammies, would read her favorite book, Ezra Jack Keats’ “A Snowy Day,” again and again and again, while Tony Bennett quietly crooned lullabies on the CD player in the background. He never missed an opportunity to pile both our babies into their strollers and hit the mall with them solo, where, inevitably a bunch of little old ladies—and young ones, too—would follow him through the bustling halls, alternately cooing over the man with the two beautiful girls and giving him “suggestions” about how to hold/feed/keep warm/cool down/dress his babies, as if he was too clueless to know these things about his own children.
Try as I may, I can’t remember a parent/teacher conference he’s missed, or a soccer game, or a school presentation or recital, or a birthday party, or, heck, a sit-down dinner with our babies at our kitchen table, which we have most nights. He helps with the homework (particularly the math, seeing as I can’t add worth a dang). He shops for their shoes and sneakers. He chastises them when they get out of line and talks to them and kisses them and hugs them and makes them laugh just because.
He doesn’t do hair.
But Nick Chiles is a great father—a great dad. And I can honestly say with every fiber of my being that I’m glad that he’s on my team—that I’m glad to be on his.
I say these things because I’ve been thinking about the role of fathers a lot lately, particularly after immersing myself in the story of Lashanda Armstrong, the 25-year-old New York mom of four who, with her 10-year-old, 5-year-old, 2-year-old and 11-month old wrapped tight in her embrace, raced her car off a boat dock and into a river. All died except Armstrong’s 10-year-old son, who told a woman who found him wet and shivering after having fought his way out of the sinking car, that his mother was upset over a “huge” argument she’d had with her boyfriend—the father of the three younger children. A neighbor said in a separate news account that just 30 minutes prior to Lashanda’s death ride, the father, Jean Pierre, had been banging on and cursing loudly at her apartment door after (yet another) argument about his cheating ways—in apparent violation of a court order barring him from seeing the 2-year-old. Pierre was slapped with that court order, according to news accounts, after the toddler, while in his father’s care, was found wandering the street half-naked in the snow—apparently left alone while Pierre was off cheating on Lashanda with another woman.
No one knows for sure why Lashanda did what she did—whether post-partum depression played a role in her suicide, or perhaps some kind of mental illness. But as a busy mom of three who feels overwhelmed even with a husband and a firm support system in place, I have to wonder just how stressful it must have been for the young Lashanda—who’d moved away from her family to live with her boyfriend—to juggle a job, school and raising four kids sans the help of the man who helped to create her babies. Reports say that Pierre dodged child support, leaving the financial rearing of four children solely to Lashanda, who just last year had her car repossessed and was struggling to keep a roof over her family's head. A quote I found in this Los Angeles Times story brought home Lashanda’s predicament:
At the Pathway to Salvation Mission of God church near the Armstrong home, Carmen Davila said La'Shaun and his 5-year-old brother were regulars. She said she frequently saw Armstrong leave for work or school in the morning, usually not returning until about 10 p.m.
"Sometimes she'd be holding the baby on her hip, and one child in each hand and trying to walk with her groceries at the same time, and she'd drop the diapers or something on the ground," Davila said. "She couldn't handle everything at once."
Obviously, Pierre isn’t responsible for the death of his children and their mother—he wasn’t driving the car when it plunged into the river. But one can only surmise that he played his part in Lashanda's decision to kill herself and their babies. Clearly, she thought that death would be easier for her and her babies to handle than all the stress, depression, financial struggles and heartache with which she’d been dealing—problems that Pierre, a cheater, a child support evader, and, if he didn't notice his girlfriends depression, an extremely inattentive, selfish guy, surely played a strong hand in.
I say a prayer tonight for Lashanda and her babies and every mom—whether single or married—who feels like she’s all alone in her journey through motherhood, especially as the world continues to expand and contract with children whose fathers put self ahead of the needs of the most vulnerable—the babies they made and who need their daddies most.
I say a prayer, too, for Nick—a prayer of thanks for the blessing of a good man who cares deeply about the wellbeing of his babies and their mother and shows it every day through his words, actions and deeds. I’m grateful to him for assuring our children and me that we are not alone.
***If you've got a good man who does the same for you and your children, shout him out in the comments section. We shouldn't wait until Father's Day to tell our children's fathers that they are appreciated. Do it today.