By Malkie Gordon Hirsch
As I got Rosie ready for bed one night last week, she asked me about Jeremy’s arrival back home; on the first Father’s Day in a few years that I had a husband, and the kids a father, he was away at a family simcha in Israel.
So, although a lot of those former trigger feelings of not having what everyone else had arose, I kept reminding myself that he’d be back a day after and that the kids could give him their school projects they made for Father’s Day then.
To anyone with kids who isn’t part of a couple for whatever reason, or for those who have lost their father, Father’s Day is a reminder that they’re without something that society largely takes for granted. Because at some point or another, everyone’s had, at the very least, a biological father. But sometimes they don’t stick around, or sometimes they aren’t given a choice in the matter.
Sure, you can get through the day if you spend it offline. But once you open any social media platform or attempt plans for your kids with anyone else, they’ll likely tell you that they’re spending a family day celebrating something we haven’t had the chance to in a while—a father.
We kept ourselves busy doing other things—packing for camp and going to the batting cages to enjoy the beautiful weather. But the time spent watching the kids playing allowed me some time to reflect on what it means to be a father and to have a father in your life. Even one that isn’t biological.
I had time to recall dating via those dating apps and trying to find someone for myself and my kids whom we’d be able to love and be proud to call by that sacred title. I thought about the turbulent journey of getting to where we are today. For some time, things were dark, and I truly couldn’t imagine being here.
Here’s how dating with five children went: I’d post a nice picture online, with a witty blurb about myself, and once someone expressed interest, I’d drop the “I’ve got a three-year-old plus four other kids who are exactly two years apart and are currently without a father … are you doing anything for the next 20 years?” bomb. (Follow me for more great pickup lines.)
Usually, the cute back-and-forth banter would somewhat wane after that admission and then I’d be what the younger generation refers to as “ghosted”—where I might all of a sudden think I’d been talking to myself because of the radio silence on the other end.
That was my indication that I had “too much going on” (code word for kids) and then there’d be that voice in the back of my head that echoed the sentiments of others I’d speak to in passing on the (un)likelihood of finding a mate interested in taking on all we had going on.
“Maybe wait until the kids are older (in 10 years).”
“Five kids is a lot … maybe don’t tell them how many there actually are.” (Yes, they will definitely not figure this out.)
“Maybe someone without kids is a better option?”
Like a mathematician determined to solve the most impossible equation, I’d wonder with whom and how this second-time-around commitment could come to fruition. This is even before there was a specific person in question that would continue conversing.
No matter how I tried, I couldn’t come up with the right formula. I’d date guys without children who’d want kids. But their own. With me.
There’d be the ones with five or six children of their own who would absolutely date me if I moved to Cleveland Heights.
As I’d date or be presented with men with various life circumstances, I’d wonder at the likelihood of getting not only a second chance at a fulfilling relationship, but at the chance of my kids having a father once again.
And there can be those reading this and silently correcting me by adding “surrogate” or “step” to preface the term that means “a male parent” but we both know that there are biological fathers who don’t act much like fathers should, and then there are those who marry into a family or adopt children and go above and beyond when it comes to parenting children who aren’t biologically theirs.
My children had a wonderful biological father who loved and parented them beautifully for as long as he could. And now we’ve been blessed with another loving father figure—not the same, not instead of, but also wonderful.
So, the question really is how on earth I scored such an incredible person who was willing to start this whole childrearing thing again, once he was completely past that stage in life, having raised children of his own to adulthood. And honestly, as with most of the really wonderful blessings that have occurred in my life, I have to give all the credit to G-d, because for the most part, I’m just trying to get through the day. Who’s got time for the fun extras that make life wonderful? Cue G-d. He’s got us covered. I seriously have no other explanation.
So, it happened—it’s been a year since we had our first conversation about how I have a three-year-old daughter and he has a three-year-old grandson, and after that didn’t scare him off, I tried my hand at other ways to do so, but to no avail.
When my house was quiet last summer when the kids attended camp and he’d get that hopeful look on his face, I’d tell him that this was as common as a solar eclipse.
Try as I might, not only did he enjoy my company, he loved the kids too—genuinely. That’s how I knew that he was the father we wanted. He treated them with the same patience, attention, and love that he did his biological children and grandchildren. And not only would they have their Father and their father looking after them from above, now they’d have Jeremy, too.
So, what is a father? Beyond the biological meaning of what a father is, being one means way more. It’s immersing your life in the well-being of your children. Caring for them daily, being there for them in many aspects. Giving them a balanced combination of love and discipline. It’s leading by example and being part-friend and part-parent. Being the type of person the kids want to emulate and make proud. It’s showing interest in the things they love and being their cheerleader. It’s many, many carpools. It’s something that can’t be described in words. Being so invested in their success that you’re willing to put a lot of things on hold so that those things happen. Truthfully, I never imagined marrying someone who’d love my kids the way he does. The way their own father did. And to me, that was one of the most important aspects of starting over.
I probably would have made myself content with a man who was just OK with my kids being in the picture, but I really wanted my kids to have a chance of receiving that type of love from a father, too.
Good news is that we’re here. It started out as us dating as a couple, and then dating as a family. It took time, but I’m thrilled to report that we got to a great place and we’re all really happy. I pray that all the other families we’ve come to know in our community of bereavement (and those we don’t know), find the same degree of love and joy again as we have. I hope that by sharing our story, it offers hope to those still looking. Unlikely things can happen for us—G-d isn’t deterred by unlikeliness.
So even with the triggers that yet another Father’s Day alone creeped upon me, as I stood there watching my kids play on the beautiful Sunday, swimming in mixed feelings, I breathed deep gratitude at being gifted the chance to celebrate our fathers once again.
Malkie Gordon Hirsch is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.