I’m a single mom to a ten-year-old boy. My son’s father is one of those “fun” dads that kids see mostly on the weekends- you know, the kind who is really great at playing video games and teaching the kid to beat-box, but not so great at, oh, I don’t know – stuff like paying child support or saving for college.
Needless to say, the bulk of the child-rearing has fallen on me.
Recently, I’ve become seriously involved with a new man, whom I will refer to here as The Cowboy both because he is a literal cowboy, managing a 10,000-acre cattle ranch in Southern New Mexico, and because he is the manliest man and hardest worker I’ve ever known. He plays neither video games nor beat-box.
Because we have been used to a different sort of man in our lives, my son and I weren’t quite sure what to make of the cowboy when the two of them first met. The Cowboy, however, did not hesitate to tell me exactly what he thought of my son as, during an after-dinner walk around my neighborhood, my kid began to whine in high-pitched frustration because he couldn’t get a knot out of the laces of his sneaker.
“Mom!” my son cried, “I can’t!”
Per habit and custom, I scurried over to do it for my easily frustrated progeny. For ten years I’ve been doing just about everything for my boy, because, you know, that’s what good moms do. Or at least that’s what I thought they should do. This might be a good time to note that my father, raised in Havana, was not required to lift a finger to do any sort of chore, ever, having had women and nannies for that sort of thing.
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Then I heard The Cowboy clear his throat.
I looked up, and found The Cowboy, in his hat and boots, subtly shaking his head at me, as though to say, “Don’t.” His eyes showed mild annoyance.
I stopped. Thought about why he might do that. I remembered what he’d said, several times already, about single moms tending to emasculate their sons through good intentions. His exact words, as I recall, were offensive to me at the time, as we discussed the fact that my son was being bullied at school. He’d told me, “His problem, dear, is that he’s been raised by a woman.”
Suddenly, I understood what he’d meant. He had not meant to offend me. He’d been descriptive of a reality that I only saw now, through his eyes.
I realized with a drop of my heart how ridiculous it must look to this capable man, seeing me rush to help my son (who is five feet tall already, weighs 90 pounds, and has the same size foot I do) tie his shoe for him.
I moved away. My son looked at me, heartbroken and confused. “But Mom!”
“I think you need to do this yourself,” I told my son, my eyes darting to The Cowboy. Why hadn’t I thought of this? What was wrong with me?
“But I can’t!” my boy whined.
The Cowboy stepped toward him, calm and firm, and said the words my son most needed to hear and yet which I, always doing everything for him, have failed to impart: “Yes, you can.”
And guess what? My son did it. It took five extra minutes of standing in the hot sun, and I had to endure tears and frustration as my kid doubted himself and complained. But, given no other alternative, my son figured it out.
Soon, my boy was up on his feet again, racing down the street, leaving me and The Cowboy to talk.
“I guess I look like a pretty lame mom to you,” I said, with an embarrassed grin.
The Cowboy wrapped his arm around me, and kissed me on the cheek.
“No, darlin’,” he said, with a light in his eyes. “You look like a great mom to me. It’s hard to be both a mom and a dad to a kid. But you gotta remember, give a man a fish, he’ll eat that fish. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for the rest of his life. Sometimes single moms get so used to doing everything by themselves they forget they don’t have to.” He gave me a significant look.
I felt the tears come. No man had ever bothered to think about what was going to be the best thing for my son in the long run, and no man had ever been strong enough to stand at my side and suggest I do things differently. No man had ever really, truly helped me raise my son to be a man.
Together, we watched my kid “running” down the street. He half-skipped, on his tippy-toes, with his hands perched out in front of him, like a T-Rex’s.
The Cowboy’s face registered manly concern once again.
“What now?” I asked.
“Next order of business,” he said with a sigh, “get him to start running…..um….more ‘efficiently’.”