The Two-Hour Father

“When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere. Just ask him.”

-Don Draper

After I drop off my daughters with their mom, the first part of my ride back home is silent. No radio, no phone calls. The complete opposite of how it feels with a six year old and a toddler in the backseat.

It always takes me a few minutes to go from father to Two-Hour Father: the guy who takes care of his kids, who talks to them as much as he can, but who only sees them every other weekend because he lives two hours away.

The silence allows me to appreciate our time together. It feels cheap to play music, which will undoubtedly affect my emotions. Instead, I like to let myself breathe, understand why things are the way they are, and be okay with the fact that I will always be there for my children — even though most days I am not actually there. I’m 135 miles away. It’s not too far, but then again, it kind of is.

At a distance of 135 miles, “how was your day?” becomes distorted and almost irrelevant. A subtle nod of reassurance does not travel that far. It burns up in the atmosphere before entering anything terrestrial.

The Two-Hour Father has no routine. He has no dinner conversation. He has no nightly bedtimes or morning wake up calls. He comes home to an empty house — and as much as he might like that sometimes, it does not make him better. It makes him complacent. He drinks too much. He sleeps in when he shouldn’t. He wastes time because he can. With this lack of challenge comes a lack of growth and a startling realization that having complete freedom is like entering the Emerald City: you get there and the illusion is gone, replaced by corruption and lies.

For the Two-Hour Father, every day with his kids is like a holiday; a special day. And so he must take advantage of every one of these days. It puts a strange kind of pressure on him (or he puts it on himself unnecessarily), because this time is short and this time will carry the highest value in their memory bank of him. What happens this weekend is what happens when they are with their dad. There are no day-to-day nuances, no normalcy. It feels like every moment is heightened.

I have been divorced and living this way for more than a year, and I still get nervous before spending a weekend with my daughters. Will I have forgotten how to take care of them? Will they have developed some new opinion of me since the last time I saw them? How can I ensure that both of them are happy and healthy and comfortable the whole weekend? Should each day be planned? Is it okay to just ‘do nothing’? Can I do this the right way by myself?

The Two-Hour Father can’t just move. He has work to do and money to make and an apartment lease right now. He feels selfish but he also feels responsible. Any kind of move must be calculated, because 1. More debt will hurt him and his children and 2. He must be happy to be a good father.

The Two-Hour Father is a good man who has really, really bad days. He’s stuck satisfying the people that don’t matter and he can’t easily tend to the people that do. He can’t help but wonder how the outside world sees him. Will he go down in someone’s history as ‘the guy who wasn’t there?’

A fly on the wall of his quiet apartment would tell you that he isn’t happy when his kids are gone and that he isn’t happy when his kids are there.

The Two-Hour Father is usually alone, but he is not lonesome. He feels romance some days and indifference other days. He is two different people.

Years ago, when he was one person, zest for life simply existed and required no forethought or afterthought. His responsibilities, his vices, his love, his hate, his joys and his fears all spoke to one another and contributed to one ‘him.’ Today, they don’t speak to one another and they don’t know which man they are serving. His puzzle is undone and the missing pieces are people and things he doesn’t recognize or know how to want.

I’m driving south again in silence. 129 miles to go. It’s summer and I crack the windows because I love the breeze and the ambient noise of the interstate. For now, my memories are fresh and I am content to return home.

81 miles to go. Music and the hopeful feeling that I truly am doing the best I can, and that everyone (my ex, my mom, my kids, the mailman, my neighbors, highway passersby) understands that.

Arrival. There is evidence that my children have been here. Sometimes it’s like a tornado and sometimes it’s just little things out of place here and there. So I clean and I re-organize and I put things away. Part of me wants to leave everything as is — would that make it seem like my children are right down the road?

No. I realize how important it is that everything goes back to where it belongs. The next time they visit, those girls will expect to find their things in their proper places. And I smile because, for now, that is ‘normal.’


Originally published at nickmurosky.tumblr.com.

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