This is sad, heartwarming and wonderful. Please read. Enjoy.
In April, the author’s wife, crime writer Michelle McNamara, died suddenly in her sleep at age 46. In an instant, Oswalt became a widower—and single parent to their 7-year-old daughter. Here, the actor and comedian writes about the only job he’s got that really matters right now: being a dad.
Five months and ten days ago, as I write this, I became a single father.
I was half of an amazing parenting team, except we weren’t equals. Michelle was the point person, researcher, planner, and expediter. I was the grunt, office assistant, instruction follower, and urban Sherpa. I did idiot sweeps before we left hotel rooms and ran checklists before we attended school functions and boarded planes. But Michelle put those lists together. She knew how to use my OCD to our little family’s advantage. And her super-mom skills were one brilliant facet of the dark jewel she was—true-crime journalist, online sleuth, tireless finder of half-remembered facts, and crafter of devastating murder prose. I was looking forward to spending my life with the single most original mind I’d ever encountered. And now? Gone. All gone.
It feels like a walk-on character is being asked to carry an epic film after the star has been wiped from the screen. Imagine Frances McDormand dying in the first act of Fargo and her dim-bulb patrol partner—the one who can’t recognize dealer plates—has to bring William H. Macy to justice.
I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won’t screw her up the way I know I will. Somebody help me! I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
But then I think back to when I became a father—to when Michelle and I became parents together. I felt the same terror. I longed for the same retreat. And somehow I sort of half breathed in and clumsily took steps forward and I screwed up a lot of stuff—we screwed up a lot of stuff, Michelle and I—but eventually we got the hang of it. We had it. Or our version of “it.”
And I think back even further. Back to when Michelle and I first married. I’d somehow landed a woman far above my pay grade, in looks and intelligence and personality. And yet I felt the same terror and pull of retreat and safety to the old, no-strings life of a single comedian/actor in his 20s and 30s in Los Angeles. Beholden to no one. The days stretching out in a fluffy road of marshmallow leisure leading all the way up to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. But…I got the hang of it.
“If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.”
You will never be prepared for anything you do, ever. Not the first time. Training and practice are out the window the second they meet experience. But you’ll get better. I have subjective yet ironclad knowledge of this.
This is my first time being a single father. I’ve missed forms for school. I’ve forgotten to stock the fridge with food she likes. I’ve run out of socks for her. I’ve run out of socks for me. It sucked and it was a hassle every time, but the world kept turning. I said, “Whoops, my bad,” and fixed it and kept stumbling forward. Now I know where to buy the socks she likes. I asked two parents at her school to help me with forms and scheduling. I’m getting good at sniffing out weekend activities and scheduling playdates and navigating time and the city to get her and myself where we need to go every day. I work a creative job, but I live a practical life. If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.
I’m going to keep going forward, looking stupid and clumsy and inexperienced at first, then eventually getting it, until the next jolt comes, and the next floor drops out from under me, until there are no more floors.