I watch him as he talks to the waitress about her son that she has a picture of and I think for the thousandth time how decent he is. I see him look around the room as we wait for our lunch and when he turns back to look at me, his aloneness is almost palpable.
His face is dear to me, his soft brown eyes light often and easily with love and tenderness and well with tears when he is touched. We talk about the same thing that millions of other parents across the country are talking about at this very moment: our children.
We are different, though. We no longer share a bed or a home but we still share a life and a love that has changed and evolved but remains rooted in respect and admiration. And again, for the thousandth time, I think he is the most devoted father that I’ve ever known.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but choosing him to be the father of my children isn’t one of them. We speak every day, sometimes several times, and I talk to him about things that I don’t do with anyone else, not because I’m keeping secrets, but because know that he’s interested and will handle it just right.
He knows by the tone of my voice if something is wrong; I can tell just by his inflection if he’s worried or upset.
Recently, he and a friend of his and I were at an airport. I was sitting close to them but far enough apart so that I could work while they talked. Sitting in chairs adjacent to mine were two women around our age and based on their conversation, both were single. They were talking about not being able to find a good man.
They were laughing about their dating fiascos and peccadillos. But they moved from laughter into a serious discussion of loneliness and what they were looking for in a man and how different their lives would be if only they could find the right man.
I was incredulous.
I wanted to say to them, “Are you kidding me? There’s a man right in front of you that is one of the best men in the world and you’re so busy whining you haven’t even noticed him. He’s obviously single, there’s no ring and no self-respecting woman would have let him leave the house in that shirt…”
But they continued to moan and complain about the lack of good, available men.
A few days later, I was in an antique store and I saw a newspaper of a bygone era and was reminded of those old advertisements from single men and widowed farmers who lived out in the middle of nowhere and were looking for a wife.
I wished it was still that easy and I could find him a soul mate for $.01 a word. If there ever was a man who was born to be married, it is him. And I don’t deny that part of my desire to see him married and settled is guilt — guilt for not being his happily-ever-after.
This is what the advertisement would say:
Wife wanted for single father who is what is commonly known as a “man’s man.” He likes football and golf and poker. He will do any and all of the things you like with you.
He is a father to 2 children to whom he is devoted. He loves his children with his whole clean heart. He goes to church and takes the children. He tithes 10% off the top. Religiously. Pun intended.
He does the right thing when no one is watching. He has a kind heart, is eager to please, and is easygoing. He laughs at his own jokes in such a friendly, open-hearted way that people tend to laugh along with him. He is the ultimate nice guy.
I was out of town and he shopped for our daughter’s first tampons and had an entire aisle of women helping him sort it out. That’s how open and kind he is. He works incredibly hard, is good at what he does, and is a good provider.
There are lots of other things about him that wouldn’t fit in an advertisement, things that the future stepmother to my children ought to know.
Here’s what I would say to her:
We have built this life and this dynamic much more thoughtfully than how we created our marriage. There is room here for you. Others have come and created a spot for themselves and you will, too. We call this our dog and pony show but we are a real family — although it may look different from anything you’ve seen before.
We all need you. He needs a partner, a confidante. My children worry about their father and his steadfast aloneness. His unrelenting devotion to them weighs heavily at times and they need you to distract and love him.
All that devotion can be suffocating at times for brand new teenagers who are trying to create their own lives and adding one more person who thinks they are amazing is always a good thing.
My former husband hardly resembles the boy he was when I met him. At that time, he hadn’t yet left behind his frat boy partying, and dare I say mortgage rates and school districts had never crossed his mind. But I had two young children when we married and he hit the ground running as a father figure.
Later, during their rocky teenage years, he was the glue that held us all together and now he loves those grown children like they were his own.
I consider our marriage a successful one. It didn’t last until one of us died but success isn’t solely based on longevity. I have known 40-year marriages that are not happy. We had a 7-year marriage that has turned into a lifelong friendship that has made us grow and become better people, more forgiving, and more patient. I call that a success.
The feelings of hurt and failure have long since faded and now we see each other as we really are — not who we thought we wanted. I know who he is, deep down. I know his hopes, his dreams, and his fears. I keep them safe, right next to my own and I treat them as gently as I would a newborn baby.
In return, he has watched me fail, picked me up, and helped me face the world again. Simply because he must, because that’s who he is, and because he needs his children’s mother to be whole and as good of a mother as I can be.
He has watched me make mistakes and he’s always there, not with an ‘I told you so’ but with a helping hand. He will do the same for you.
He will adore things about you that you think are less than appealing or that you’re downright self-conscious about. And if I’m being honest, I miss that. I miss being adored that way. I’ve had several boyfriends since then with many stellar qualities but blind adoration hasn’t been one of them.
And because I may have built him up to mythic size, I should also tell you, he’s not perfect. He is sometimes too permissive with the children and just like them, has to be forced to eat vegetables.
He loves junk food and can eat his body weight in ketchup.
But there’s nothing that he won’t do for someone he cares about, and often, even someone he doesn’t know. In his car, he carries gallon size baggies full of snacks and wet wipes and socks and toothbrushes and toothpaste so that he is prepared when he sees someone in need.
If your main concern is a good head of hair, he’s not your man. He went bald early and he owns it but if you are looking for a man who is warm and kind and giving, who will always have your back and is loyal and honest to a fault, he may be your guy.
Esby Rain Duncan is a writer, speaker, and actor. Her memoir, Addicted to Chaos, will be on shelves next year. To read more about her, check out her website.
This article was originally published at Medium.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.