I had only one item on my list of what kind of Dad I wanted for my children. I wanted my children to know they are loved. That's it. Just to know their Dad loves them.
I wanted to hear my children's Dad say "I love you" to them, sincerely and often. For them to hear him say it to me. To hear it myself. Really, I thought just hearing him say that would be enough. That somehow it would fill all the holes in my own inner little girl, while preventing holes in my children. A Dad who could say that, and mean it, with no embarrassment, and no agenda; I was sure that was answer enough.
Then, that was all I knew to ask for. It was the one absence that I felt most defined my own childhood.
Gary, though, does so much more than just make the boys feel loved. No wait, that's not exactly true. He does so much more of the things that show how much he loves them.
I've come to know that loving your child isn't just saying the words, as important and healing as it has been for me to hear those words fill our home.
Being the Dad I want for my children is the countless thousands of little things, the every day moments that fill our home with Dad-love. It's 17+ years of greetings and partings, of enthusiasm at what the boys love and are doing, at who they are.
It's the simple hellos, the fixing what's broken, the showing how to do what needs to be done, the watching them as they show off what they've learned to do.
It's reading Garfield comics together at bed time, or any other time. It's watching bad tv together. It's Dan helping as Gary works on the car, It's hearing Andy say Ohio-gozai-mas (good morning in Japanese) in the very same way Gary says it when he calls his own Dad and it's morning where his Dad is.
It's seeing Gary here as Will's Dad, after years of wondering if I'd be able to give Will a Dad.
I feel it when the boys do something for me, take care of me in some way, and do it just as they've seen Gary do for me. It's seeing the boys become younger versions of Gary in ways small and large, because he is who they want to be.
It's the moments when one of the boys asks me to tell our story, when I share a moment from our time together before they came along, or when they were younger and didn't have context for the stories that define who we are.
It's the love that now fills my story, my children's stories. It's patience, and tender loving care when one of the boys is sick (I'm not good at puking kids, and I'm useless from midnight to daylight, unless the problem can be solved with breastfeeding, which we're now long past).
We see and feel it when Gary stops whatever he's currently doing to watch Andy's new yo yo trick, or admire a new lego model, or hear Dan's latest story of what happened while he was playing with his friends.
It's those moments when a problem arises, when I'm not home, but Gary is, and he handles it. And I feel comfortable knowing he's going to be able to handle it.
It's not being alone in this journey as a parent. I don't mean just physically not alone, I mean really trusting that Gary's got this one.
It's also those moments when Gary finds himself stretched to his limits, when he doesn't know what to do in a given situation, and we figure out together what do to next. In the moments when we hope we've done it right, when we trust each other, and we trust the other's love for our child
And, yes, it's also in hearing him say "I love you" to my children, when really saying it is just confirmation of what I see my boys already know deep in their bones.