On Mother’s Day, 2005, Jeff Novak and his wife, Jackie, watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, kissed each other goodnight, and said, ‘I love you.’ An hour later, Jeff brought their newborn daughter to bed, and found that Jackie had passed away at the age of 28. In one moment, Jeff became a single-father of three daughters.
This past Sunday’s episode of Extreme Makeover was dedicated to helping Jeff and his girls make a new start. I’ve always thought that ABC should send a pack of tissues to all of us who watch the show, but this episode hit too closely to home.
I’ve thought a lot about death since Ian was born. What can I say? I’m an optimist. I’m paranoid by nature, and when you give something so fragile and significant as a child to a guy like me, you’re going to get quite a few worst-case scenarios. My mind has painted terrifying pictures of Ian, freezing in his room, or being suffocated by blankets. I’ve seen him tumble from my arms into the tiger cage or over a bridge, or slip beneath the water’s surface.
When life becomes this important, there seem to be so many things that can take it away.
But, though the thought of Ian dying may be troubling, it’s the idea of Kelly’s death which makes my heart turn cold. Even before we were married, I couldn’t imagine a life without her. I have learned such courage and strength, such love. I don’t know where I end or she begins; I do not recognize the man (?) I was before Kelly.
As important as Kelly is to my life, I can’t help but feel that she is infinitely more so to Ian’s. Ever since he first turned his face toward mine, I’ve known that the needs of my son far outweigh my own. Well, unless he won’t touch his cheeseburger. Then he’s on his own; that burger’s mine.
In fact, I feel Kelly is so vital to Ian, the thought of my own death doesn’t bother me so much. I don’t like the idea of leaving my family behind, but, somehow, I’m comforted to know that Kelly and Ian will have each other. I am less so at the thought of Kelly’s passing.
Which is odd. Only recently I made a fuss about fathers being no less significant than mothers in the lives of children. Is this simply a bout of machismo, the couragous father nobly sacrificing himself for his family? I don’t think so.
There is a part of me that feels Kelly is better at meeting Ian’s fundamental needs. As a father, I feel as though I’m always learning to care for my son; as a mother, Kelly already seems to know. Not that she hasn’t made mistakes; all parents do. But those mistakes have been in the details, never the bigger picture. Ian’s well-being is ultimately at the heart of how we raise him, but Kelly never seems to forget that, whereas I
sometimes often need to be reminded.
Does this mean I think single-fathers are doomed, or less effective parents? Of course not. When I saw the love and tenderness Jeff Novak showed toward his daughters, I knew the girls were in good hands. And there is one Father who will never leave. I just pray, if such a prayer can be, that if my son were to lose a parent, it would be me.