When I think back on my childhood, my first sensory memory is the sound of hysterical laughter from my sister and me, because of some elaborate game orchestrated by my dad. From uproarious “tickle tortures” to labyrinth-like scavenger hunts to hide-and-seek with our parakeets, my dad knew, and still knows, the Art of Play.
Edward Shelasky (my dad) is one of the kindest, gentlest, most devoted fathers and grandfathers on earth. He can build an enchanted tent out of one small sheet; he can sing and dance to any oldie, musical, or lullaby on demand and with gusto. I’m 41 years old and I have zero memories of ever fighting with him; all my dad-memories are—as my daughter Hazel would say—cupcakes and rainbows.
Because I am so close to my dad, you’d think my decision to be a single mom by choice would have been difficult. But it’s actually the opposite: He helped me feel secure. I knew he would be a constant, strong figure in my baby’s life, and that he and my doting mother were together worth the love and support of 5,000 partners combined.
When I was pregnant, and as soon as I had Hazel, our village of friends, which was mostly women, also went above and beyond to make sure we felt loved and supported. In those first few months, there wasn’t one single moment where I wished I had a partner to help me. I had a vision for me and Hazel tackling life together. Many people would say, “I’m sure you’ll meet the right guy soon,” but that seemed tone-deaf to the awesomeness of our duo.
Confident in our independence, there was still one societal norm that I felt anxious about: Father’s Day. I had this unnerving image of walking out the door on a Sunday morning in June and seeing streets filled with families off to brunch, dads opening socks and boxers and artisanal shaving kits everywhere. I planned to talk openly about Hazel’s creation story with her as soon as she was ready, so it’s not that I was scared of the questions. I knew well enough that Hazel would never want for love or attention, but I couldn't bear the thought of her feeling left out or excluded from anything. That’s a bad feeling, no matter how comfortable you are with yourself and your different-ness, but it wasn’t enough to knock me off my path of single motherhood.
When I did, in fact, “meet the right guy soon"—six months after Hazel was born—it was completely unexpected. I was casually dabbling in online dating, to kill time while breastfeeding in the middle of the night, when we matched. After decades of difficult boyfriends, engaging in a series of nervous or dangerous love, I finally met someone different from anyone else I had ever dated. Things with Sam were sweet, easy, and natural from the start. It’s hard to imagine that dating with a 6-month old could be any of the above, but it really was. Everything always felt right.
Not too long after we started dating, I was thrilled to bring Hazel to meet Sam’s family at their farm in Maine. There were happy dogs, a tractor, a rowboat, and the world’s best homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie—truly not one thing to complain about. While things continued to feel sweet, easy and natural, I was worried about what it meant to spend that particular weekend with him and his perfect family—and what it meant for mine. What if things didn’t work out between us? Would Father’s Day be extra upsetting in upcoming years if Sam was out of the picture?
Three Junes later, Sam is Hazel’s daddy. Like everything else with us, the transition was sweet, easy, natural, and right. His birthday falls near Father’s Day, which means we have a lot to celebrate this month.
And as much as I’d like to recreate that strawberry-rhubarb pie we had enjoyed three years earlier, I don’t know if I’m quite up to the task. If I’m being very honest, I still have mixed feelings about Father’s Day—I was so sold on my bold, unconventional future and now we’re a happy two-parent family living in a quaint Brooklyn neighborhood. Do I want to celebrate Sam, and also my own dad, with all my heart and soul? Of course. But do I also feel a little bit like an impostor—like I’m betraying other single moms who might be challenged this day? I do.
I belong to a private Facebook group for single moms by choice. One mom suggested we get together this Father’s Day for a Mimosas ‘n Real Talk kind of thing. That’s basically my dream social event. And I want to go, but I’m worried I would seem out of place. When Hazel first started calling Sam "daddy,” I reached out to the group asking for advice. No one responded. My struggles are different from most single moms’, and I can’t pretend co-parenting doesn’t make life easier, even if meeting a guy was never my primary goal.
So here’s what I’m going to do to reconcile my mixed feelings: On Father’s Day morning, I'm going to walk from my apartment to my favorite local pie shop and pick up a pie. I won’t make it myself, because that feels too traditional, not reflective of my own experiences. I’m going to sit there with a latte and take inventory of my life as a mother, with all of its surprises and uncertainties and breathtaking complexities. Sometimes I look back and wonder how I had the guts to do it, how I had the faith to absolutely know that my baby and I would always shine bright, with or without a partner to support us. I’m hardly perfect, but I hope my daughter inherits that authentic belief in herself. It is, I think, my only superpower.
I’m going to bring that pie—salted caramel apple, most likely—on a picnic date with another couple, who has a toddler as well, and who we both quite adore. In that family, there are no grandparents, and both of their dads died young, so it’s a complicated holiday for them too, just in a different way. I also invited my girlfriend, another single mom by choice, to join us with her son. Together, with soccer balls and bubbles and banjos, we can all get messy with our Mixed Feelings Pie together.
After all, all these holidays are about the same thing: love. And to that, I say, more please.