My boyfriend over the summer was a 40-year-old separated dad. He gets his daughter, Molly, who's 6, from Sunday through Tuesday, and the rest of the week he's a swinging single guy. He's cute and warm (if also somewhat paunchy), but I didn't get crazy about him until I met Molly. She was smart and tomboyish, and I'd do puppet shows for her over the side of the tub while she took her bath. I loved hanging out with the two of them. My biological clock isn't ticking yet, so I was more intrigued by the idea of being a stepmom than a real mom -- I wanted the cool parts of being around a kid without the major responsibility.
Unfortunately for my fantasy, though, Young Daddy turned into a pain in the neck. He kept saying, "I don't want you to get too attached to me," and "You need to be patient." I had been convinced a fortysomething guy would have worked through most of his stupid slacker emotional-unavailability issues, but evidently I was wrong. So I cut him loose. We still hang out sometimes, the three of us, and though I tell him it's because I want him in my life, I think he knows it's all about her.
I hadn't talked to him in a while, so the other night I took him to Fa'an, the hottest Asian-fusion place on Smith Street. I got sushi, and he got a Singha.
"I call the girls I date my Gal Wednesdays," he said, "because Wednesday's the first day I don't have Molly."
"You mean Wednesday's your Friday."
"Yeah. But it's not easy. I'm a parked car, so the women I date have to figure into my life more than I have to figure into theirs. Girls can't sleep over when Molly's there. It's a no-no."
"That's an alibi," I said. "That time I came over late and you kicked me out, it was because you were losing interest in me. It had nothing to do with her."
"Yes it did! She could have woken up and walked in. It's too dangerous."
"What do women say when they find out you have a daughter?" I asked. "Does it turn them on the way it turned me on, because it brings out their domestic fantasies?"
"I think it's the opposite," he said. "The women I've been meeting lately want to have their own individual lives. I represent too much domestication for them."
"I wasn't scared of how domestic you are! I loved coming over!"
"I know," he said nostalgically. "It was fun having you around. You were a babe and a baby-sitter all in one."
He got that one right. Over the summer, the three of us had gone to Coney Island together. We parked our gear on the beach, and I took Molly down to the water to build sand castles, thinking he'd join us. Instead, he sunbathed and listened to the Yankees game while I spent an hour digging a moat. I wouldn't have minded if the relationship lasted, but when it ended, I felt kind of used. At least if I were a baby-sitter, I would have gotten paid.
"Wasn't I Molly's favorite?" I asked. "I felt we had a special bond."
"She has trouble keeping the girls straight," he said. "She can't remember your names."
I wanted to be offended, but he was right. When we went to Coney Island, she kept calling me Tina. I finally gave up correcting her and just answered to the name.
"Doesn't it make you feel guilty that she gets the girls confused?"
"A little bit. But she doesn't really think of any of them as people that are potentially going to be around." Whose fault is that? I thought.
He sipped his beer. "I'm torn," he continued. "I feel like I should be with a woman who's interested in Molly, who wants to have her own kids someday. But the women I've been drawn to lately have been playgirls, who don't care about her." I'd met a few. They were hot, East Village rocker chicks who would sleep with him once and then stop calling.
"I took this one girl to the Pina Bausch show at BAM," he said. "She told me she wanted to meet a man within a year and start a family. At the show, we ran into this friend of mine who's pregnant. Afterwards, my date said, 'Did you see that woman's breasts? They were huge.' I said, 'That's what happens when you get pregnant. They get very big and then they get small and sort of saggy.' All of a sudden, she wasn't so interested in having babies. She didn't want to damage what makes her sexy to men. I don't want to be with someone like that. That's the kind of woman who's going to wind up alone, sitting at a cappuccino stand with a 40-yard stare."
If he was really so turned off by women like that, I didn't get why he kept sweating them all over town. I was beginning to wonder whether Young Daddy was a bigger masochist than I was.
"So the motherly nice girls make you commitment-phobic, and instead you go for the cold girls even though there's no future. It's the Catch-22 of single-fatherhood."
"Yeah, but I don't think I should date these playgirls any more," he said. "I want to be with somebody for a while. More than the sex, what I miss about being married is the spooning."
"More than the spooning, what I miss about you is the sex," I said. "Few men understand that sex does not have to be this hard in-and-out thing that breaks the cervix. Marriage trained you well." I was starting to feel weak. Part of me wanted to give it another shot. On the pro side, he was a huge Serge Gainsbourg fan. On the con side, he was a little dim, and not Jewish.
"Here's what I predict," he said. "I'm going to get involved with a girl, then we're going to stop seeing each other and I'm going to get involved with her again later. But there has to be a friendship, a real connection first. Without that, there's no future."
"Are you coming on to me?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
Just then, the check came. I dug in my purse for the dough, my head swirling with confusion. I could see my stepmom fantasy coming true. Young Daddy was trying to tell me he wanted another chance. I could be the other mother of my dreams. And in a couple of years, we'd give Molly a little Charlotte Gainsbourg half-sister to play with. It was all in the timing, and our timing was finally right.
He finished his Singha and looked at me. "So," he said, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, "am I going to get a hand job out of this?"