By Karin Fuller
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Such a simple image, but it stuck with me.
I’d gone to the airport in Myrtle Beach to pick up my boyfriend. My daughter, her best friend, Nicky, and I had driven down on a girls trip, and Didier flew down later to join us.
I’d arrived early at the airport and was killing time watching people in the area where everyone gathers to meet the arrivals, entertaining myself by trying to predict who they were there to pick up.
I guessed that the cluster of suits would collect another just like them, and the excited 3- to 8-year-olds were there to meet Grandma, and there was this one eclectic family that looked like they’d been sent by Central Casting to collect one from each ethnicity and generation.
And then there was this guy, standing all by himself. He appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s. He looked sweetly eager, checking and rechecking his watch, pacing over to the arrivals monitor to make sure the flight was on time before going back to the arrival gate and getting as close as security allowed before starting his pacing again. Every now and then, he’d stand on tiptoe to try and see higher.
He’s so in love, I thought.
A new herd of arrivals began heading our way down the escalators. It was still too early to be Didier’s flight, so I stood to the side and just watched as the groups began matching up.
I saw a woman carrying a baby, who was maybe 10 months old, step onto the escalator.
The baby was jabbering happily at first, fascinated by the movement of the moving staircase. But then he looked up, and even though they were still a good distance away, he somehow spotted someone in our crowd.
He let out this crazy loud squeal and his chubby little arms began flailing, reaching for that person he’d seen, and his mom had to struggle to hold him.
She hurried straight to the man who had been pacing across from me, and he snatched up that baby and began swinging him around.
He started singing, “I missed my baby. I missed my goofy baby.”
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a happier man.
In a place of ocean sunrises and palm trees and perfectly landscaped golf courses, it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen.
Later, when we were settled by the pool at our hotel, I watched some dads playing with their kids. It was sweet how attentive and playful they were. Quick to jump in, fine with splashing, good about reapplying sunscreen.
At the beach, so many dads were there just digging away with their kids, creating impressive sand castles with trenched-out moats, decorated with whatever odd objects were lying around on the beach.
It was so nice to see, and I made a comment about all the involved dads to Didier, who has three children himself, ages 10, 17 and 22.
“It’s hard staying involved after divorce,” he said. “You have to aggressively insert yourself into your children’s lives. It’s no longer automatic. You aren’t there in that same easy way you were before.”
Complicating matters even more, his children live in Lexington, Kentucky, 2½ hours away. Yet he makes the trek there at least twice a month, often more during baseball or for school events.
His dedication to his children was one of the first things that drew me to him. It was a good way, I believe, to measure a man’s character.
The day before Didier came to the beach, he had a visit from an old friend from the Marine Corps, Zach Macintyre, who is the single father of a 13-year-old. Didier told me about how Zach’s whole world revolves around his son.
He said he’d never seen a more involved father than Zach, and that he almost felt like a bad dad by comparison — even though Didier’s pretty much the best dad I’ve ever known.
I say “pretty much” because my brother and I were lucky to have a dad that was always involved. A treehouse-building, board-game-playing family man.
And in a world of ocean sunrises, palm trees and perfectly landscaped golf courses, it’s a beautiful thing.
Karin Fuller can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.