Patton Oswalt’s open discussion about his grief and his relationship with his daughter has been an unexpected positive out of tragedy. As Oswalt says at the start his essay in the latest GQ, it’s been 5 months and ten days since he became a single father in what is likely the worst way possible. As has been said before, grief and what follows is something we all deal with at some point. But at the same time, that universal nature has a different path for each person. It’s weird and there’s no catch-all solution.
In this essay, Oswalt highlights just what happens when you lose that pillar in your life. The person who makes the lists knows your thoughts, and makes it all work to get through this life. It isn’t that you’re leaning on that person, it’s more that they’re around and you’re a team. Then suddenly you’ve broken apart and you suddenly have to figure out how to function without your teammate. And for Oswalt, he had the added challenge of caring for his daughter through it all.
We’ve all likely repeated “I can’t do it” at some point for any number of reasons, so it’s no surprise to see it coming from Oswalt in reference to being a single father. It’s something I can’t imagine in my head and scares me, which is normal considering you have a tiny life in your care. But as he puts it in the essay, you grow with it and it becomes easier. It does get better:
This is my first time being a single father. I’ve missed forms for school. I’ve forgotten to stock the fridge with food she likes. I’ve run out of socks for her. I’ve run out of socks for me. It sucked and it was a hassle every time, but the world kept turning. I said, “Whoops, my bad,” and fixed it and kept stumbling forward. Now I know where to buy the socks she likes. I asked two parents at her school to help me with forms and scheduling. I’m getting good at sniffing out weekend activities and scheduling playdates and navigating time and the city to get her and myself where we need to go every day. I work a creative job, but I live a practical life. If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.
I’m going to keep going forward, looking stupid and clumsy and inexperienced at first, then eventually getting it, until the next jolt comes, and the next floor drops out from under me, until there are no more floors.
That’s a fact anybody in a similar situation or just their normal lives can take to the bank. Giving up and rolling into bed for days on end is a fake easy. You’re doing nothing so it feels like the best thing to do. Sticking with life and getting up can be tough to start, but it’s just as easy and more fulfilling once you get moving. That’s something Oswalt drives home with his close:
I don’t know what kind of single father you are, if you are one or ever will be one. If you’re widowed or divorced, adopter or elder sibling. If you’re feeling any fear or self-doubt, reassure yourself with the fact that I’m doing this. Me. Spend an hour with me some time. I can’t drive stick. I can’t scramble an egg. I can’t ice-skate. But I’m doing this. Being a father. I’m in charge of another human being. So you can do this. I promise.
He also closes it with a sweet message to his daughter, which is probably the best motivation you can ask for.