When my 7-year-old approached me with this poignant question, I knew I needed a thoughtful answer that was both honest and reassuring.
Yesterday, Virginia asked me, “Daddy, if you and Mommy break up, who will take two daughters and who will take one?”
I was slicing onions in the kitchen. The question took me by surprise. “What do you mean, Virginia?”
“We’re three sisters,” she said. “You obviously can’t cut the third sister in half!”
I felt like laughing. I was about to say, “Don’t worry, honey, Mama and I will never break up,” but I didn’t want to lie. I know that relationships are reinvented day by day, and the worst mistake you can make for yourself, or for others, is thinking yours is invincible.
"Virginia,” I said, “if for some reason Mama and I separate, we’ll both see all three of you, sometimes me and sometimes Mama. Don’t worry.”
“But in Mrs. Doubtfire the dad only saw the kids on Saturdays,” she said.
“Virginia, sometimes when parents break up things can happen,” I said. “Maybe they didn’t separate on good terms and fought. But Mama and I agree that, even if we leave each other, you three will always come first. Understand? Always.” She stared at me silently.
“Daddy,” she said after a while, “does love end?”
I thought for a second before responding. “Love never ends,” I said. “It’s people that change.”
“Virginia, adults grow too, you know? You’re a big girl now, but seven years ago you were a baby. It’s kind of like that for mommies and daddies too. When I met Mama I was a different person, and so was she. The important thing when two people love each other is to be able to change together or respect the other person’s changes. That’s what parents do with their children, but between themselves sometimes they can’t. That’s why love for your children is the only kind that never ends.”
“But,” she said, “when you met Mommy how did you know she was Mommy?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“How did you know you loved her?”
“Oh, that,” I said. “I knew that after about ten minutes.”
“The first time we met, she pulled her hair back behind her neck, lifted it up over her head, and put it into a bun without a hair band, just twisting it in a knot.”
“So I knew she desperately needed a hair band. And I needed her hair.”
“And did you have a hair band?”
“No, but by the time Mama found that out she already loved me.”
“Daddy,” she said, “that means you tricked her!”
“Maybe just a little,” I said, “but the point is that Mama was the first woman who ever made me want to find a hair band. You know what I mean?”
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She looked at me for a few seconds. “Here, Daddy,” she said, pulling out her own hair band. “Now you and Mama won’t break up.”
She laughed, and fortunately I was slicing onions.
From Sleepless Nights and Kisses for Breakfast: Reflections on Fatherhood, by Matteo Bussola, published by TarcherPerigree, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2016 by Matteo Bussola. English language translation copyright © 2017 by Jamie Richards.