I am being driven around the Island by my son Hardy, from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, across to Vineyard Haven, then up through West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah. We do not have a set route; the journey is one of feel and finding more roads to travel.

Hardy is 16 and needs hours behind the wheel to prepare for his driver’s license test. I am his co-pilot, trying not to offer too much advice and mostly succeeding.

Only occasionally do I resort to pushing on the floor with my foot at an imaginary brake pedal when he rounds a turn too fast or an approaching car feels menacing. But then again, everything feels potentially menacing when relegated to the passenger seat of your son’s life. I glance at him, this young man with two hands on the wheel, a bit of whisker stubble on his chin, his profile steady and strong as he looks ahead down the road.

Sometimes we talk on these drives, sometimes we remain silent or listen to the radio. This is one of the silent drives and I let my thoughts wander while looking out at the ocean view beyond South Road. When Hardy was born I chose to step away from the working world to be a stay-at-home dad. This was not an easy fit and on many days I took it personally, the hardships of parenting inflicted upon my manhood. Looking back I realize parenting is hard for everyone — for women, for men, for anyone trying to raise a child, whether at home in the trenches or missing out by going to work. Our former selves are immediately and abruptly erased as we stumble along in the passenger seat from day one.

But it is also beautiful. And it goes too fast.

As we round the Gay Head Cliffs, where I would take Hardy as a young boy to prowl the shoreline, tucked between the pounding ocean and the immense clay cliffs, my mind drifts further back. I am in the passenger seat again, this time riding shotgun in a pickup truck driven by one of my graduate school professors. The night before he threw a party at his house and this morning we are rolling ice cold RC colas across our foreheads to ease the pain of our hangovers. Half-eaten Arby’s breakfast sandwiches linger in our laps.

I am 40 and have returned to graduate school in Florida at this late stage in my life to finally go all in on the page. In a few weeks Hardy will be born and I will become a father. But today we are going fishing.

The week before, my professor had ripped apart one of my essays, going to great lengths to describe its sorry state, its lack of heart, its falseness. I decide to take advantage of our time alone together, away from the other students.

“What do you think is my biggest impediment to becoming a good writer?” I ask.

“Using the word impediment is a start,” he says. “That and being earnest.”

When I ask him to elaborate, he grunts and says I have to figure that out for myself.

Near the end of the semester, after Hardy is born, I have another essay due and very little time now to write. My wife Cathlin and I are up every night with Hardy, a Herculean horrible sleeper. At a loss, I turn to what is directly in front of me, hours-long stroller walks through the streets of Tallahassee, just me and my son taking the day more by whimper than by storm. My professor praises the essay and tells me I am close, very close. I am pleased but also afraid, even after his encouragement, because I have revealed something so quiet and personal.



Hardy and I are cruising down-Island now, past the Tashmoo overlook where the other day I took my daughter and her friends sledding. They are all on the cusp of being teenagers, yet on that day they giggled and frolicked like young girls.

We continue onward and I look out at the Little League field where each spring our lives were swallowed up entirely and delightfully with Hardy playing and me coaching. But instead of remembering baseball heroics, my mind drifts back to Florida again, this time accompanying Cathlin on a business trip to Orlando. We were living in New York city then during my time as a stay-at-home dad. My life had grown so small, I thought, structured around nap times, feedings and trips to the park with Hardy. I jumped at the chance to go on a business trip, to alter the sameness of every day, even though I would only be a supporting player.

The first morning, up early with Hardy, I checked out the hotel cafeteria, lingering as long as I could to give Cathlin more time to sleep and prepare for a meeting. Hotel guests mingled about, and as I waited in line for a cup of coffee I turned to a woman standing behind me. My life at the time was moms and nannies, playgroups and burp cloths, and so without thinking I brought this stranger into my stereotype.

“Is your husband at a convention?” I asked her.

The woman looked at me with a confused expression.

“My husband is at home,” she said. “I am at a convention.”


“Oh,” I said, trying to recover. “Which one?”

“Woman in aviation,” she said. “I fly jets.”

There was a pause “And what do you do?” she asked.

“I’m a stay-at-home dad.”

For the next three days I saw this woman everywhere, but each time thereafter she was dressed in her flight suit, surrounded by more women in cool-looking jump suits. We would wave to each other and once she came over to say hello, to pat Hardy on the head and wish us a good day sightseeing.

Whenever I have re-told this story, I have told it mostly for laughs — my idiotic assumption and the woman’s Top Gun comeback. But it also hurt to relive that moment when I felt so removed from my own journey in life. Today, thinking back, my feelings shift and I see other details from that trip ­as Hardy and I traveled in the slow lane, watching an old man feed the ducks beside a small pond, the many adult-sized Goofys and Donald Ducks wandering about that made Hardy laugh or cry depending on their proximity, my wife bent over her notes as she prepared to shine.



Hardy navigates Five Corners, using the hand-over-hand technique his instructor taught him. I notice the scar on his index finger. My children have always loved my scars, seeing each one as a chapter in a storybook. When younger they would point to my thigh and ask me to tell them again about the moped accident, or my chin and the time Uncle Jim dropped me when I was little. And of course, they have their own stories now.

One day, when Hardy was six or seven, we stopped at the post office, one of his favorite places to go, to turn the key in the box and behold its mysterious contents, the envelopes and magazines and occasional package. I unstrapped him from his car seat and stepped back to let him climb down out of the car. But in his excitement he slammed the car door shut on his finger. I can still hear his scream. I ran to the door, opened it and looked down at his crushed and mangled finger, then somehow put him back in his car seat and began driving to the hospital.

On the drive, Hardy kept screaming but he found his words too and in between gulping breaths he accused me of slamming the door on his finger. In my fear and racing adrenaline I went into defense mode and instead of consoling my son I yelled at him, telling him it was all his fault and that I was not to blame. The memory of my reaction hurts so much more than the memory of his mangled finger.

Our trip comes to a close and as Hardy turns into our driveway, I am back with my professor. We are on the wide open Gulf reeling in fish as he tells me stories about how he became a writer, the winding road from his childhood growing up outside of Washington D.C. to this moment, and I am listening intently. But then I am propelled forward in time, to when we are no longer together in person but I send him an essay I wrote while watching my children closely, trying to make sense of my life by capturing the details of their lives. Over time I had finally realized what my professor wanted for me and for my writing. He wanted me to feel fully, from the hurt to the healing. My children taught me that.

“That’s it,” my professor wrote in response. “That’s exactly it.”

Hardy parks and turns off the car.

“How did I do Dad?” he asks.

“You did great,” I say. “But maybe go a bit slower next time.”