Hyla Molander passes on a special Father’s Day gift, from one husband to another.
On Father’s Day, I hold the wristwatch—a stainless steel Bell & Ross—and notice the delayed clicks of the white second hand. My thumb moves in circular motions across the waterproof glass. I’m surprised by its weight.
Erik, my 29-year-old husband, pleaded with me for this expensive watch, but I said, “You know we can’t afford that right now.” We were saving money to buy our first house in over-priced Marin County, California.
“Hyla, he’s going to give it to me for one-third the cost.”
Oh, Erik. “Why do I have to be the one who has to say no?”
Erik put me in charge of our finances after he’d accepted that his impetuous spending habits weren’t helping us save. We were newly pregnant with our second daughter, and moving from one rental house to the next was getting old.
Erik bought the watch anyway. Then he had the nerve to justify his purchase by telling me he’d sold some computer equipment. Why did he need that watch? I wasn’t toting around designer purses. The fight blew over quickly, as most of our disagreements did, and the watch became a playful joke between us.
He liked to spend money. But nobody could deny that Erik was a phenomenal father. Every day, when he came home from work, he’d swing our daughter, Tatiana, into the air and say, “You are the reason for my existence.” During my pregnancies, not an evening passed when Erik didn’t rub almond butter all over my ripe belly. “Sexy curves,” he’d say.
He was an exceptional husband, always helping me with my writing, my photography business, and doing more housework and errands than I ever did. Anyway, isn’t marriage just an exercise in seeing the perfection in each other’s imperfections?
Erik wore that watch when he ran, when he showered, and when he lugged computers around at work.
And, when he was only 29, my beloved Erik was still wearing that watch when Tatiana and I heard him take his last breath.
The funeral passed, then Keira’s birth, and through layers of grief, I sobbed from a place I didn’t know existed.
Eventually Evan came along. Evan—the handsome, Stanford MBA, Ironman athlete—didn’t run out the door when he met Keira and Tatiana for the first time. He didn’t flee. One month after we met, Evan rode his mountain bike up Mt. Tamalpais and asked Erik’s permission to care for me and the girls.
Evan has taken over for Erik, but Evan makes sure we talk about “Daddy Erik” every day. “If I died, I’d be incredibly bummed if you didn’t keep my memory alive,” Evan says.
Through Erik, we remember life in greater detail. We remember the butterflies that flew over our heads as Evan and I exchanged wedding vows, we remember the excitement in the courtroom when Evan legally adopted the girls, and we remember, each day, how blessed we are to now have four magnificent children.
On Father’s Day, I squish my lips against the black face of Erik’s watch, tuck it in to an ivory-lined box, and tape the folded turquoise wrapping paper along the sides.
Erik wants Evan to have his watch.
Closing my eyes, I imagine what Erik would say, and I begin writing a letter from Erik to Evan, which finally reads:
“There are things I would have changed about my 29 years, and I know that you and Hyla will have your own bumps along the road. I also know there will be times that you struggle to navigate the path of raising girls. There is no doubt in my mind that you will do a phenomenal job. That, you have already proven.
What I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for taking over—for wanting to take over. I chose you to take care of my girls, and my wife, because what I saw in you was the ability to be the most nurturing father and loving, supportive husband. You are one stellar man—anyone who knows you will vouch for that.
Evan, what I am about to give you, I am not sure you will even want to wear. It’s cool with me if you choose to leave it in a drawer, to pull out only on the occasion that you feel the desire to look at it, to be reminded that the time is now—the time is always now.
Happy Father’s Day, from one father to another. You deserve the greatest life. Don’t forget to take it. Take life. Breathe it all in.”