Son and partner of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley by harbor

What Does it Mean to Be a Dad?

What does it mean to be a dad?

It was one of those sweltering days in the summer, the kind where it’s a little hard to breathe, and I sat at a picnic table at a New York state park with Tommy and Claire. About 50 feet away, Austin was lying down on a bench, with Chris by his side.

Up until that point, our car trip to Maine had been pretty uneventful. Austin, easy middle child that he is, had offered to sit in the way back so his sister and brother wouldn’t get carsick. He read a book and we didn’t hear from him for almost 5 hours. Since no one else can read or watch screens in the car (due to the carsickness factor) we played music and talked and sometimes Claire would make up games. At one point, she got Austin to join in too and we all played “who am I?”

The questions are usually the same (“Am I famous? Am I an adult? Am I in our family?”) and the first person to correctly guess is the winner. At one point, it was Claire’s turn and the first two questions were, “Am I a man?” to which she answered “yes” and “Am I alive?” to which she answered “no”.

“You’re SHAWN!” Tommy screamed, and Claire laughed. “No, Tommy,” she said. “Every man who is dead isn’t our dad!”

He covered his mouth and smiled a bit sheepishly, his big dimple showing, but he wasn’t embarrassed. Chris squeezed my leg and then we all reminded Tommy about a few of the other things that characterized his dad Shawn, like that he liked Star Wars and doing CrossFit exercises and driving his little blue car really fast.

What does it mean to be a dad?

We kept driving. Austin started to complain a bit from the backseat about “feeling weird” so we decided to stop for lunch. Within minutes, it was apparent that Austin was ill. He refused to eat and then suddenly he put his hands on his head. “Can I go lie down?” he asked.

I told him that he should, and he walked over to the park bench to lie down. Chris and I talked about what was going on. “I think it’s a migraine,” I said.

Austin hasn’t had a migraine since Chris has been in our lives. The last one he had was the first week of quarantine, back in March 2020, and I was terrified that I couldn’t help him with the pain. The signs are always there – he gets the aura beforehand, though he doesn’t really understand it – and as I watched him on that park bench, I put it all together. “I feel weird” had been the warning sign.

Should we stop and get a hotel room? Chris went over to check on him, and I watched him lean over Austin for a long time. Finally, he came back to where I was with Claire and Tommy. Austin wanted to keep driving, so we decided to do that. We gave Austin some medicine and had Tommy switch to the way back, so Austin wouldn’t feel even sicker. Chris had the brilliant idea to use a leakproof chip bag for a barf bag.

About ten minutes into this leg of the trip, Tommy started complaining of carsickness. “Maybe I’m going to barf!” he said.

Claire yelled, “if Austin or Tommy barfs, I’m going to barf too!”

I started laughing, because there was nothing else to do at that point. “Aren’t you glad you’re a parent right now?” I said to Chris.

He smiled, but was serious. “Best thing that ever happened to me, besides meeting you.”

What does it mean to be a dad?

We decided to try and distract everyone by playing the alphabet game. You have to find each letter of the alphabet somewhere outside the car (on a sign or a license plate or whatever) in order. We quickly went through much of the alphabet, but got stuck on Q for a good 10 minutes. Tommy, now not carsick, was distressed over this turn of events, and was looking everywhere for a Q.

Chris patiently talked with Tommy about words that had the letter Q. Maybe we’d see a sign for queen or quiet or even quicksand!

Tommy kept brainstorming, and then shouted, “Too bad we don’t see a sign for a CUEcumber! Then we’d have the letter Q!”

Chris laughed heartily, and then gave me that look – the one that says, “he’s the cutest kid in the world.”

What does it mean to be a dad?

It took a few more hours, but we made it to Maine and to Nana and Pop’s house. Everyone was overjoyed at our reunion. Austin went to bed quickly, his head still hurting but complaining little. “He just needs to sleep,” I told Chris.

But I was wrong. In the middle of the night he woke us up, almost unable to stand from the pain. I knew that he was likely to throw up next. It was one of the few ways his migraine would ease.

I ran to get a bucket and Chris took Austin to the bathroom. It took me a while as the house was pitch black and when I got upstairs, they were both on the bathroom floor. Chris was lying down on the white tile with Austin’s head on his stomach, both of them only in their underwear. “Austin said he feels better when he’s lying down, but he didn’t want to be alone, so I’m just going to stay here next to him.”

I worried that Austin might throw up on him, but Chris just shrugged.

As I left a few minutes later, I looked back at them. The window was open, blowing cool air into the room and the only light came from the moon outside. Both of them had their eyes closed and Chris was gently rubbing Austin’s head.

What does it mean to be a dad?


  • Rachel

    Love this. Also, as a lifelong migraine sufferer, (mine are thankfully pretty sporadic now too) I’ve found that ice packs (the kind you can buy from the drug store that wrap all the way around your head) can sometimes bring a little relief.

  • Melissa

    I started having migraines with the aura (flashing lights that take 30 mins. to work their way out of my vision, then the headache would start) when I was about 14 or 15. I was assured of at least two a year, in the spring and again in the fall. I’ve read that changes in the weather and the barometric pressure might be the culprit at those times. Other “triggers” for me are missing a meal or having it much later than usual, among other things that might be particular to each individual. I didn’t know what was happening to me until I was about 22 and a kindly old doctor who was filling in for my regular doctor told me what it was. I’m glad that both you and Chris are sympathetic to Austin’s plight and recognize when one is coming on and know how to deal with it. Kudos!

    • M Brimley

      Poor kid – we’re hoping they get better as he grows, but for now, we’re just managing the symptoms as we can!