Family of DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley Hale looks out over view of lake

Where I Want to Be

The night was like any other. It was raining. I made a roast chicken. We said grace, something about loving one another, and Austin told us about trying out for the school play. Afterwards, Chris and I lingered at the table, talking about life and love and everyday stuff. Eventually, he started to do the dishes as we had a drink and listened to Chris Stapleton.

Claire wandered down. She needed help with her Spanish homework.

The three of us started to talk. I was trying to figure out what to write for my blog post this week, and I asked Chris and Claire for some ideas.

Chris turned to Claire. “What do you remember about your dad Shawn as a parent?”

Claire raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know. Nothing really. I remember him, but not him as a parent. I don’t really remember what he did, if that’s what you mean.”

Chris appeared to think for a bit. I knew he was trying to figure out how to ask good questions for me to use in a blog post.

“When I first came here,” he said, and paused, waiting for Claire to pay attention. “You were the most skeptical. You most strongly vetted me. I remember Tommy calling me ‘dad’ early, but you didn’t for a long time. But then at a certain point, you really wanted to call me ‘dad’. Why was that?”

Claire thought for a minute, and then replied, “I just wanted to do it. It just came to me.”

“Well,” Chris said, “Did it feel weird when you first called me ‘dad’ to someone else?”

“No,” Claire said. “I just did it. I don’t know when I felt that way. I just did.”

We both tried probing her a bit more, but got nothing else. Eventually, I started laughing. Both Chris and I had clearly been trying to see what Claire might say that could inspire a blog post. Maybe something about how much she remembered about Shawn, or about how hard it was at first to have a new dad, or how she’d struggled with when to call Chris “dad.” But all we got were pretty straightforward answers. She didn’t seem conflicted at all.

She loved Shawn, but couldn’t remember his exact parenting style. And her dad Chris is her dad now. She almost seemed confused about why we would think any of these things were such a big deal.

Claire started to play a game on her computer that involved animated cupcakes. Austin wandered by with his headphones on, bopping his head to a song. Tommy came in and rooted through the cupboards for chocolate chips. Chris kept doing the dishes. Chris Stapleton played our favorite song of his, “Starting Over.

This might not be an easy time
There’s rivers to cross and hills to climb
Some days we might fall apart
And some nights might feel cold and dark

I can get overwhelmed by music, as many people can, and I felt my heart swell, but Chris wasn’t watching me. He was distracted by Claire’s homework. He takes Spanish class very seriously, and Claire was distracted from the work. “The cupcake game is not your Spanish homework,” he reminded her, and then bent over her computer as she tried to read the text. She was frustrated, and I watched him act out something so she’d understand the context without him actually telling her the meaning of the words. She laughed at him, and then she was frustrated that he wouldn’t tell her the word, and then she was happy when she figured it all out anyway.

I kept trying to write this blog post, thinking about what it meant that Claire couldn’t really remember either her dad Shawn’s parenting style or what it was like to have her dad Chris come into her life. All those details – the ones that are so important to me – were lost on her.

Chris Stapleton kept playing:

When nobody wins afraid of losing
And the hard roads are the ones worth choosing
Some day we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile

I put on my headphones and tried to start writing. I thought about Claire’s life with Shawn and Claire’s life with Chris and what it all means.

But Claire wasn’t thinking about that. Next to me, she was conjugating verbs and struggling with the vocabulary. Chris wiped the counter and spoke a bit of Spanish, attempting to help with more play-acting and verbal cues. She groaned, listening to him, but then she smiled.

In a moment, she’d figured out the point of the article she was reading. She typed excitedly.

I sat back and thought about what was happening right then.

She won’t remember this night, I realized. She didn’t remember a million other nights she spent with her dad Shawn. And this one will pass, too. She won’t remember this perfect time, when everyone was together, when her dad Chris was teaching her Spanish and when her brothers were wandering around and when I was trying to figure out what it all meant to be in our family in this exact moment. It was just another moment for her.

Another moment when she knew she was loved, even if she didn’t really know that’s what it was in the air.

I wanted to cry at this simple realization. I knew that would embarrass her, so I kept it together and listened to the end of the song.

It don’t matter to me
Wherever we are is where I wanna be


  • Kristin Garner

    This was so hard to read… “I don’t know. Nothing really. I remember him, but not him as a parent. I don’t really remember what he did, if that’s what you mean.”

    It was hard because it is something I can hear my 13 year old daughter saying about her father who died back in March of 2020 when she was 11. Her father loved her so much and tried so hard to be the best father he could be. It just breaks my heart that all he did for and with her will fade in her memory. How is it that someone that was such an important part of our lives fades from memory (hers, not mine) so quickly? It makes me mad and sad.

    My daughter has no idea of beautiful future with her father that she has lost. He was cheated and she has been cheated.

    • M Brimley

      I totally understand the sentiment. And I think there’s a lot that kids can forget. But I do think that in Claire’s case – and my guess, in your daughter’s case – while they might not remember the specifics of their father’s parenting (like what he used to say if she was running late for school, for example) they remember being LOVED. Claire also remembers much more important things, like what it felt like to be around her dad Shawn. And I hold onto that, because I know that’s what she holds onto.

  • Kristin Garner

    Thank you. I do believe that she does remember being LOVED. A feeling and contentment that is not always put into words. Thank you for that reminder.

    • M Brimley

      It’s so tough to know how it’s all going to end up as a parent! Will our kids remember the most important things? I think so. Even if they forget other things. I love that you’re keeping your husband’s memory alive for your daughter!