After losing his wife, crime fiction author Michelle McNamara, comedian Patton Oswalt has had to master being a single dad ever since. Without any warning, he had to grieve for his wife and be strong and supportive for his 7-year-old daughter, Alice.
Patton wrote a moving and uplifting open letter in GQ, explaining the pain of losing his wife, and his intense fear of having to continue her amazing work on his own.
‘Five months and ten days ago, as I write this, I became a single father.'
‘I was half of an amazing parenting team, except we weren't equals. Michelle was the point person, researcher, planner, and expediter. I was the grunt, office assistant, instruction follower, and urban Sherpa.
‘I was looking forward to spending my life with the single most original mind I'd ever encountered. And now? Gone. All gone.'
Patton and his wife Michelle in 2011
‘I can't do it. I can't do it. I can't do it. I want to tune out the world and hide under the covers and never leave my house again and send our daughter, Alice, off to live with her cousins in Chicago, because they won't screw her up the way I know I will.
‘Somebody help me! I can't. I can't. I can't.'
‘But then I think back to when I became a father-to when Michelle and I became parents together. I felt the same terror. I longed for the same retreat.
‘You will never be prepared for anything you do, ever. Not the first time. Training and practice are out the window the second they meet experience. But you'll get better. ‘
Despite struggling at first, Patton says that he's definitely getting the hang of single parenting - step by step.
‘This is my first time being a single father. I've missed forms for school. I've forgotten to stock the fridge with food she likes. I've run out of socks for her. I've run out of socks for me. It sucked and it was a hassle every time, but the world kept turning.
‘I said, "Whoops, my bad," and fixed it and kept stumbling forward.
‘Now I know where to buy the socks she likes. I asked two parents at her school to help me with forms and scheduling. I'm getting good at sniffing out weekend activities and scheduling playdates and navigating time and the city to get her and myself where we need to go every day.
Patton and his daughter Alice in 2015
‘If I can persuade a comedy club full of indifferent drunks to like me, I can have my daughter ready for soccer on a Saturday morning.
‘I'm going to keep going forward, looking stupid and clumsy and inexperienced at first, then eventually getting it, until the next jolt comes, and the next floor drops out from under me, until there are no more floors.'
Patton signs off with some encouraging words for other single dads out there, writing that if he can do it, anyone else most definitely can.
‘I don't know what kind of single father you are, if you are one or ever will be one. If you're widowed or divorced, adopter or elder sibling. If you're feeling any fear or self-doubt, reassure yourself with the fact that I'm doing this. Me.
‘Spend an hour with me sometime. I can't scramble an egg. I can't ice-skate. But I'm doing this. Being a father. I'm in charge of another human being. So you can do this. I promise.'
‘I'm moving forward-clumsily, stupidly, blindly-because of the kind of person Alice is. She's got so much of Michelle in her. And Michelle was living her life moving forward. And she took me forward with her. Just like I know Alice will.
‘So I'm going to keep moving forward. So I can be there with you if you need me, Alice. Because I'll need you.'