Losing your car in a mall parking lot feels the same no matter if you lose it in Sherman Oaks, California; Cool Springs, Tennessee; or Posthausen, Germany. The only difference in Posthausen, Germany 78% of the parked cars are black Volkswagen Passats. And on this Hothian cold evening, I spent the better part of two hours trudging through the snowy VW labyrinth Jack Torrance style, hunting for our black 2012 Volkswagen Passat.
At some point, the inevitable fear creeps in. Could the car have been stolen? I tightened my grip on the handle. Not on the “Here’s Johnny” fire axe, but of the Graco baby stroller ferrying my overly bundled 14-month-old daughter through the frosty lot. She was oblivious to the sense of panic and self-loathing coursing through daddy’s ice cold veins. Just three months earlier I was teaching high school English in a toasty warm classroom in Franklin, Tennessee. Now, I was freezing my ass off, lost in a mall parking lot in Northern Germany, in the dead of winter, failing miserably in my new profession as a stay-at home-dad
I have a confession. Some of what I just shared is not entirely true. Yes, my family and I moved from Nashville, Tennessee to Northern Germany in January of this year. And yes I did lose my car for a few hours in the Dodenhof parking lot. But it was not the dead of winter. It was a rainy spring afternoon. And our lil princess was never in any danger of suffering the same frozen fate as Jack Torrance. She was safely tucked inside with her mom in our cozy Verden flat.
But here is the truth: working as a stay-at-home-dad feels on occasion just as foreign as the country we now call home. And working as a stay-at-home-dad, I feel on occasion lost, a tourist in my own skin, struggling with the language of fatherhood, frequently turning down the wrong alleyways of a domestic life devoid of intellectual stimulation, and at times like Lost’s Jack Shepherd — those “eye-popping-open” mornings where I sort through the bamboo jungle of my mind and wonder along with David Byrne, “well…how did I get here?”
Yes, my wife’s marketing job landed us in Germany, yet I would be lying if I didn’t admit the romanticism of living the Hemingway life was the main draw that lured my writer’s heart overseas. But what I quickly learned: young Ernest probably didn’t scratch out The Sun Also Rises at Les Deux Magots with a fussy 14-month old desperately trying to bust free from its Baby Bjorn prison.
The ritualistic routine of parenting an amazing little person is the new reality. It will always out trump the romanticism of wine fueled afternoons plumbing the depths of an uncharted imaginative experience in a new land. Instead of jotting down story notes in my Moleskin over an espresso, I am downing lukewarm coffee, trying to make it out the door with enough time to hit to the park before lunch. The novel can always wait, but never the nap.
I have joined the rank and file of a new Lost Generation: the ex-pat stay-at-home dad, or what I like to call the “stay-abroad-dad” whose fantasies of European adventure will constantly rub up against the real needs and desires of his sons or daughters.
But what I am quickly learning is this contradiction is not a bad thing. It is a mutual longing for adventure. And for me and my Tallulah, a special one at that. She’s my traveling sidekick through the Land of New. We rode our first trolley together. We ate our first schnitzel together. We learned a new language together. Simply, we are together. What is better than dat?
A few weeks ago, while Tallulah and I were at the park waiting to ride the swing, I noticed a young German father with a Red Hot Chili Peppers tattoo on his calf, lost in reverie as he rode perfect figure eights on his daughter’s My Little Pony scooter — she swinging freely on the swing. I smiled and glanced at the time on my phone. The novel can always wait, but never the nap. I gathered Tallulah in my arms. We left the park.