A Quarantine Journal From a Single Father in the Time of COVID-19

John P. Darcy

I try to go for a four-mile run around noon each day during the week near where I live in the Manhattan Beach neighborhood of Los Angeles. After having been unable to do this for a couple of weeks due to the pandemic, the feeling of elation and release is magical. Before I leave the apartment, my four-year-old son Dash asks for two hugs and two kisses. After we do this, I head toward where Ocean Drive meets the beach. But instead of turning right to run along the temporarily closed beach path, I turn left and then head down Manhattan Avenue to Hermosa Beach.

As I run through downtown Manhattan Beach, it occurs to me that I hadn’t noticed many of the shops that line the strip before. Like the local landmark pub that churns out the best burger in the area, I had been meaning to try it since I moved here from New York a year and a half ago on the recommendation of a friend. Or the bookshop where I could have been picking up books as gifts for the countless classmate birthday parties that Dash had regularly attended before the pandemic. In that moment, it all reminded me of the Main Streets back East in the Hamptons and Connecticut.

The first couple of weeks after the stay-at-home order was put into place were challenging. Dash’s nanny had fallen ill and she had to self-quarantine. So it was just me and Dash for 17 days in a tiny, minimally furnished modern apartment with no outdoor space except a small balcony. For lunch and dinner, all Dash would eat were peanut butter sandwiches on whole-grain bread and salami. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get him to eat anything else. At night, he had started sleeping in my bed with me, and each evening we would read a new chapter from one of his superhero books like 5-Minute Spider-Man Stories. He especially loved Spider-Man and would wear a sleep mask with his likeness to bed each night. After we completed that evening’s chapter, he would ask me to tell him a story about a hero and villain of his choosing. All the stories ended the same way: The hero thwarted the villain and saved the day somewhere in our neighborhood, like Pitfire Pizza or Uncle Bill’s Pancake House.

Each morning, the living room would be drenched in light and from the windows in the kitchen, we could see the Pacific Ocean down the block in all its grandeur. I was finding work as a beauty marketer even more intense from home than in the office pre-pandemic. There was a new pace and urgency attached to this uncharted landscape and no physical separation between work life and home life. What I missed the most during this time was the privilege of running. I yearned for just 45 minutes each day of alone time with my thoughts and fresh air. Things had come to a head in the late afternoon of Friday during week two. While I was in the middle of a video conference meeting, Dash interrupted and was pleading loudly for me to play with him. Moments later I was on the phone with my manager explaining that working full-time from home as a single parent was getting unmanageable and I needed help finding a new balance. I couldn’t let Dash go another week watching endless YouTube toy videos while I handled back-to-back meetings from morning until late afternoon. Seeing his classmates on his school’s share app doing cool art projects and writing exercises with their hands-on mothers made me feel like a delinquent parent. I thought that if he went another week with this setup, it would somehow adversely affect his educational and psychological development. This was magnified by the Little League parade that took place a few blocks from our home just three short weeks before. There must have been hundreds of kids there, all in proper baseball pants. Dash was the only one I saw there in sweatpants. It felt like such a huge oversight on my part—that I had acutely let Dash down as a parent. A few minutes after hanging up with my manager, I miraculously received a text from his nanny saying that she would be returning to work the following week. I exhaled.

I had a tough time with anxiety the first few weeks we were sheltering in place. And then one day something occurred to me. During an especially low moment, Dash came over to tell me that he loved me. Being cloistered in a small apartment with him, though demanding, was actually a gift. And it’s because we’re together. His dad, even though busy with work 9 to 5, is in the same space as him all day.

Soon he’ll be five years old. He lost his mother, who was pregnant with his sister, the day before his second birthday. One recent Saturday morning over breakfast, he told me a story about a boy whose mother did not die when he was two. Instead, she gave birth to a daughter, the boy’s baby sister. He gave some additional details about the hats and sunglasses the boy had, and that he lived near the beach with all of his toys. When he came to the end of his story, he said the boy lived happily ever after. And the boy’s name was Dash.

His optimism and emotional intelligence lift me up. Throughout all of this confusion and frustration, I found a boy who was just happy to be with his dad. This is evident in the way he smiles at me each day. I thought about the song that played in the background in the delivery room while he was born, Arthur Russell’s “That’s Us/Wild Combination.” The “I just want to be wherever you are” lyric. The song always felt like a secular prayer about embracing the small moments that you’re incredibly fortunate to have in your life with loved ones. I was lucky that both of us were in good health. I was privileged to be able to work remotely and still earn my full salary. People were suffering. People were dying. But we had each other. And for that relatively brief moment in late April when the world was at a standstill, that was all that mattered.

Originally Appeared on Vogue