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Every day is Father's Day for single dads

June 15, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

"The chicken is dry. The gravy is lumpy and runny," says Mikey Whittington, 13, about his father's cooking.

But he says his dad, Mike Whittington, makes good brownies and cupcakes.

Bryan Jamison's kids - Brianne, 17, Brock, 14, and Brett, 8 - tease him for cooking Hot Pockets but like the barbecue chicken he cooks in the crockpot.

"I'm pretty good with Hamburger Helper," he laughs.

Whittington and Jamison have had to do a lot more cooking for their families in the past several months. They've had to do a lot more of everything. They don't know each other, but they have a lot in common.

Kelly Whittington, 41, Mike Whittington's wife of 22 years, died in September after fighting cancer for 12 years.

Lynne Jamison, married to Bryan for 18 years, died in May 2002, a little more than a week after her 39th birthday. She had been diagnosed with lymphoma just 18 months earlier.

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Both women died at home. Both husbands took care of their wives. When he realized his wife's life was ending, Bryan Jamison stayed with her and held her and talked to her.

"There's stuff I did I never thought I'd be able to do," Mike Whittington says. "I just felt it was my responsibility as a husband. I would want Kelly to do the same for me."

Brett started vomiting the day of her mother's funeral. Instead of going back to the church with family and friends after services at the cemetery, Bryan Jamison went home with his little girl.

Single fatherhood is not easy. Every day is Father's Day.

Bryan Jamison says his wife did 95 percent of everything in their home.

Now he's at the grocery store by 6:30 a.m. Saturdays, doing the shopping he had not done before. "It was a rude awakening," he says.

The kids help with chores, and both men say they are fortunate. Their employers supported their need to take care of their wives and children, and they've had amazing assistance from family and friends who brought meals, sometimes too many meals, and help with cleaning, child care - many things.

Both men have a firm faith in God and say they believe God wouldn't give them more than they could handle.

And they are taking charge of their responsibilities.

"Everybody else's life goes back to normal," Mike Whittington says. The lives of the Whittington family and the Jamison family have changed.

Parenting alone is a challenge. Bryan Jamison misses having his wife as a sounding board. They had parented together - often falling into good guy-bad guy roles in taking care of their kids. He says he's become conscious of the importance of not getting emotional when dealing with his kids. He has learned to take time and "go sit on it for a while" when reacting to something his kids have done or want to do.

Mike Whittington's challenges in helping his kids deal with the loss of their mother are compounded by 17-year-old Katie's developmental delay. It's been hard to help her understand her mom's death, but she's dealing with it in her own way.

"She's a joy," he says.

"I'm going to help you," Mike Whittington tells his kids. "You're going to help me. We're going to make it."

Bryan Jamison says his kids have grown up a lot in the past couple of years. "I don't know how I'd have gotten through without these kids."

The family is reaching goals together.

Brianne graduated from South Hagerstown High School on Friday and plans to head off to Salisbury University in the fall. She says her family's experience makes her respect her dad a lot more.

Mike Whittington admits there are some days when he may be down, but he has a philosophy that helps him through: "Life is really what you make of it."

He decided in January he had to begin to move on with his life.

"Nobody else is going to fix it. You are," he told himself.

Mike Whittington and Bryan Jamison are "fixing it."

"Aren't they remarkable people?" asks Faye Altizer, director of bereavement and social services for Hospice of Washington County, which has assisted both families during and after their losses. "They are giving such wonderful support to their children - in their activities and in day-to-day life."

Bryan Jamison says driving "up and down the road" for Lynne's treatments at Johns Hopkins provided them with "so much time to talk."

He says his wife lived more in 39 years than a lot of people do in a longer lifetime. Her illness, he says, forced them to realize what's really important in life.

"Life is short," Mike Whittington says. "Don't wait."

Altizer calls Mike Whittington and Bryan Jamison extraordinary. They are moving on with their lives while honoring their late wives.

"They're just good dads," she adds.

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