After years of friendship, my partner Gabriel and I became romantically involved a little over three years ago. Things got serious pretty quickly. We were pretty immediately deeply in love. Our years of friendship had already gotten a lot of the whole “getting to know you” awkwardness out of the way. We were a natural, easy match from the beginning. A few months in Gabriel was a regular fixture in my house. Within weeks of introducing him to the kids, they would look at me accusingly anytime they sat at the dinner table and he wasn’t there, as if he was supposed to be there every night and I had been neglectful in my duties by not making sure he was in attendance. At one year, we got engaged. When my home was targeted by white supremacists Gabriel stayed with us in order to help us feel safe and he never left. When the harassment continued we moved into a new place together, a new family unit of four. Then the pandemic hit. Then our home caught fire. We went through all of that and more together. I began to think of our engagement as just a silly bit of symbolism because who can be more married than two people who have been through so much together and still look forward to spending every day together? I really thought that nothing could really surprise or challenge us.
Then we got a puppy.
We got the puppy for my younger son who has been, like so many other kids, struggling through this pandemic. When his older brother moved out, he felt the isolation even more acutely. His older brother got a puppy to help with his “first time living-alone” loneliness. He brought the cute little guy over the day he got him and as we watched my younger son roll around on the floor with this puppy in a state of joy and playfulness we hadn’t seen in him in over a year, my partner turned to me and said, “We gotta get that kid a puppy.”
Gabriel hadn’t been all that excited about a puppy before that. Actually, he’d been pretty against the idea. Our family dog had died just a few months after Gabriel and I had started dating, and after a period of mourning, I had really missed having a dog around. After the fire and during our rebuild, I kept talking about the dog we’d get once construction was done and the yard was fenced. He’d nod silently with visible apprehension. Gabriel loves animals. His top youtube searches are obscure rap videos and videos of cats and dogs being friends. But he’s always loved them from a distance. He never grew up with animals and had the natural wariness around animals that many people who were never familiarized with pets in their childhood have. Every time I would get to pet a friendly dog when we were out in the world I’d ask Gabriel if he wanted to pet the dog too. He’d shake his head no and take a half step back. Every time.
But Gabriel loves my sons and my son really needed a companion and he was insistent that it be a puppy. So we got a puppy.
A week after having the puppy at home my partner came into our bedroom on the edge of tears. Neither of us had slept much, he was just finishing his turn of puppy-sitting so that the dog wouldn’t eat something poisonous or chew up something valuable, and in the meantime the dog (named Denali) had managed to pee and poop on the floor multiple times.
Gabriel had become increasingly frazzled and a bit short tempered and on this day he looked like he might collapse. He was having trouble bonding with the dog or feeling anything other than anxiety and frustration toward her. He said to me, voice weary and a bit heartbroken, “I don’t think I can do this.”
I chuckled a little bit and said, “Oh honey, it’s hard. I know.”
“You don’t look like you’re having that hard a time of it,” he replied, genuinely confused by the calm I displayed.
“I know,” I answered, “Because I’ve had babies.”
“Ooohhhh,” he replied and then stood silently for a few seconds before asking, “Am I being ridiculous?”
“Only a little. It is really hard. You’re tired. There’s a new being in the house that has taken over everything and now you have no time to yourself or to get any of the other things done that you need to get done. And she keeps shitting on the floor. But she won’t do this forever. It will get better and eventually you’ll even like having a dog.”
He looked at me dubiously and sighed, but he kept on. We were partners and we had made this decision together. He was in this whether he wanted to be or not - whether he thought he could do this or not. And he knew that. I didn’t need to say it.
And it did get easier. Within a few weeks the dog didn’t need to be watched 24 hours a day and she slowly decreased the amount of shitting and peeing on the floor and she stopped trying to eat every poisonous plant she could find.
And Gabriel fell head over heels in love with her.
I first noticed the early morning giggling. My partner wakes up hours before me for his early morning radio show. I’d be awoken while it was still dark to the sound of my partner giggling with pure joy. I’d go out to the hall to investigate and he’d call out, “baby, come see what the puppy is doing.” And she’d be doing the most basic puppy shit. Like, jumping or barking. And it was making his morning.
Gabriel is the one who makes sure she is fed on time every day. He drinks his morning coffee outside - even on some rainy days - so that she can run around and play in the yard but, “not feel alone.” Taking her on walks, Gabriel would comment on every bit of progress she’d make. First she was too afraid to get past the block and would cower at every car. Then they could go around the block. Now they walk all over the neighborhood. He’d bring her back with stories of the other dogs and people she had met.
Gabriel is now the type of dog dad who really hopes that someone, anyone will bring up dogs so that he can talk about our dog. His coworkers have all met the dog on zoom. So have most of his friends.
When he made her first grooming appointment the groomer texted to ask the dog’s breed and when he replied that she was a Husky-Corgi mix the groomer replied, “sounds cute!”
He immediately sent pictures.
Gabriel has met more of our neighbors these past three or four months out with the dog than he has in the year we’ve been here. He also knows a lot of the neighborhood dogs now as well.
It’s been such a delight to watch all of this go down. To watch a man who absolutely refused to pet any dog, no matter how cute, and quite visibly wish that the encounter with said animal would end as quickly as possible, now look longingly at every dog we see out in the world.
He’s still adorably awkward as fuck. He is personally hurt any time Denali play bites him or even seems like she might play bite him even though I’ve reassured him multiple times that she won’t hurt him. He still carries her to her crate with the awkward caution that you might carry a bomb to be diffused. He is absolutely not down with getting licked on the face and he jumps up shocked every time she sneaks up on him on the couch and gets in a quick kiss.
He brings her inside from the yard when it’s windy out because he doesn’t want a pinecone to hit her on the head and injure her.
And she absolutely has his number. She knows that if she wants in the house that his studio window is the one to go beg at. If she wants extra belly rubs he’s the one to flop down on the floor in front of.
When Gabriel and I first got serious we discussed the idea of babies. We both agreed on not having kids. I had my first child at 20. I’ve dedicated my life to raising my boys and while motherhood has been the most wonderful thing to ever happen to me I didn’t really feel like rewinding that clock to the beginning again as I closed in on 40. Gabriel had wanted kids when he was younger but now was a little hesitant of becoming a first time dad this late in life. So we agreed, no more kids.
But I must admit that sometimes it would make me sad to think that someone with so much love to give, and someone that I know so deep in my heart would make an amazing parent, won’t get to have that experience. Gabriel’s been an amazing step-dad to the boys. But when he entered their lives, most of the formative work had already been done by me. He appreciates and respects my parenting and has fit beautifully and comfortably into a supportive role, while knowing clearly that I am mom. Seeing him with the boys and seeing how much he loves them after just a few short years, makes me wish sometimes that we could go through this whole parenting journey together.
Not enough to make me want to go through pregnancy, labor, and the toddler years again in my forties while also taking my younger kid through his surly teen years, but still.
So this little bit here, watching this love he has for our little dog baby and watching his pride in his skills as a dog-parent as they strengthen, and sharing this caregiving experience together, has been really special.
Having raised both kids and dogs before, I love our puppy, but raising a puppy doesn’t really hold the magic and wonder for me that it holds for Gabriel. It’s kind of business as usual. But having always raised kids and puppies in the past without supportive and equally participatory partners, witnessing Gabriel’s journey is where the real magic lies for me.
I went away to a cabin a few weeks ago, in order to give Gabriel time to work on his music. We both work from home, have a kid who plays piano all day and night, and how there’s the dog - finding the peace, quiet, and time to write and record music can be hard in this environment. So I took the kiddo and the dog to the cabin for the week and Gabriel had the house to himself.
About two days in as we were talking on the phone he admitted that it had been hard to work because he just missed us a bunch. I understood, we had been together every day through this pandemic. I missed him too. But this little bit of space was necessary for our work and our mental wellbeing.
Gabriel sighed a bit and then his voice perked up slightly.
“Hey honey?” he asked, “Want to facetime?”
“Sure!” I said excitedly. I missed his face.
“Great!” he said, “Put me on with the dog.”
So I held the phone to the dog while he told her that he loved her and she was a good girl. Then when the dog lost interest in the conversation I turned the camera back on me.
“I love you too,” he reassured me, “I love you more.”
“I know love,” I replied.
And I do. Gabriel is never a person who will run out of love. He’s never a person whose love for any person could be diminished by the love he has for anyone else - or any dog else for that matter. And that’s part of why I love him so much.
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