Something that my friends of recent vintage know about me is that I’m a cat dad.
Pictures of my furry ones – Venus, Pandora and (RIP) Pointer – are likely to show up in my social media.
And the tales that we share at work when talking about our kids will include what my felines are up to.
My longtime friends might find this funny, if not outright bewildering.
I wouldn’t say I ever hated cats. Rather, I just didn’t know much about them. I still don’t, if you ask them.
Our households never had pets beyond the one-day, school-fair goldfish that mysteriously vanished.
I saw my brother get bitten by a dog when we were in elementary school. That fueled a fear of dogs that only eased in middle age. It didn’t help that my mother’s second husband had a yippy miniature Schnauzer, Spunky, that annoyed the $@&! out of us whenever we’d visit.
But cats? Not only did we not live with them, but I can’t recall any of my friends or family living with them.
Then I fell in love with a cat dad.
Actually, Tom was a grieving cat dad when we met.
The latter of his longtime pair of Siamese had passed less than a year before. It wasn’t something we discussed the night we met.
But I’m sure it came up on our first date the following week.
I guess step one in becoming a cat dad is feeling empathy for someone who has lost the ones they loved.
And step two is not being freaked out – or honestly, even noticing – the vast number of cat paintings in their house.
It took us seven years before we welcomed our first felines into our home.
Looking back, that seems like a long time, but really it was about in keeping with the amount of time my brother and his wife dated, married and spent a few years as a young couple before having children.
Cats may not require the daily walking that dogs do. But it still requires logistical work before going off on a two-week, cross-country vacation when there are little mouths to feed and big litter boxes to clean.
Given the traveling we did early on, it was best that our home was just us two. And for most of those years, our home was an apartment.
Probably best that the “cats” there were paintings.
By 1999, Tom was ready to open house and heart to two siblings – the girl’s name was Moo, and that, it stayed. The boy’s name was Ricky, which I hated. But he was gray and white, and I remembered that one of my journalism-school mentors was Dr. Richard Gray. And so, our boy became Dr. Gray (or Doc, for short).
Moo and Doc quickly settled into our lives, and I got to see a whole different side of Tom: enraptured by our furballs.
I was charmed – by them and him.
That’s when I knew I’d become a cat dad.
Doc passed on in 2010, Moo a year later. For that next year, I was a grieving cat dad. I poured my energy into my new line of work. But something was missing, and I knew it. Even being able to put up a Christmas tree one year (something we couldn’t risk with our little hellions) didn’t lessen the sting.
So, by Thanksgiving 2012, Tom and I found ourselves at area animal shelters. It reminded me a lot of buying our house: lots of looking around, seeing possible fits but not being quite sure before landing on the one on which we fully agreed. Only in this case, it wasn’t one – or even two.
As we sat down at the foster home, Venus leapt into Tom’s lap and then left his for mine. We both laughed and knew who’d eventually come home with us. The tricky part was deciding between the other two we were playing with, a boy and a girl.
We told the foster folks we’d be in touch. On the drive home, I was the one who turned to cat dad and said, “How much more difficult would it be to have three?”
He looked at me, laughed, and said,
“If you really want three, we can do it.”Tom, All-time good sport, and friend to cats everywhere
So, for the better part of a decade, we were the parents of three rambunctious siblings. Lots of happy times ensued, until Pointer suddenly and painfully left our lives last spring.
It’s been an adjustment – being a grieving cat dad is different when there are still cats in your home and heart that need love and attention. Food bowls need filling, water bowls need emptying and refilling, litter boxes need cleaning.
And in those moments when the grief wells up, it seems Venus is never far away, ready to make dough or bound from room to room and make me laugh or leap atop my office chair, scaring the crap out of me and evoking a yell.
Pandora, for her part, has issues with hairballs and likes to pick fights with her sister.
Whoever said cats are chill are only half-right. Chill when they want to be.
These days, when I see Tom, 18 years older than I, sending Venus and Pandora on a wild goose chase with his laser pointer, or putting on his flannel shirt before wrangling one of them to trim their front nails, I admit a different sort of pain comes up.
If the time comes that one or more of our felines still needs that kind of cat dad, can I step up and be that dad for them?
Three decades of growing into a cat dad give me hope that I can.
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