Five Years a Dad

imageOur first, our not so little Charlie, is turning 5 this week. It’s not going too fast for me. Not today at least. I may feel differently at his sixth, but for now things are moving along nicely. It’ll also be my fifth anniversary of being a dad but do you think he’ll remember? Nope. So rude.

From time to time life provides a moment for you and your lingering sense of loss that inevitably accompanies all the changes you go through. When it does it’s a good idea to look back and take stock.

The only constant in life is change.

It’s a theory that holds up. At least to my way of approaching it. It being both life and its nature as ever changing.

First a primer on who I was. I was a summer camp guy for 18 years until 2013. It wasn’t a job. It was a passion, love and career. It was a fine way to spend the rest of my life if life had proceeded that way. I worked with populations of kids and adults with differing needs and helping, being a cog in a wheel that provided such a wonderful opportunity to folks that often didn’t have such opportunities was the proudest accomplishment of my life. I was wedded to the work. I would disappear for months at a time to enter a new life and be fully present in it. I love that world only slightly less than the world of my family. And far more than any other potential life. It’s where I’d be forever were my kids not to come along. It’s where I hope to return in my golden years and it’s where I’d run to if my world came crashing down around me.
I was also a largely functional alcoholic. The serious kind of functioning alcoholic. The several hundred dollars a week, perhaps a bottle of vodka or scotch  and a 12-pack of chasers in a night type of drunk. I drunk myself to sleep for years. More than a decade, easy. Even after settling down with my wife. I don’t think she understood that what I was doing was moderating while we were dating as she was trying to keep up and it was an epic binge for her. I was a bad influence.

That said, we really loved having drinks together. Loved it. Did it really well. It was so much fun to be decent earning adults in NYC. We ate out all the time and had drinks in and out and endless laughs and nights that were so epically wonderful that we still reference and revere them years later. The nights of wine and roses as we wandered through the festively lit streets of Astoria, lightly lit ourselves and finding romance while blizzards drove all the revelers out to the streets to feel the palpable Christmas in the freezing air, wandering from restaurant to bar to wine bar to dollar store to home to decorate and continue the party with just the two of us in a fourth floor walk up overlooking the white roofs and urban backyards of our new world ancient neighborhood are some of the giddiest most endorphin inspiring memories I can conjure.

We had endless time to contemplate and consider. Our feelings, our finances, our vacations and our careers. We would ponder and consider like pros. We could make a good six months out of debating the relative merits of buying a car. This was when our future was so crisply and cleanly defined as a life spent together, making each other laugh and smile. Infuriating each other over things so silly now I can’t even remember them. Making up over whole weekends we’d spend seeking bliss and washing it down with cold beers in gardens and world cuisine served to us by intriguing people with decorous accents. We had stronger convictions then. Why wouldn’t we. It’s much easier to make the world fit your will when you have nothing bigger than yourself to consider.

Now it’s funny to remember how serious our conversations were about whether or not we should try to have kids, try to become a family. We stated our concerns so sincerely and so naively. It’s hard not to see the funny in that combination.
What we had right was how much things would change.

I tried to keep my camp life after we had kids. I’d seen so many of my colloeagues, people that started as I had, as counsellors in  our teens and early twenties, be able to manage it. But I didn’t find love at camp, oddly enough and the worlds don’t always mesh that way. Besides, all the others had managed to get those jobs that came with a house year round and I hadn’t gotten there yet. Might never have, who knows. For me the job required me driving 125 miles each way 2-3 times a week and staying over night a couple of times a week. This was the compromise I could manage when the first came along. Prior to that I was gone 6 days a week and likely to leave on day 7.   This lasted for 8-10 weeks every summer. It was better than my first camp where I’d pack up and move in mid-May and return in mid to late Sept.  My utterly understanding wife, and new mom I might add, had more patience than seems humanly possible as she knew how much the work meant to me and she herself found it to be one of my best qualities. But then you have kids. You have midnight feedings and ever evolving sleep schedules and work schedules to coordinate and dr’s appointments… It all got to be crazy. Then when a severe anaphylactic reaction happened  sending us to the hospital with a barely breathing boy I knew it was time to start looking. It was still a good while but I found something that worked. I had to take a step back in my career, but I could be with Charlie, and now his little brother who had arrived in the mix, at the Y where I still could work with people with special needs and their families. I was right there in case anything came. Also, while it can be trying at times I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been driving them to and fro everyday. Having them see me at work and me being able to come upon them in the halls or sneak out and see them in their swim lessons. It’s nothing short of amazing.

We used to eat at so many cool and progressive restaurants. Now we are fairly restricted, not just by the food allergies, but also by budget and the fact that wrangling two boys under 5 (at least until Thursday!) in a public place is little different than doing it in the privacy of our home. Where we are not very good at it. In fact we are not the parents we ever thought we would be. Far from it.  No screens, no candy. Seemed good advice. Was good advice. Now we will holler to get their attention and distract them with candy to get the IPad away so we can give it to the brother who’s scream crying because he is no longer satisfied getting candy in lieu of the IPad. It can go like this for whole winter breaks.

Our drinking is now a pleasure because it happens about one shared beer or perhaps as much as half a bottle of wine (one glass each) at a time.  Its a lovely nightcap after the dishes are done, the floors clean enough and the kids are somewhat reliably asleep for the evening and it’s accompanied not by the most recent art house film that challenges our sensibilities, but rather the wonderful worlds of Orange Is The New Black or The Big Bang Theory. BBT is a tad embarrassing, even in the room, but we like it. Parenthood dumbs you up just enough to find you truly liking the merits of a show so straightforwardly crowd pleasing. Seriously, like the booze, in small doses it’s great. OITNB is just great. Would have been before too. Just wouldn’t have seen it. Wouldn’t have fit in our social calendar

Now the fights move faster and so does the forgiveness. Truth is we are much quicker to lose a fight, either of us then we ever were in the past. We’d both be fine going down with the bad idea rather than acknowledging the other person might be right. Now, we get over it because none of it’s so serious, so necesarry now that we have two little boys that brought so much perspective with them.

Yesterday morning we woke up as we often do these days, with all of us in the bed. The boys go to sleep in their beds, or at least get there at some point in the evening. Every night the 3 year old makes his way over and more times than not the big boy follows shortly thereafter. The little one has become the alpha and he has determined that he wants him and his big bro to share mommy’s pillow so momma shifts and climbs and keeps everyone fully covered as she does. Thank god we got a king sized bed. Before you knew it we had inadvertantly found ourselves snuggled in the bed, with the light emerging through the windows with as much as a half hour left before the sun would rise. Our about to be five year old would do this, maybe for a few more years. Maybe. But than that would be gone. And it will be fine and we’ll find new ways to appreciate our love and our family. But for now, laying here under the covers, warm and content next to our little boys, well, there’s not really anything better. The old me could never have known that.

The love I have now both for my family and for my wife makes all the pain and wrong turns I took magically transform into the right ones. Had you checked in with me 15 years ago when I was ‘destroying relationships’ and drinking like a fish and feeling like a failure every minute I was away from camp or sober I’d have told you as objectively as I could be, I was screwing it all up. I was screwing up my life and there was very little chance of me ever recovering. But you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and then all of a sudden one day you realize, holy crap, all of that brought me here. Thank god I ruined those relationships. I’d have failed them and they’d have failed me. I didn’t fail, the relationships did. I learned. Thank God I stayed so drunk I couldn’t get to another place where I wouldn’t have found exactly the life I have. Because I love it. I love my life now more than I ever have. It’s hard, I fail and I keep going and I love it.

Author: joejmedler

Joe Medler lives in New Jersey with his wife, who is universally understood to be far too good for him, and his two young sons, who are far too smart for him. His work has been featured on MamaLode, The Original Bunker Punks and Sammiches and Psych Meds. You can find more of his work at and follow him on Facebook at

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