Becoming The One

There’s a good many reasons I write. Most of them have evolved since I started Developing Dad. Initially it was motivated by my desire to make this thing for my kids. A record of who their parents were along the way. A place where they could go back and hopefully see how much they were loved. So they could learn from me while some of what I had to teach was still fresh in my mind. This is one of those posts.

2013-09-08 16.33.09My father is not always prone to giving advice. He’s actively involved in helping us chew over a problem, but I think he takes a designers approach to most things having been a designer since far before he even had the degree to prove it. Or the career full of successes. He’s a designer by nature before he was one by training. As such, and as a man that will often speak of how fascinated he is with his children and their perceptions and approaches, he revels in seeing us solve problems. Designers know that there are potentially innumerable ways in which to approach and resolve a problem and he loves seeing how others do it.

‘I’m really very happy that you’ve chosen this life.’ He said to me on the back porch of my brothers house the afternoon before our big day. ‘It’s a good life.’

It’s a thought that’s resonated with me. It got my attention in the moment and has held that attention now for going on 8 years. ‘I’m really happy that you’ve chosen this life.’

It’s not passive, I chose it. I chose to give love. I chose to accept it. I chose to look past fear and doubt and aimed at something beyond the immediate. I chose to commit to it. A thing I’m not sure I understood at the time, but a thing he knew far better than I, was something I’d grow into.

I’d come close before this. A couple of times. In each of those earlier instances I walked away from the afair swimming in remorse over my shortcomings and failures. I wallowed in pity over the weight I didn’t afford the relationships until it was too late. Until I’d messed up. In resolving these emotions, past years of recriminations and loud and repeated listenings to Rick Danko bleating out the lyrics to ‘It Makes No Difference’ or Dave Matthews singing sincerely about something I was trying to feel though I wasn’t, I resolved and learned that I was going to have to accept that she wasn’t the one. It was an important realization for me. To know that in the end while the pain was real when it was real and it was honestly desired when it was feined the reality was that it was the fates and I had to learn everything I could from these painful experiences. In the end it wasn’t meant to be.

Which is a total and utter cop out.

In the end of relationships you divvy up. The reality was, to a greater or lesser degree, or just in different ways for each situation, I was at fault. And the fault that was mine to own was that I wasn’t the one. Not because I wasn’t ‘the one’ per se, but because I didn’t choose to become so. Not until the day after the day before my wedding when my father imparted wisdom he didn’t even know he posessed.

He had made the choice, the committment in his mid twenties. He was on the accelerated plan of becoming a good man and becoming the one for the girl he’d marry. I drifted a bit longer. At least when it came to relationships and my ability to be who I thought I was.

Wedding Day‘The one’ barely existed on my wedding day. It also existed absolutely as much as it could. We were getting married after all. She was absolutely the one for me and I look back on that day often with the greatest of memories as it was the day when we set in motion the series of events that would bring about our unending happiness at becoming ‘the one’ for someone who was taking the same leap for us. The truth is that the love that brought us to that place, through a remarkable set of ups and downs was a precursor to a life we are now well on the way to completing the foundations of now that you are both here with us. But I was no more a pre-determined perfect fit for your mother than she was for me. What I was and am is madly in love with her. Which, yes, means I’m enamored of her. But more importantly it means I’m committed to her and she to me. Through the past seven-plus years of our marriage, through several challenging and seriously imperfect times where we have both failed each other and failed ourselves, we always rebound to that committment and each time we do there is more trust, more love and more reason why we alone, specifically are the only partner that could ever be the one for the other. The ways multiply with each passing milestone of a life spent together figuring out what is meaningful to us and to each other. I’m infinitely more capable of being the one for your mother today as she is for me because of how imperfect life is and because we keep showing up for each other each day no matter how hard a day it might be. We’ll continue to do so through fights and disagreements, through joys and celebrations, through the workaday drudgery that life can sometimes be, through laughs that become the special language we’ll only be able to speak with each other that will give us endless capacity to carry one another when life strikes it’s most painful blows. I could never have been the one for her in the way I am now when we were just starting out.

11133746_10206086038933979_5520499095169659982_nThe concept of ‘the one’ is much maligned by the cynical and those lacking imagination. We all have times when we question it’s rightness and that’s a part of figuring it out, but don’t be fooled, ‘the one’ definitely exists. But like the rest of life it requres two things. First you have to be responsible for being the one and don’t expect life to present to you ‘the one.’ That’s not how it works. All you can control is you and if you want to find the one, go about being the one. That’s the only way to know if you can in fact become the one for another. Second, go about being the one by showing up, every day, for that person you love. Apologize for your wrongs, celebrate the one you love and show up especially when it’s hard to do so. If you don’t you have absolutely no right to expect them to do so for you.

My father is a designer by nature and as such he has gone about accounting for a structure’s integrity from inception. When he told me that he was happy that I chose this life, whether he knew it or not, that’s what he was happiest for. He saw that I loved my bride fully and was happy that I chose this structure which hewed to the design he favored, built and tested in the life that he’d lead and was still leading, both beautiful in conception and structurally sound.

I was never so fool hardy as to think that there was one and only one meant for me. But I did seem to think that there were many ones and I just had to find one of them. I imagined that having that someone who loved me for me would make life easier somehow. And that I would do the same for her. I imagined that this would happen smoothly and easily as I simply had to find a person where this was true and I’d know they were one of ‘the one’s’ for me. I wouldn’t commit until then.

It was a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is, what ‘the one’ means. The one is not the solution. They don’t arrive fit to your life. They don’t come through the door and morph to some ridiculous, uninformed and frankly selfish version of what you think would be perfect. Instead they come through and you fall for them. That’s it. The rest is up to you, up to you both, to make that moment mean something by committing and recommitting everyday. Do that and you’ll find you found the one. The one and only one for you, fitting ever more perfectly together as you grow.

Exhultant Exhaustion

I am a father and I feel like now, after years of low level striving to be an artist, to create something that will live independently of my conscience I have now painted my masterpiece. I’m not yet sure whether this realization will free me of the pressures I feel and allow me to access more fully my muse or whether it will free me of the need to create any further. Either way I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

This feeling, which includes awe, joy, exhilaration, exhaustion, curiosity and accomplishment is almost entirely misrepresented to the uninitiated by those that have been through the process. In a way it makes me feel for them. I am vindicated, because just as I suspected the overwhelming feelings upon becoming a parent are not in our case centered around feelings of loss and exhaustion. In fact we are already thinking and talking about how exciting it would be to have another baby. We are already missing the Charlie of four weeks of age, of two weeks of age just as we are excitedly loving the Charlie of 6 weeks of age and looking forward to all that is to come. It is what I understand my Jewish friends to mean when they say that a thing is a ‘mitzvah.’

How childish we have become us modern day adults. The exhaustion, which really is NOT as bad as everyone makes it out to be, is overstated. But the indulgence I hear so many parents granting themselves, as if this parenthood is an evil necessity. It is not. My life was wonderful before Charlie, as it was before Karen, because life by it’s nature is so. But don’t kid yourself now that I know what I know, it was nothing. A laugh. An idle at best infused with widely fluctuating perceptions of self that have all crystalized since being gifted this most wonderful of tasks. I lost nothing. Things changed, but for the better, in every regard. My exhaustion, spent before on self improvement or self destruction was always pointed toward my belly button. Now it is on another belly button and who knew how great it would feel to be relieved of my endless navel gazing. Or at least how great it would feel to be gazing endlessly on another navel, wondering who HE is and not whom I SHOULD be.

We have a neighbor with a beautiful little daughter whom I would say is about 3 or 4 years old. She does not seem to be in school yet. She introduced herself when we moved in and was very generous with her support. She hooked my wife up with the number to a mother’s group in Motown. Very nice. She warned of the sleeplessness, just like everyone. But now the relentless negativity in everything she says is ever present. She speaks openly about no longer having a life. She seems to think that life has been taken from her. I use her as the example because being across the hall from us she is relevant. But its a thought that has been told to us from any number of parents. This is crazy.

What has taken me by surprise, although it shouldn’t when you think about it, is how much this experience has made me think of my own mortality. I am going to die, as is this little guy. We are all here for but a pittance. It is the thought that makes me smile. I realize that this is counter intuitive. It shouldn’t be. My daily thoughts of death help me accept its inevitability. There is nothing wrong with death.

I appreciate everything, EVERYTHING because it is all fleeting. We are fools to think death a thing to avoid. Put it off, sure. Mourn our losses yes. But I think that some are so scared of it that they strive to outlive it, out think it. But it’s what makes these times with my little baby boy so wonderful. And completely unpredictably, these thoughts keep me squarely and emphatically present in the moment I am in and with those that I am in it with. It makes my marriage stronger. It makes my love more accessible. It makes my wounds heal.

I still have a part of me that wants to tell a story. Probably one that ends in smiling optimism. But the pressure to make that story make me is gone. If anything I want that story to reveal me. I have made my masterpiece, with relatively little effort and I want nothing more than for him to experience everything, the good and the bad, with the knowledge that it is ALL precious and that he is loved unabashedly.




Starry Starry Night

babymoon pic

I had an argument with my wife this morning. And last night. Well, to say it was an argument implies it was more than it was. An argument comes earlier in a relationship and it involves lots of shouting, the stating of hurtful and judgmental opinions and the generalized threat that one or both members of the pairing are on some level considering whether or not the partnership is one that is even worth saving. That’s an argument.

What we have now is much more targeted and it never, well rarely, threatens the existence of an ‘Us’.  Our attacks now are straight to the point. We know our target and we strike in a way we know will cause the most damage while taking the least time and effort. It’s the efficiency one finds in a marriage, this ability to have a full fledged fight based on two sentences, one each and then targeted silence and muted sneers. It’s not altogether bad, it’s just the standard. It passes fast and allows us the opportunity to breath and get our heads and to apologize after we acknowledge our part in causing any tension. It’s also a reminder that this thing we have requires more than a little effort and growth on both of our parts.

I should mention that today was totally my fault. I have somehow allowed my new computer to become infected and in the course of trying to fix it myself have seemingly crippled it. My emotions are usually measured and tempered, not too high not too low. That said, they are irrational when it comes to these things. Or rather this specific thing. I don’t know how to live without my internet which updates my podcasts efficiently, entertains my sports obsessiveness and allows me to manage my various fantasy teams. My patience in it’s absence has all the maturity of a, well, 13 week old. That said, he was all smiles this morning and he didn’t have internet either, so maybe I regress even further.

The snideness of our tension today was my fault.

I bring this up because something else dawned on me. It’s April 15th!! Isn’t that WONDERFUL! Not because it’s tax day, at least traditionally, or because it’s a day to remember the tragic end of Abraham Lincoln, the Greatest American. These things certainly make the 15th a day to be noted. Neither of these reasons however are why I think of this day so positively.

Four years ago the 15th was a cold, grey and rainy day in NYC. I lived in Astoria, Queens at the time and with my roommate ceding the TV room to me I spent the day curled up on the couch watching old movies. I specifically remember Chinatown. A unique cinematic experience if there ever was one. It was the kind of day when being on the couch and getting absorbed into the muted and faded technicolor of a seventies indie film was the best form of getting cozy. The weather was dreadful and I could have stayed there all day. But I couldn’t. I had a date that night.  It was at 8. It was at Doc Watson’s a bar on the upper east side, in the neighborhood where the girl I hadn’t met yet lived.

When she emailed to see if we were still on (It was really quite bad out weather wise and frankly she’d been on enough of these dates to not be bothered if she missed one) I decided that heading out and meeting her was in fact the best thing to keep me from melting to the couch and succumbing to my inclination to snuggle in for the night at 2pm. She, being polite decided, okay, she’d see me there at 8. She wanted to know if I wanted to talk on the phone. I knew the reasons. Women are right to be scared of men. We’re capable of scary aggression, and she couldn’t have known then that I wasn’t that type of guy. But I still had to say no. Really, there’s nothing more awkward than that conversation, one where she’s trying to pretend that she’s not interrogating you and you trying to sound genuine while aware the whole time that she is trying to determine what type of man you are and whether or not she should have the top of the pepper spray flipped. So instead I gave her my cell number and told her to gimme a text if she was so inclined. I told her that I’d be happy to have a phone convo, but if it was all the same could we skip it. I hate the phone. She was cool with that.

She asked how she’ll recognize me and I said that I’d wear something slutty. It was a risk, but I gotta be me and I thought it was funny. Thankfully, so did she.

We met and before she even had a beer we got away from the overcrowded Irish pub and we were both smiling, ear to ear for the whole night. Even when the bar we wound up at locked it’s doors and kept serving us til the wee hours, as the bartender got plowed and kept giving us and another couple down the bar from us drink after drink. We kept smiling when a little buzzed and over confident I asked her if I could kiss her, like really kiss her. We smiled through that, and the kiss still worked. We smiled all the way though telling each other how we got to this place, our mid thirties and transplanted upstaters living and working in NYC. We smiled as we told each other our different but equally amusing stories of all the bad blind dates we’d had lately. We smiled when we realized that not only was she facing me as I sat at the bar, her free hand rested naturally and lovingly on my leg. We laughed our way through the walk to her corner, a far enough escort on a first date and we stopped long enough to be wildly inappropriate in our public display of affection on the corner of 72nd and York.

The storm we ventured out in that night was epic. It even continued into the next day and the subways could not run due to flooding. That’s a rarity for the NYC transit system, believe it or not. But while we sat there falling in love, both having come in from the storm, the clouds broke and the skies cleared and we were able to walk away together, under a starry sky, hand in hand, smiling and laughing.

My Sentimental Heart

Life has grace notes. Every life.

In the past few days I’ve panicked at 4 in the morning that I wasn’t doing enough to support my wife and our little boy. I’ve drafted a fantasy baseball team. I’ve given several bottles and wrapped and re-wrapped a baby several times. I’ve given Charlie two baths and read not a word. I’ve caught up on many things at work while feeling awful that I wasn’t there to do the things that needed doing at home. I’ve hummed the baby to sleep, his favorite tune being Brahms’ Lullaby. I’ve cooked a few dinners and cleaned the kitchen on a 1.2 times a day clip. I’ve cried and I’ve laughed and I’ve shouted in frustration. I’ve watched international women’s curling. I’ve actually recorded it. I’ve been awake from 1:30 AM until at least 4:30 AM each night. My life is full.

I miss some things from my former life, when I have the time and the energy to do so, but I would never trade the present for the past. I can’t imagine this will be true in the years to come, but for now it is so. Yet I hasten to add that I am becoming sentimental in a way that I never thought that I would.

Don’t be fooled, I’ve always had a sentimental side. I’m a writer and it’s in some ways, at least in the ways and reasons attached to my writing, unavoidable. But it’s different now. It’s not filtered so thoroughly through thought and reason. It’s visceral and it allows me to feel things I was formerly incapable of. It allows for a true empathy if not sympathy that I was unable to access and experience in the past. I am still prone to anger, it being a primary emotion men feel, but I’m now able to feel life like I never have before. In a connective way. In a way that validates my Romantic notion of the human condition. In a way that allows me to cry.

I don’t know necessarily what has brought about this change, but I suspect that there are a number of factors at work. Surely some of this is due to Charlie, and it is most assuredly a delightful development in this regard. I am aware of the fragility of life in a way that’s different from the intellectual understanding I had in the past. Surely the lack of sleep is a contributing factor as well. It could be the onset of age. It’s said that I am on the downside of Mount Testosterone. If I am I must say its a far more livable life and one my temperament was suited for from the start. That torrent of aggression that accompanied my majority was not handled well.

You can ascribe questionable ethics to anyone that has lived successfully. As a game it’s quite easy to find even a well meaning person’s blind spots. In fact for a time, when one is defining oneself it is practically impossible, and I would guess inadvisable, to refrain from poking holes in the facades around you. It’s your societal duty as an adolescent and as a young adult, and it’s your personal duty as the holders to the flame of the wildly hypocritical. This is one functional purpose for youth, no? But like I said before, life has grace notes. Every life.

Jim Valvano’s speech near the end of his torturous and ultimately losing battle with cancer (one that he continues to fight valiantly from the grave) is one of the ways you could always coax a tear from me. I won’t repeat the whole thing, but it was given right at the end. He summoned energy that an athlete can sometimes hold in reserve when they know it will be needed later. There were thousands of tumors (his description) pumping through his body and he was addressing a crowd gathered to give him a ‘human spirit’ type lifetime achievement award. His motivation was to give a memorable and inspirational speech that would move people to give for decades to come after his inevitable demise. This was the one chance he’d have to establish the momentum to make a difference by creating a fund for research. He knew what he had to do and he did it in a breathtaking and heartbreaking way.

One point he made, and this was not on the teleprompter and not in his notes, was how he understood his life to be meaningful. He said that if you laugh, if you think and if you cry everyday, that is a full life. It was a profound accomplishment since he had so eloquently just finished walking the listener through thought, to laughter and ultimately to tears.

I admire his sincerity in grappling with his own mortality in a way that was sincere, forthright and vulnerable. It is a valuable lesson. While it may be impractical at this point in my life to cry daily, it is without question a full life when I do.

I cried a bit this weekend because some very good people, expecting joy were surprised by tragedy. Heartbreaking, life altering and ultimately scarring tragedy. I don’t know how it will be when I see them again but I know the tears are not done on my end. I wish I could grab them and hold them tight for as long as it took. I wish I could jump into the well with them and talk them through the dark. I wish this never happened and I hope they know how many people love them and wish to unburden them of the terrible weight they will carry forth. I wish I was brave enough to tell them I loved them and to cry with them, but not being a person that fills that role in their lives I’m afraid it would only burden them more.

I will go home to my precious boy and I will hold him and giggle and make silly noises and forget everything in the world for entire minutes and there is nothing that feels better. I know joy.

I have known tragedy, it’s human and all of us have. It draws us together and holds us apart.

I am now mature enough to say, I hope I never die and I hope my boy never grows up and moves out and I hope we never change from this perfect moment in time.

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