My writing is strongly influenced by both of my parents. If I were to try to view my writing through my parents eyes, and if I were to remove the silly and the angry and the opinionated pieces and evaluate the heartfelt, meaningful writing I’ve done I believe each of my parents would see heavy influences from the other. This reflects an instinct to generosity and humility combined with a true admiration and fascination with each other that defines them as far as I can see. My father would point to the emotional presence and depth of humanity in them and throw credit to my mother. and my mother would point to the thoughtfulness and the ability to design the contours of my tales to emphasize a perspective, to land on that perspective in a more impactful way and credit my father. I would say it’s the only way I can be having been born of these two. And having been so makes me appreciate greatly that which is beyond ones control. The luck, the accident of birth and whom it is we are made of.
Developing Dad was consciously conceived of as a place to record this whole experience. A place set aside to dwell on what it is and who we are as we become the family we will have been. I hoped in inception that it would be a place we can come to as we get further and further away from this time of transformation and visit the selves we were. It is designed as thoughtful nostalgia and on that front I think I’m reaching my aim. Maybe not exactly as I conceived of it originally, but honestly and presently. What I didn’t think of initially was the unexpected audience I would have who would mean so much to me.
I have many moods and states of being and over time they are all on display here. Sometimes I feel like being funny. Turns out wanting to be funny is much more in line with angry than I’d ever imagined, but the more I write the more I learn about me. Other times I want to be clever or even intellectual. I’m a bit defensive about being smart. I don’t feel like I am, but I see it in the pieces I go back to. I’m not entirely sure of my intelligence. You can tell by how incredibly confident of it that I am. I mean, I never question my intelligence. There’s a reason for that.
Then there’s the times I’m naked. When I shed my many cloaks and reveal the thoughts and feelings I have that are genuine. The part of me that’s with me in each second. The ugly and the beautiful and the scared and the strong and the weak. Me. It turns out that I’m most excited to share this with my parents. It took having kids to understand what my parents were. I suppose I’ve had an ongoing relationship with ‘who’ they were, one that persists to this day and I suspect will live in me long after I’ve said my goodbye’s to them. The relationship I have with my parents lives within me. It’s too much to think of the days ahead when I won’t be able to hug and hold them, but these days are inevitable. But my ongoing relationship with my mom and dad is so ingrained within me that it will never disappear as long as I’m here. It will be small solace I’m sure, but true nonetheless. The great joy I feel that they have read my most intimate thoughts and seen vulnerabilities that they might never have been able to hold and reassure is amongst the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I’m so heartened to know they’ve taken the time to know me in ways that frighten me to be known. To know that they are ever more loving and tender despite different outlooks or views on life. To know in my bones that they love me, the real me, the me I get to be here and can’t always present to the world, is a gift I will never take for granted.
We are all adrift in a sea of life, each of us can look to either direction and see the immutable and inevitable parameters of our existence. From the middle of what is a standard scale life, one not guaranteed for another second, but expected to last about as long as it already has, I find times when new life is the prevailing current. Other times the far shore leading to lands unknown, unexplored where we, if we are lucky, drift off to at the end of a long and adventurous journey is the overwhelming reality. Overwhelming because goodbyes and endings are far more painful then beginnings and hellos. More overwhelming because they compel us to make meaning. At first the task is to make meaning from the end itself. But ultimately we discover that despite the endings enormity and sadness, the meaning doesn’t live there. We all come to understand that while it is now in the past, the meaning of the tales we finish, the ones we see through the finish line are within us. Of us. In a sense this is the meaning of eternal life. All of it, bestowed upon me is the cumulative love and life of all those that have come before me. And now I get to garnish this feast of meaningfulness and hand it down to others who will pass it on. Whether to their own offspring or to the love of life that inspires those that simply see them, love them, admire them and are loved by them. It’s a circle never ending.
He’s too old to need this. He shouldn’t need to be cuddled and huddled to sleep. But I do it. I shouldn’t need it either. But we’re simpatico this way.
Like him, I too am refusing some transitions now that I know there’ll likely be no return, no future facsimile, no one ever who will need me this way again. It’s really hard early on, but it’s also so simple. The hours are neverending but the repeated need, once the electricity is on, the fridge is stocked, the house is clean and warm, the bum is wiped, powdered and covered, is just love. Hugs and kisses and cuddles. It’s all I need really. Its what he gives me in exchange for everything I can provide him. I’m getting the better end of the deal. It’s not even that close.
He was sleep trained before. At least this part. The ‘going to bed’ part of the sleep training. There was a month or two about six months back when he could be read a story or two, put down and largely left to fall asleep. It was a miraculous thing. At first. Until it dawned on me that I’d made myself obsolete. It’s my job to give independence and I relish it, but in such a task as this it was too soon. All the sacrifice this little angel has demanded of me, I’ll be damned if I’m going to drop this one exhausting, truly taxing, wonderful hour of my night just because he’s ready.
Gone is the swelled brain, feverish, red-eared exhaustion of the newborn phase. The nights aren’t ridiculous anymore, they’re just tiring. Tiring is okay. So I did it. I untrained him. I once again insisted on holding him to sleep. I cursed myself for bringing all this work back but I was and suspect I always will be, happy that I got it back. He’s gonna get these added perks denied his older brother who does more teaching of us than we do teaching of him. It’s a balance to all the things the first gets that the second can’t.
We’re on vacation now and naps are hard to come by. Our days are filled. Sleep routines be damned. When the occasion does arise for me to once again ‘put him to bed’ he enjoys it for a bit, then, from time to time, asks to be put down in his bed. It’s a sweet request and one I surely oblige immediately. I kiss him goodnight and tell him I’ll see him soon, as we still like to take him in with us when he wakes in the night. It used to be consistently between 2 and 3 but now is often at 4 and even later.
I can’t really untrain him anymore. I won’t do it, I’ll let him grow up, of course. But from time to time, when it won’t hurt him, I might take advantage of my position and keep him my little boy a little boy for a little longer than he needs to be, and a little shorter than I’d like him to be. We’ll meet in the middle between his need to grow up and my need to hold on. Time will come when he will need to shed the burden of me, the burden he can hardly see as it is so buried in his need for me at the moment. Someday these roles will be reversed. I’ll need him more than he’ll need me. Perhaps it will have always been the case, for that matter. But someday he’ll surely notice. When he does, when he sees that my need for him is more than his need for me I hope he’ll know how much I’ll appreciate his concern and his efforts. I hope he’ll have an understanding of how much it will mean to me.
When I was eleven years old life was pretty damn great. I was finally able to play on the CYO team where I was the star everyone saw coming. I was finally allowed to leave the school where I was punched more than I’d have preferred and was instantly popular in my new school, where I wouldn’t catch a punch for a good five years. Girls, girls I was starting to notice almost all noticed me! Of course one or two didn’t, which was also great because that allowed me to talk about them for hours on end with my best friend Cory while we shot hoops, rode bikes, got into trouble and hung out everyday. I remember it like it was yesterday. The map of the streets, and all the little curbs you could catch air off of, and all the paths through woods, the towpath along the canal that could take you uptown to the theater that played matinee’s of Back to the Future that I’d bring myself to after earning money mowing the lawn. The locks that everyone else jumped off but I was too mature (scared) to and the trail into the woods where parents didn’t venture and where we taught ourselves to smoke cigarettes. If there was nothing to do for some reason I had a basketball court across the street that was essentially mine for years where everyone came to play. Hoops on either end but we only ever used the one side, the one with the net that came off, then the chain that went in its place only to become half destroyed and half tangled so you couldn’t get that satisfying sound of the chain swish when the ball made it through. It’s all engraved in my brain. It was 30 years ago. And it feels like I’m still there.
30 years from now I’ll be in my 70’s. I fully intend to be vibrant and present and years away from my final farewell. But still, your 70’s is your 70’s. My great accomplishments will have been achieved, whatever they might be. And don’t kid yourselves. Anyone that makes it to their 70’s has had their fair share of great accomplishments. They’ve had a fair share of everything, actually. They’ve had love and loss. They’ve had wins and losses. They’ve had boundless optimism and crushing defeats. They’ve had magic. They’ve had insurmountable challenges that they prayed to be saved from only to find out how capable, how able, how great they actually could be. They’ve learned that most of the tragedies are actually just turning points. They’ve survived what they thought would kill them. Maybe physically, maybe spiritually maybe just situationally, which often feels the worst but leaves the least scarring. They’ve bought and sold and bought. They’ve seen cruelty. They’ve been moved to tears by beauty and by rage and by love and compassion. They’ve had a life.
It’s impossible to think that I’m as far from 11 as I am from 71, but no matter how I crunch the numbers it always works out that way. Sadness is a small ingredient in this soup. Gratitude is the broth, the part that all the rest swims in. If I had to isolate a feeling I wish for you guys when you reach an age, it’s gratitude. It’s truly the key to unlock true acceptance, love and happiness. Because this gift you are given is not to be trifled with. I’ve seen people who didn’t get it, who stewed in hate, anger, resentment and ugliness and it’s not worth it. It’s scary to be truly vulnerable but it’s also necessary if you are going to ever be able to feel what all of this can be.
I started writing when I was not much older than 11. Back then it was the muse that would get to me. It might be months on end of filling notebooks or it might be years of living and reading and thinking and learning, not once putting pen to paper. Putting the pen to the paper was great. Not in quality of the work, but in the quality of the time spent producing that work. When there’s so much to say, things you’ve only just figured how to articulate, so many things that you don’t know how to keep all the plates spinning and fear you won’t be able to get out this new piece of knowledge, this new way of understanding how the world is all connected, but it organizes itself, you let go of trying to hold on and you find yourself simply flowing. It’s remarkable. It’s playing pool on beers three and four, the angles appear to you effortlessly and you execute their plan intuitively and confidently. It’s a jump shot going down for days, the hoop starts to look bigger, like it’s looking at you and you know you can’t miss. It’s finding a task that excites you and becoming so enmeshed in it that you lose awareness of yourself and function fully engaged. It’s a way of refreshing yourself to be so fully immersed. It feeds you and gets you back to full. It’s a glorious feeling that has occurred to me at the keyboard and with my open notebook. I hope you both find something that replicates that feeling. It’s so gratifying.
I shared it with a handful of people from time to time. It was hardly their fault that they didn’t fully understand the task they’d been assigned. They were to merely report that it was brilliant. Transcendent. Perhaps they could have questioned what it was I was doing wasting time working when I was sitting on a goldmine with this massive and massively beautiful talent. Instead they said hurtful and mean things like, ‘It’s really very good. I really like it.’ I eventually would recover and write about how cold the world can be to an artist.
Then you two came along. Turns out you guys were just the kick in the ass I needed to start living the life I talked about wanting. I started with a terrible first attempt at blogging while mom was pregnant with Charlie. Writing has always been my way of logging memories. Not just of events, but also of experiences. Of feelings and thoughts. And even in the excitement before I met you, at the mere thought of meeting you someday, I had to start building my collection of memories up. But I couldn’t do it. I’m embarrassed actually by the things that were there. I’m not kidding when I say this, I was literally the only person to have ever seen this blog. Even your mom, who was kind and supportive only heard what I read to her.
That fear of being fully exposed, the fear of being vulnerable in front of people, it owned me. Not just in what I had written but in life. My life was in service to never feeling vulnerable and exposed. Ultimately it’s a goal you can accomplish and many men do, but it’s a goal you’ll regret achieving. It’s fools gold. As men you need to know, feelings are often hard for us to understand and to recognize, but when you do notice something don’t succumb to the foolishness of thinking you can outrun yourself. You can’t. That game is rigged. You can’t avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed. If you do you might make it through protected, but you will have lost the only opportunity you have to live a great life.
Sure, I am a proud father and I would not at all be surprised if you accomplish a great many things in life that would make your resume a thing to be envied. But I can tell you right now at 2 and 4 you each have the chance to have a great life. A beautiful life. But if you hide from life, avoid pain and discomfort, try to keep who and what you are covered up, you’ll get to the end and realize you wasted the whole damned thing. I’m so thankful to you both for being the unwitting teachers who clued me in to this.
Before that it was your mom who crumbled the walls. She helped me understand that I had to stop hiding from life. Which I did actively through passivity until she helped me engage and be vulnerable in front of just one person. Her. In doing so I saw what I’d been missing.
Writing here has taken many turns I didn’t see coming when I started. I’ve had some successes and it’s been great. I hope there are more. But in the end, this, the developing dad blog is about you guys. Even the parts that are so clearly about me and my journey. Some day I’m not going to be here and you’re going to be left with an understanding that you didn’t know as much about me as you wished you did and it’s my hope that this can be a small supplement to your record of me, mom and our family. Not just when I’m passed, but before that as well.
I want you guys to have the chance to read about how we were with you each and how much we loved you. How obsessed we were with you. I want you to know who I was growing up. I want you to know that I’ve made huge mistakes and lived to tell about it. I want you to know that I’ve been really depressed for long periods of time and even thought about ending it all. I’ve even taken comfort knowing it was an option. Then I want you to read about the amazing wonderful life I got to live instead. I want you to know that therapy is something you can do. It’s like working out and eating right. Therapy can be part of being healthy and you should never ever feel anything is beyond repair. I want you to know fully, from my own words how flawed and human I was. I want you to know that I was funny. Sometimes in really inappropriate ways, though I’ll probably hide most of the really blue material (I also want you to know I love old phrases that were not even a part of my life, but once found I incorporated them into my language, things like ‘blue material.’) from you guys. I want you to know that I made bad decisions and that none of them were as bad in the end as they may have seemed at the time. I want you to know that I had a big heart and my work meant something to me.
I want you to have a chance to meet the me of 41 and hear about what I thought about. I want you to have a place to go if you’re ever curious about who I was when I was growing up. Your parents voices are your native language and I want you to have this always here so you can hear my voice in your head saying my words to you when I’m gone. I want you to hear me say I love you, Charlie, with all my heart. I want you to hear me say I love you, Teddy, with all my heart. I want you both to know how much this life has meant to me because I got to be your dad. I want you to know I just cried a little after saying that.
I want you to have all of this, all of me for as long as you want it. I want to be there in the only way I can be at the times you’ll wish I was there but know I can’t be.
I had just layered my bandages over the perceived cuts. Once it bled through instead of changing the thing I’d just add another bandage. And another and another and another. Until I had so effectively hidden from what I feared, what was me, for so long that I needed to find that out first before I could understand what I wanted in the world.
I was in therapy for many years. I went initially at the behest of a friend. On the advice of the Chief of Mental Health at the organization I worked at I found a good one. She was in the room and a great guide on the path I took to being ready to take on life as an adult. She helped me find peace. Maybe not peace exactly, but enough peace of mind to be able to get to where I needed to go. Then, she fell asleep on me in session. After the third time I saw her drift off, I knew it was time to move on.
Its a tale I have told before and I repeat it with some regularity and giddy delight. It’s the perfect story to trigger sympathy. Perhaps that’s what I’m seeking when I tell it. Its also completely unfair to Heather was a very good therapist who perhaps had too many starches for lunch on occasion or took an inconveniently timed allergy pill or perhaps honestly fell asleep due to how boringly monotonous my issues had become. Who’s to say. Whats definitely true was that without her guidance and commitment to me and my well being I would likely still be unable to connect with someone so much that we could navigate the challenges of marriage and parenthood and with much difficulty and many setbacks arrive on the other side transformed individually and together.
Had I not gone to Heather I would not have been able to say the things I needed to say to my mother. It was a call that caught her off guard and taught me that my mother is the most supportive and intuitively gracious person I’ve ever known. This is not a momma’s boy statement either. I’d say the vast majority of people that have known her would tell you the same. And her generosity, both of spirit and of her more finite resources are her defining attribute. In the end the complaints I had were of an adolescent nature, and seeing as I was well into my 30’s I should add patience and commitment to her loved ones as defining attributes as well.
Prior to that conversation I had been on Match.com for at least a year. Could’ve been as much as two. It’s a challenge to remember exactly because prior to that call with my mom, where I told her of the things she’d said that had hurt, and said some undoubtedly hurtful things myself I wasn’t really looking to connect. I was more whittling away at who I was beneath all the layers of defenses I’d put on myself. Prior to having an honest discussion about what I thought was wrong with me with my mom I had just layered my bandages over the perceived cuts. Once it bled through instead of changing the thing I’d just add another bandage. And another and another and another. Until I had so effectively hidden from what I feared, what was me, for so long that I needed to find that out first before I could understand what I wanted in the world.
It turned out that during the dozens of first and maybe a few second dates I had over my time intentionally looking for someone else to share a life with, what I was really doing was getting comfortable being myself. What i discovered under all the wrapping was that my wounds were never as deep as I’d thought. That I was not only comfortable in my skin, but I was even capable of being quite fond of who I was. I discovered that what I was looking for did not yet reside in someone else. It couldn’t yet. I had to find it first on my own.
So for the many of you that have shown empathy for me and my sleeping therapist, rest assured that the very act, while unprofessional, did not mean that she was not helpful. She was. Very. And without the times I spent in that place, learning to officiate the constant sparring between my head and my heart, I would never have arrived here. In this place where the act of being myself is becoming less and less discipline and more and more a delight.
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.
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.