Living Vicariously Through My Kids

When I was four years old I went to kindergarten. It didn’t work out all that well. From that point on I kind of hated school. 

My first official act after registering for school was dropping out. I was, I am, a kindergarten dropout. 

  The relationship I have with the educational system is fraught with complicated emotional reactions met with juvenile responses from a cocky autodidact lacking confidence in his abilities. Added to that is the shame and embarrassment I carried with me from my early inability to adapt. I’d say I’m a bright guy. Meanwhile I failed as much as I could all throughout. I made it through my sophomore year without notebooks or a pen in 1990. I did just enough to make sure my 3rd ‘F’ was a ‘D’ so I could keep playing basketball. I’d stroll in around 11:55 so I could play or practice that day. The rule, and I can’t believe this was true, was that you couldn’t participate if you failed 3 courses in the same grading period. You could play or practice any day you showed up by noon. The day lasted until 2. I was given a lot of leeway and I availed myself of it.

Anyway, this isn’t about that. Not entirely, at least. A lot of people are accused of living vicariously through their kids. When you think of these people the image that comes to mind is the dad that pushes his kid to achieve at sports, hoping that all the wins and accomplishments his kid has will make up for all that he fell short of accomplishing. Or of the pushy stage mom signing her daughter up for pageants and auditions. In both stereotypical cases these are vainglorious attempt to fill a hole in their hearts that was either congenital or acquired. Either way it’s not the kids problem. Well, more to the point it absolutely is the kids problem, but it’s not their issue. Not at first at least. 

These folks deserve some judgement. The self-awareness they lack is having potentially serious and harmful outcomes on their kids. We all get this. Even those of us engaged in such unhealthy endeavors when we recognize it in others. 

What I didn’t understand until I had kids, however was that these folks also deserve sympathy. They deserve love and respect like everyone does. Their issue isn’t a lack of love but in most cases its just a matter of faulty calibration. Because all of us, to some degree, are living and reliving our lives through our kids. Hopefully there’s a point where we engage in the struggle and learn to let go of the false sense of control that parenthood so fills us with and we are freed to see our kids as fully realized individuals that are of us for sure, but separate from us in the end. 


 As I watch my kids grow up far too fast for their own good, I know that the fears I have for them come from somewhere specific. They come from me and my life story. They come from all the feelings and failings that have made me who and what I am. To try to divorce myself from those experiences and those feelings would be impossible, not to mention imprudent. To forcibly guide them to confront my issues, thatn would be the line for me. That is what I hope to avoid.

What I hope to do is to inform their lives through mine. I hope to send my smiling boy off to kindergarten and have him return excited about being there. There’s every reason to think he will do so. He’s had a different life than the one I did already. I had spent every day of my life home with my mom when I went to school that first time and burst into tears and didn’t stop for months. My son has had two parents that needed to work to put a roof over his head. He has been out and social and listening to teachers and getting in lines for as long as he’s been able. Yet still, my heart is heavy thinking about him in school.

This is just Kindergarten. It clearly failed me as much as I failed it. What about all the anger I carried for so long? What about the self destructive behaviors that fed and fostered my latent depressive and destructive nature as I got older? What of all those relationships I was so determined to undermine be they romantic or platonic in a foolish effort to be invulnerable? What about the constant battles I had with weight and food and alcohol? What about those years I was too afraid to even conceive of them, of me being their father and how close I came to letting that fear rule my life? The same fear that kept me from doing this, writing and being honest about who I am and what I think and how I feel? 
I have endless hope and belief in my kids. They’ve given those things to me through their love and belief. I have true faith in them. I believe they are special. You would to if you knew them. But they are fragile too and I know they come from me and some of my stuff will inevitably be theirs too. I’m determined to stay out of the way of all the life they need, but it’s too much to ask to not bring my own experiences to the table as I try to beat back the demons on the path. Some of them will go around me and they will have to slay them on their own. But some of them I’ve seen before and I hope this second time around, with my knowledge and their strength, the fight won’t take nearly as long. 

It’s Alright, Ma, I’m Only Crying

When I have to stand in front and ‘present’ I get shaky. It isn’t long before I’m on the verge of tears and my breathing is off. Happened tonight when I had to speak to our board about our programs for people with special needs. Happens all the time and people always tell me it was fine and it invariably it was. I get through it, but I know this very real and very vulnerable part of me comes through. Maybe that’s good for my soul. It’s embarrassing, that’s for sure.

 I’ll tell anyone who will listen to me before I have to present that I’m terrified. I’m not. I’m not even nervous. I’ve thought through what I want to say or it’s fully prepared and just needs to be read. Either way, I’m prepared. It’s just that I know how I’ll feel when I get up there and it’s better if they’re prepared. If I had to guess I’d say it’s a control issue. If I can convince people I know in the room that I’m terrified at least they’ll know I was overcoming something. Perhaps they’ll have sympathy. I have high minded ideals and I live up to them, but in practical terms I have a politicians approach to reframing failure. I lower the bar for success as far down as I can push it when it comes to certain things.

A few weeks ago I read a story, an emotional one, at the Dad 2.0 Summit in D.C. It was a packed room and even there, to my exhaustion, I went about preparing the couple of people I’d met the night before with my mannered and perfunctory repetition of how terrible I was at speaking and how nervous I was and how scared it was all making me. It’s not that it wasn’t true, it was, but it was exhausting. I’m glad I did it, though, as despite my most sincere efforts to keep myself in check, I once again stepped into the moment and immediately began to crumble. I got through it, but barely.

 I think I’m doing more than just prepping an easier landing. I think I’m preparing them for what they’re going to see when I get up there. I’m preparing myself too by prompting them to reassure me that it’s all gonna be fine. I’m filled to overflowing in those moments with the ‘me’ that I know gets to hide in the backs of rooms, who takes comfort in blending knowing no one will pick him to participate. We have to make the world safe for ourselves and this is how I do it. But on some level, the amping up of my anxiety is me preparing myself to be exposed, naked in front of the world, the real world, the world of people in a room with me. Not like here. I can’t get ‘naked’ enough here, writing to you. See all of me. Know that I’m more sensitive than you imagined me, a man to be. Know how fragile and strong I can be when it comes to my kids. Being naked here, frankly, is my talent. That and the ability to ocassionally stumble upon a clever turn of phrase. Take these two together and you have seen the entirety of my artistic arsenal. That’s it. It’s what I got. But put me in front of people, real people and make me talk about my kids, or even my work, and I can’t help but get emotional.

Everyone sees nerves. I’ve pointed them there. It’s what I want them to think. But it’s not nerves. In a situation like the one at the Summit, it’s evident. I cracked and froze on all the parts you would if it was your heart breaking in public for all to see. Breaking at the thought of pain affecting those you love, at the memories of regrets and missed opportunities. Naked fear for my kids and the common everyday tragedies they’ll endure even if there life is charmed. Those cracks in my voice and the tears that well up at those times are all my love being put in the hands of toddlers who trade me all of theirs and me wondering if I can carry the weight of all their tomorrow’s. Of seeing that they don’t yet know that the component parts of their love are joy and hope and belief and desire and me knowing it’s my job to care for that love when it gets battered, bruised and wounded. Burdened by the knowledge that love will disappoint them, dishearten them. I just hope I can manage the load long enough for them to learn that it doesn’t dessert them. That love can disappoint but that it will always be waiting to start anew and they will always be worthy of it. The love they’ve given me is bottomless and I’ll endure, always at the ready.


I should note, I’m also the proud son of the GREATEST dad ever.

I know this because I learned it from my mom. The same way I learned that loving my kids unabashedly and steadfastly, loudly and proudly was the only way to know they would eventually come to understand how deserving they were of all of it and more. Same way I learned from my mom that a life of helping others was the only kind that was worth living and it was the truest way to find contentment and happiness. Same way I learned that she loved me no matter how many times I was hurtful toward her, when I would yell as a teen or go weeks without calling as an adult, a thing I’m still prone to do. Her love’s constance was a wisdom I didn’t understand, couldn’t until I met my kids. They taught me how to see all my mom was and is and always will be.

When I get up there in front of people and I start to talk about my work or my kids and I start to get emotional it’s because of this. It’s because no matter how much I may have pushed, no matter how different we may be, everything about me that is of value is rooted in what I learned by being loved and it simply overwhelms me.

#TBT is a Lifeline, Parents. There’s Hope!


A funny thing has happened to Facebook since you’ve been blessed with your babies. All those invisible friends who were having kids and obsessing over kids and posting pictures of their kids who were white noise to you before, they are now the people you notice and stop on as you scroll. The others with their pictures of drunken nights and play-house dinner parties in urban settings, dressed fashionably and looking for all the world like they are at a photo shoot are now cruelly taunting you as you hide on your toilet check in on the world through the window of your phone. It can feel awful. Look how much better everyone is doing then you. How fit and trim these other parents are and how interested they are in how their food is made and how much they can exercise. Which is strange because you are kind of, well, not totally, but yeah actually totally fat. Like fat in the face fat. Not just a little tight in the crotch fat, but all new pants and a new strategy at Kohl’s kind of fat.

Smartest In the World. And Robert.
I was positively lanky back in the day!
You aren’t really aware that it’s happened until you see a picture. But once you do see it, you know. You have crossed the line. It’s gonna be a long journey to fitness. You subsist largely on the three C’s of early parenthood; candy, coffee and catnaps. Crying can be substituted for candy or catnaps. Coffee is untouchable. You are both dehydrated and bloated which seems impossible, but isn’t. You are tired and sleepless and tasked with more than you knew you could do. So your glands seek sugar for the short bursts of energy you need. In this early phase with peeks of happiness driven by loving something more than you ever thought possible and lows of madness for exactly the same reason, you turn fat, grey and blobbish.

There is a light at the end of this tunnel. That light is hashtagged. #TBT. Thats right. The mockable, thoroughly pleasurable social media phenomena of Throwback Thursday is your saving grace.

First, find all your friends who’s kids are older then 8 and younger than college. Then, really wind yourself up by looking through their family photo albums. Look for albums with titles like, ‘Fun Run 2013’ or ‘A Day at the Beach’ or simply ‘Mom Runs Two Marathons in One Week’. This should really get you to pull the trigger on those Donuts. Maybe even make you down a pint or two of Ben and Jerry’s just before bed. You’re not really searching the short energy burst at this point. Your just eating your feelings. It’s a complicated emotional maneuver. Your recent trip through your closet, your truly fucked digestive system and your coworkers catching you wearing the only 2 pants you fit in anymore has led you to think there might be something to it.

Then do it. Find all those same friends with their grown kids and look at there various TBT photos of them with their babies at their first birthdays or first anythings, really. If they don’t participate in TBT, no problem. Just scroll through their photo’s. You’ll get there. You’ll see the now dated photos of those parents, those marathoning sunbathers bundled in formless clothing, dressed perpetually for fall, playing with their babies, sprawled on couches and covered in kids. You’ll see it. In addition to their beaming happiness and pride (they are after all curating these pics and they can only go so far in there unwitting role as caregiver to your broken psyche) you’ll see the familiar pallor. The grey ghoul expression on their double chinned faces. Their general dishevelledness. You will see their wholly recognizable unwellness, and you will smile. They too were like you. They too lost all sense of self. There is hope that you may process food effectively again. You too may sleep and exercise and know the names of the movies, maybe even see a few, that were nominated this decade. Their is a chance that you will once again order the flat fronts and not worry that your underbelly will be too evident.

There is hope.

The Currency of Love

Smartest In the World. And Robert.Before I became a dad I had no understanding of the elasticity of time. I considered time a constant. It marched ceaselessly, never wavering, never stopping. These are attributes of time, to be sure, but it was a reductive understanding. Since having the kids I’ve traveled in time, seen it slow to a crawl, marched through years in the span of an afternoon, even traveled to a time so far off I could never live to see it. Time is not simple. Clocks are simple. Time is incredibly flexible and capable of transporting you if you let go, surrender your control over it. It’s okay. You can almost always recapture it.

Other times you surrender parts of yourself to stay forever in a moment.

She really is too good to me…

Meeting my wife was one of those moments. The kids are part of that moment too. That they weren’t born yet is of little import in my new relationship to time. So many factors made this moment one capable of stretching years. Despite this the moment itself has not suffered from thinning or become weak as it stays tacked in place and stretches out to stay forever with me. Quite the contrary, actually. Parts of us will always be sitting on those bar stools, hearts jumping like live wires, trying our hardest to both conceal and reveal the excitement, not wanting to scare away the other but unable to control that which we’d harnessed within for so long.

When I became a father and when I became one again time proved as malleable as ever. If I were to leave it to the clocks and the calendars there would be some difference I’d have to assign to the experience, as if the experience were split in two and by virtue of separate arrivals I’d have to assign different values to each. But to use time that way would be unfair as the moment of becoming a father is one moment, one moment that hopped forward and backward through space and time, meeting itself with perfect symmetry.

imageIn that moment when life was shown to us, when we learned all we truly needed to know about love, we experienced one of times most beguiling characteristics. We learned that all that had passed before had been of a nature we didn’t understand. We learned that the compiled joys and pains, fits and starts that we had so bemoaned were in fact time teaching us patience, perseverance and endurance. Time always knew that we would come to understand all it had done to us and understand our lives once we could see them in the light and perspective that time was so diligently showing us. Time was a patient teacher and we very impatient students.

Since our kids have come time has managed to speed up in the macro and slow down in the micro. Each day, hour and even minute can have the potential to be excruciatingly long. Thankfully for those moments which are of endless value to the kids who will never remember them and only be able to appreciate them when they endure them from our perspective, we are able to drop them and leave them where they lie until such a time when the waves of time moving in all directions so obscure them as to make those moments disappear into the ocean. Meanwhile in the macro time seems to be packing so much of itself into each and every day that we are finding ourselves wondering how so much of it has passed. Fretting away moments here and there with sorrow that we won’t have enough time to fully experience life.

I never thought much of the time when all my moments would be up. Until I had my kids the pile seemed so large as to be inexhaustible. Then the value of each and every one of those minutes became precious. The fact was I could see in the distance that my boys piles were considerably larger than mine. At least I hope that is what I see. Now I treasure my minutes, trying my hardest, though often failing, to turn as many of my minutes remaining into moments.

Moments are the only true legacy I can leave to them, leaving time from my life and adding time to theirs, as my parents have and do for me. I don’t know that I’d value any minutes if they were endless. So the smaller the pile gets the more invested I am in making as many of them a part of my legacy for my kids as I can. Because in the end time is not only endlessly morphing, it’s also the currency of love.


Things I Don’t Give a Crap About… On Sammiches & Psych Meds Today!

Hello dear readers!

It’s always so exciting when I get the chance to be published on Sammiches & Psych Meds! Today I’m over there with a list of things I truly could care less about now that my life and priorities have been rearranged by parenthood.child-1141497_1280 Please head over and give it a look and have a laugh!

All the best,

Developing Dad


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.

We’ve Broken The Little One

Teddy isn’t Charlie. Not by a long shot.

Firstly, he’s second. Secondly, he’s last. Which is to say, he’s the baby. Charlie is a training model. We love him fiercely, but there’s no denying that his very station means he’s the one we make all the mistakes with. He is then tasked with training us on how it all should look. He teaches us that all these transitions, the ones he’s made at least, are not to be so fretted over. We stress with him because he is at the tip of the spear for us. His firsts are our firsts. While we are going through them we can see all the ways we’ve made it hard on ourselves and even hard on Charlie. Fortunately we also see how resilient Charlie is and we learn that our screw ups didn’t actually screw him up. Just screwed us up, really.

imageTeddy’s the baby. It’s different. We can feel wistfulness because we now know how fast it all goes. With the first you learn how long a day is, with the last you learn how short the years are. How much it’s all slipping away. How much we aren’t ready even if he is. I would never say we sabotage, but more often with Teddy our screw ups are acts of commission. We don’t ever sabotage, but we deliberately do some real real stupid s#it.

So now, for the past month, and for as long as I can see into the future, we’re going to pay the penance for our misdeeds. My penance takes place on the floor of the boys bedroom between roughly 8 o’clock each night and 11. We’ve broken our boy.

It started innocently enough. I’d hold him in the glider each night, he’d slowly drift off in my arms. It was really quite beautiful. Last words always the same.

‘Open your butt.’

I know. Seemed needlessly assaultive to me as well. Turned out it wasn’t what he meant. I don’t really know how he came to this phrasing. I mean he seems to know what a butt is. But he was really just asking me to arch my back for a second so he could slide his inside arm around me as he snuggled in.

But now it’s been weeks since I’ve heard those three, magic, disturbing words that always meant rest was just around the corner for everyone. Not anymore. The little monster, and this does coincide with him discovering his voice (which in many cases could be classified as a hate crime if toddlers were prosecutable and adults were an oppressed class) just lays there, eyes wide staring at the ceiling. For hours. I frankly don’t know how he does it. I mean, he’s exhausted. At least he should be

This is not going to happen tear free. Nope. I’ve begun to redraw lines and enforce borders to try to break him. Which in this case means I draw the line at holding him in the stupid hope that he’ll relearn to fall asleep in my arms for no more than an hour. Hour and a half tops. But that’s it! Then, off to bed for you mister!

Will I lie next to you and hold your hand? Of course, buddy. I’m not a monster. What? That keeps you awake too. Sheesh. Well, let me just get a pillow and puffy blanky and make it comfy. We both know I”m gonna be down here for a while. But last night it was 10:12! 10:12 and he was asleep. I could leave! Until I stood up to do so. Then he whimpered. Then he whined. Before I knew it he was standing, crying and through tears and heavy breath he said, ‘hug me up, daddy!’

So of course I hugged him up. I mean seriously, he was sitting there, all cheeks, tears, crankiness and lovely. What was I to do? Say no? That’s some first kid nonsense. Charlie could confirm this if he weren’t feet away sleeping through the whole thing. Besides upon ‘hugging him up’ he fell asleep almost instantly. And we get to add, ‘Hug me up’, to the book of standard toddler phrases! But still, 3 hours nightly is a lot.

IMG_0076If you’d given me infinite monkeys on infinite keyboards they would never have banged out the phrase. One I never could have conceived of. One once conceived I would never have thought I’d so long to hear. But for all that is right and decent, Teddy, will you please go back to falling gently to sleep in my arms and uttering with eyes half shut.. ‘Daddy. Open your butt.’

The Hardest Thing You’ll Ever Do, But It’s Pretty Easy

2015-06-13 21.40.59A co-worker, my office mate during our first pregnancy was 5 or so years further down the road from us with two kids, preschool and kindergarten. She was largely bemused by me and my behavior as an expectant dad. I would be now too. Expectant parents, the good responsible ones at least, are a bit silly. We were no different. I don’t recall what brought about the comment she made to me, but it’s stuck with me all these years. She said, ‘having kids is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s easy.’
Well, this is the definition of a conundrum and sounds like absolute hog swallop! But it turned out she was right.

Before the kids I had an absolute need to find consistency. To make that which was juxtaposed become resolved. To that brain there was a crisis, or there would have been had I accepted the statement, to make one of these opposing realities fail. After all how could it be hard and easy? A thing can’t be black and white. It just can’t!

Well, turns out it can. Because caring for my kids, providing for them, raising them, being there every minute is incredibly and sometimes seemingly unbearably challenging. It’s all the things you hear about but can’t fully conceive of prior to them arriving. And an absolute TON more.

Physically it depletes and even destroys some parts that may be revived to some extent but will never be fully what they were before. Emotionally they take you to your furthest limit and live on that edge, leaning on it and pushing it to the point where you have to break in order to rebuild your walls further out than you ever thought you’d be. Then they move there, to your new outer limit, lower their shoulders and push. Push until they break through and you are once again forced to build retaining walls further out. You can’t even remember where your silly emotional limits were before they arrived to push you, but surely you now think of your former emotional stamina as that of some sort of lower animal. Hard to imagine you ever thought a thing difficult before this.

Financially. Others focus on this and ameliorate it through hard work, smart work, good fortune, determination and single minded focus. I, being one who is unwilling and likely unable to eliminate this issue, pities these people. Mostly I pity them out of envy and defensiveness. That is as far as I’m willing to explore the dynamic so I’ll leave it there. But be it known, your money which you’ve always considered in short supply and wholly yours is now in shorter supply, much more necessary and barely yours for even the few moments in which you possess it. I’m not complaining and I remain aware of how insanely lucky I am to have what I have. But it’s still a grinding thing trying to make it all work.

Beyond this you now carry a burden that is beyond your comprehension until the moment that baby meets you. I daresay that moment came months earlier for my wife than it did for me. Still, once it appears it will be with you for as far out as you can look. Another human being, one completely incompetent and needing of you every single day, all day, is here. You love him and hold him and treasure it all, but it does weigh on you. I once knew a man who honestly believed he didn’t carry this stuff with him. Yet if you asked his wife and kids they’d tell you, he carried it nobly, and for ten years while the kids were young he moaned like a cow mooing in his sleep. Loud. Wake you up on other floors loud. Showed up with the kids and disappeared when most of them could shower, bathe and feed themselves. It hits us all.

The hard is evident and there’s an annoyingly long line of people who can’t wait to tell you this as you head toward welcoming your little baby to the world. It’s doubly annoying because the negative commenters, parents I now recognize as being in the midst of their own process of becoming who are merely projecting all of the above onto you because they need the support you can’t yet give them, far outweigh the positive. Like my office mate, Mary, who also said, it’s pretty easy. And it is.

Me, Karen and the boys...
Me, Karen and the boys…

It’s easy for a lot of reasons. Reasons that arrive to you with the baby. Because along with all the ‘what!’ comes boatloads of ‘why’. You are provided a wonderful, bottomless bucket of love and care. Endless and effortless motivation. Without realizing it you have all jumped into the river and are teaching each other to swim. We are interconnected and integrated into this life that we lead. All of us. Together. Before long you accept all the challenges as the life you’re now blessed to be living and you

move on changed, multiplied. Stronger for having broken. Deeper for having cared. Happier for changing that which you feared you could never change. Your life is now one you can’t even conceive of existing without these new responsibilities, challenges and love. So sure, it’s hard, but you’d not have it any other way. Which makes it all pretty simple. Easy.

Handle with Care

I sometimes take a picture of you because you’re just so adorable and amazing and beautiful. And sometimes I catch a hint of fragility in what the camera catches. Other times I see huge heaping mounds of it. Giant reserves of delicate. Like you’re a crystal chandelier in the shape of my beautiful boy. And then, in my minds eye, I see all the thousand ways you’ll be disappointed by the realities of life you can’t even fathom at this point. Sculpted from this thing of beauty into another thing of beauty to be sure. But still, that journey is treacherous and full of potential. Potential harm. Potential fortune. Potential damage and grace.

Maybe it’s you. Maybe I’m not just a proud dad that’s just insanely obsessed with my kids. Maybe your specialness, your perfectness is not a function of my pride. Perhaps you are magical and I’m afraid of being at the helm and breaking you by some silly decision I make that seems necessary that I’ll grow to regret years from now.

I could stare at the pictures of you, the you you are now, on the precipice of independence and I dread the pain that growing up can be.

You’ll be fine. I know that. But you’ll be broken too. You have to be. Good, happy little boys can’t survive growing up. If they could they’d never grow up. Which sounds good until you realize that never growing up makes it hard to be a good man. That’s just the way it is. It’s okay. If you figure out what’s important from being a boy you can pull some of those parts out and take them with you. You may have to pack them away for a time, but they will be there when the time comes and you need them again.

A broken arm is one thing. I can handle that. Easy, actually. But the thought of you being teased or picked on or not knowing what to do in a school cafeteria and feeling sick and disoriented because you think everyone doesn’t like you, that thought ties me in knots. I got caught up in that process when I was a kid. I cried everyday for months when I was sent to school the first time. I was removed eventually and allowed to return the following year, but by then I knew to be cautious. I knew people didn’t like me. I knew they didn’t have to. What was wrong, though, was that I looked at the few that enjoyed making fun of me and thought ‘how can I do what they want me to do? How can I make them like me and stop picking on me?’. All along there was a world of kids who’d have been delighted to play and be my friends. But I just kept trying to impress the cool kids, even shunning kids I’d have gotten along with great who weren’t at the ‘right’ table.

Eventually I figured it out and sat safely where I didn’t want to be. It was mostly fine and it largely defined who I was to the world, or at least to my classmates who comprised the entirety of the world for me then. It took so long for me to be the me I liked and was comfortable being. I learned early on how to make them like me and I leaned on that all the way through school, which I hated because of how it all began. I spent so many years not liking me, internalizing the voices of all the wrong people.

All because I had some tough early days. The types of days grown ups like to say are ‘tough but you get through them’. Days we fool ourselves into thinking aren’t all that important because we were 5 and how much damage can really happen to a healthy and loved 5 year old. But we’re wrong. We can get hurt and scar up in tender places at very young ages. Even those of us that had enough of everything. imageI see your precious face and your beautiful and awesome expectation that nothing breaks and everyone will love you always and it scares the hell out of me. Because some day you’ll feel weird, alone and scared. And you won’t know why. And it will break you as it must. In the end I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about the ‘weird’ and the ‘scared’. You need to get through these things. We all do. But if we can help you with the alone part for as long as possible and stay present for the times you’ll need to explore being ‘away’ than maybe, just maybe, a small but invaluable piece of you, a piece of the you you are now might be able to make it through to the other side. If it does I hope that you are able to see all the things that I’m getting to see in you. If you do you’ll see what all that breaking was for. You’ll know once again what it feels like to be a fragile chandelier. To look at something you love so much that you can’t even imagine it ever not loving you back. The mere thought makes me break just a little.

Holding On


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.



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