I Am Dad

I’m feeling kinda done with writing about parenthood. It was a massive transformation and now I’m transformed.

img_3451Parenthood is a sequence of workaday realities that once awed and floored me in a way that when not paralyzing, was heartbreakingly beautiful and expansive. Well, its still those things, really, I just can’t throw as much emotional energy behind it all anymore. I am still transported on a daily basis to a place of awe and wonder, but it’s often fleeting. It has to be. Any moment of daydreaming and self reflection is necessarily interrupted by the mundanity of daily life with a 5 and freshly minted 4 year old.

Gone is the exhaustion fueled deluge of emotional frailty and excruciatingly earnest expressions of fawning and perspectiveless love. It is not as sad as it sounds. These feelings are still there, behind all the work. Gone however is the constant feeling of being overmatched by the task at hand. It’s been replaced by a security you only have when you have a steady hand and a clear eyed confidence that you are up to the task.

img_3402Sure, we could feed them better food, we could replace TV shows and movies with family activities, we could certainly stand to reduce screen time and increase story time. We could even take better care of ourselves come to think of it. We could sleep more. We could drink more water and less wine (okay, I’m the wine drinker). We could be more physical and less sedentary. We could stand to spend less time on our screens and could be more patient and less prone to yelling. Where was I going with this… ?

Whatever. All of it is to say we got this. We get a ton wrong, but we’re doing it. Not everything is a trauma and drama. We’ve left the bubble where reflection and exploration were how we retained a sense of self as we changed to who we needed to become.

Being a parent, a dad, is now a fully ingrained part of me. It’s who I am and I’m no longer struggling to fit into this new uniform. Its on and worn in at this point. My mistakes are not as often the learning and growing experiences they once were. Now they are just human. Just what it’s like being this guy.

img_3373What hasn’t changed is the love. The fascination. The endless desire to be connected to these people. My tiny tribe. Karen and I have rediscovered each other and it’s never been better. We’ve never been closer or more in love. The kids are still orbiting us, tied to our motions and our decisions and our schedule but they are drifting. They have interests beyond us and it’s amazing to us what is so natural to anyone else. It amazes us simply because we have all of the wonder and awe of the first time they opened there eyes stored in our hearts and to see them venture and wander, well, it can make you swallow hard and hold back a tear now and again. Just as fast the moment passes and we are swept up into the day to day grind of running a house, a car service, a grocery and a restaurant (specializing in nuggeted nutrition of dubious value), a recreation department, an education system, social services organization, a health and safety inspection unit, a counseling service and cleaning service (which is a failing venture if ever there was one) and to a degree we never could have before, we love doing it. It’s our life’s work. For now the emphasis is on work but down the road, and not too far, it’ll be understood much more so as our life.

 

My Boy

img_2946A few weeks back my wife headed out to pick up some groceries on a Saturday afternoon. Left on our own some rules change without any acknowledgement or discussion ever being made. When mom goes away daddy lets some things happen a bit more, independently.
We were playing in the backyard when Charlie, 5, decided he wanted to come in for a snack and some TV. I probably asked him if he wanted to head in using a movie he’d recently got out from the library. It’s a proven tactic. But Teddy, he wasn’t having it.

‘Are you sure? We can watch Octonauts.’ I offered.

‘No. I’m staying out here.’ He’s 3.

I prodded a few more times and varied the snacks and the programs in hopes of arriving at an agreement, but he was not hearing any of my offers and had no interest in leaving the water table we’d made into a sand table which he was making into a mud table one cup of water at a time. He does that.

‘You sure?  I think it’s the Muppet Movie.’

‘I can’t like the Muppet Movie.’ He replied. He likes to play with words, too.

So I came in and I set Charlie up with his ‘cow milk’, what he calls those little boxes of vanilla milk from Horizon, what we all call them by now, I suppose, and a peeled apple and a movie to his liking. By the time I got back out I had already seen through the window that he had started climbing in and around the mud on the small table, clearly with a purpose. Not one discernible by me, mind you, but he was clearly not acting at random.

It was wonderful really. I loved seeing him all covered in mud and happy and engaged. So I brought out the corn muffin mix and makings and sat on the deck at the table where I could see him and his brother. They were at about a 90 degree angle using me as a focal point and they couldn’t see one another, one inside and eating and the other outside making mud.

Charlie is a pack animal. He’d probably be fine now, but if at Teddy’s age I’d let him stay outside he’d have wandered to any sound of other children, or even adults. It’s his nature. Teddy, not so much. He’s different. He’s a bit like me this way. He’s most comfortable while engaged with tasks. Without them he’s bored and rambunctious. Charlie needs others to play with, to socialize with. Teddy does too, but it works best if it’s a project that brings them together. Charlie has to be dropped off to the teacher every day at daycare. Teddy does what he needs to to greet them, the teachers, often grudgingly, then looks to be engaged in a task, blocks, stacking, coloring , puzzles and then he’s ready for me to leave. I get it.

So after I was done and ready to put my corn muffins in the oven I asked one last time if he wanted to join us inside. I knew he’d be fine and I could see him from the kitchen window. Nope. Wouldn’t even look up. By now he had trucks doing work for him, was creating conversations between imaginary workers and was knee deep in the project, whatever it was, and still shoulders deep in mud. No shirt, just swim trunks and mud.

I drifted for a minute while I cleaned the dishes and when I looked up, he had his pants half way down, standing by the sand table mud pit, fully knowing he was just doing what he needed to do.

‘Teddy! Wait.’ I yelled.

That’s just Teddy. I get it.

I’m seeing a lot of myself in him these days. The world and it’s crowds can drive me crazy. Crowds is not really the right word, but it’s the more sensitive one. Because really it’s the people in my life. And they don’t drive me crazy at all. I love them, all of them, deeply. But being with people, connecting and interacting with them, no matter how much I love them, it overwhelms me. By the end of the day my tread is wearing thin and showing and I need to be alone. It can get ugly when I’m not.

I’ve recently heard Teddy, when he’s tired, get angry because something isn’t being said the way he wants it to be said. The way, frankly, that he needs it to be said. He might even be getting the answer or information that he wants and still he is frustrated.

‘Say ‘Teddy get’s the green cup!’ I’ve heard him yell, through tears of frustration.

“Teddy, sweetheart, I said you get the green cup.’ Karen will say.

‘No!’, he will scream from the top of his lungs. He will turn red and it’s a full on squealing scream.

I’m sad to say I’ve said the same things to her in the past. It wasn’t about green cups. I don’t really remember what it was. But watching him there, so frustrated, so tired, so done with trying to connect to people, tired from navigating human interaction, I see myself. I see it exactly. There’s no way he got it from hearing me say it, but I’ve said the exact same things to her. I’ve told her to please say this thing. It’s not anything you’d think, either. It’s just phrasing of common things and it’s brutally unfair and horrible. I’ve said my sincere apologies and tried hard to make amends, but you can’t unsay things that have sunk so deep. So he may not have heard it from me, but he definitely got it from me. This inability to tolerate others when you’ve gone past your limit. This anger that results in outbursts that are all me just trying to gain control in order to get past whatever block is in my head keeping me in this moment of selfish exhaustion and anger.

I’m worried about that anger and what it can make us say. I’m worried about the accompanying loss of control and the subsequent loss of self respect. I’m scared of the way that not having the tolerance for human interaction can keep us from feeling and giving the love we need to receive and give away because we don’t know how to get out of our own heads where we can start to really think ourselves undeserving of these things.

I spend so much of my time writing about parenthood through the lens of concern for Charlie. He’s the first and he’s at the tip of the spear, with us, guiding us and orienting us as we navigate this journey for the first time. But I worry about Teddy just as much. It may not look that way at times as we spend our weekends talking endlessly about him starting kindergarten and all that it will entail, but I do.

You should know that once you figure it out and find people to love and love you, these traits of ours can be helpful. You should know that making the effort to get past  all the fears and inner road blocks for the people you love is more than worth it. You should be finding and following your truest interests because your ability to follow through is far greater than you might think. Your single minded focus is a thing that may make you miss out on some things, sure, but in the end that doesn’t make you different than anyone else. We all make choices. Ours are just informed differently than some others.

For the last few months I’ve had the best chance to connect with you. After it’s all over, after the day is done I get to lay in bed with you as you fall asleep. Like me you struggle to get comfortable and you aren’t always ready to go to bed when it’s time. We talk and giggle and once you are comfortable and winding down, which can take an hour or more, you will be quiet for a long time. Until you tell me about something you discovered during the day. You will say ‘Daddy’ very excitedly. I’ll open my eyes and say, ‘Yeah, buddy’ groggily. You’ll be beaming and the light will be bright in your eyes despite them revealing your underlying tiredness and you will recall something magical that you saw that day. Yesterday it was that you and mommy saw a new type of fish at the Science Center. I said that was very cool and you smiled. Then our eyes close again and you like to reach under my cheek and pull my head close to you for one big hug. It feels great and I love it. Then you roll over and drift slowly to sleep.

You are exactly who and how you are supposed to be and you are loved like crazy.

What’s In a Name?

  I’m in writer’s groups. Private groups that more than anything else have really made me feel like I’m a real writer. Really writing actually has very little to do with feeling like a ‘real writer’ in my experience. Being allowed, if not always invited, into these private groups on the other hand is validating.

In the past week or so a couple of these groups have had discussions about the names we’ve chosen for our blogs. After sharing my story, after telling all these cool writers why I chose ‘Developing Dad’, it occurred to me it’s a topic I’ve never fully addressed here. 

Developing Dad. It’s become a part of my identity. A part that feels so natural now that I’ve already gone through the phase of hating the name and have come all the way back around to thinking it’s pretty perfect. It’s me. Rather, it’s very very imperfect, just like me. 

So, anyway…

Let’s just start with the obvious. Alliteration. Alliterative titles sell. This piece of marketing wisdom, completely fabricated by me, is the full extent of my knowledge in the field. So there’s that. 

I started writing about what I was experiencing as I prepared to greet our firstborn. When my wife was about 3 or 4 months pregnant with Charlie I decided that I’d write about what the experience was like. I’ve always been a ‘writer’, but I’d never been so publicly. So that first venture, well, it was a dipping my toes experience. I created a ‘blog’ that literally no one, no one at all, read. I mean not a single time. Except for that terrifying time I sent it to someone who is a writer that I knew from work. She nearly immediately moved across country. I don’t think it was because I shared (ugh) some incoherent, self involved, unedited mouth vomit with her, but I wouldn’t blame her at all if it hastened her desire to return to whence she came. Sincerely, I’m sorry Rebecca. I thank you for protecting my dignity.

After we had the kid I went into a bubble and got lost. I fell in love, lost my mind, grew old and weary and eventually was so broken down that I needed to write to regain a sense of self. This all occurred in about two to three months. These writings, which grew in many cases out of my aforementioned mouth vomit, became passable, mildly succinct stories. Sincerely, Rebecca, I am so sorry I didn’t wait. I got much better. I must have sent you 10,000 words. I still lose sleep over it. 

One day I heard a story on NPR. It was about a site that was amazingly beautiful for readers called medium. It sounded great and it was free, so I culled through some stories and found one that summed up how I felt about becoming a dad and I put it on medium and I thought, what the hell, I got kids now, I have to pursue, even if meekly, my dreams. How else will I ever be able to tell them to do so. So I shared it on Facebook. Well, my friends really liked it. So many nice things to say. It was a buzzing charge to my brain and I started writing like crazy. Before long I looked around and knew I had to have a blog. A place to contain it all. 

I didn’t think of it for more than a day. I was thisclose to naming it ‘Daddy’s Issues’, but thankfully I laughed that one off and went with Developing Dad. 

One way to look at it, the way I see it on the surface it that I was about 2-3 years into this whole daddy thing and what had become evident to me was that every time I felt competent, every time I thought, man, I got this, well, my kids reminded me… nope. Being a dad is not something you become and then you are that. It is, but it’s also so much more than that. It turns out that dadding is something of a constant evolution. I’m in fact always, endlessly in the act of becoming a dad. I’m always developing as a dad.

Another way to look at it, the way I’ve looked at it for the most part, is entirely different. I’m an old dad. I am 42 at the moment and my kids are 5 and 3. I have a good long time left and I’m going to make the most of that time. But being this age I’ve realized some things I hadn’t realized when I was 22 or even 32. One of those things is that I want to know everything about my parents. I want to know how they met, what they were like before they met, how they made it through having young kids and no money, what life was like when they were young, what their parents were like, why they chose to do what they did, what made them laugh, what their favorite movies were, how they dealt with losing their parents, how much they loved me, how they did so even when I was awful to them. I want to know everything.  My kids questions might not be exactly the same as mine, but I suspect they will want to know more than they will ever ask. Will wonder what we were like when we had them, will look at our old bodies and wonder why we look at each other the way we do. It’s a cruel trick life plays, to put us with these people for the entirety of the time when we are solely interested in ourselves only to take them away before we’ve had time to fully know them. 

Well, I hope this collection of stories, about everything I am, my memories and my thoughts and my opinions and my love and my humor, I hope it’s something they can come to when they want to know more. I hope that it’s something they can read and hear my voice when they can no longer hear it anywhere but here, and in their memories. I hope that if they ever question what they are worth they’ll be able to come here and know that they are the entire world to me and their mom. When the memories are all that is left and they wish they had the chance to know me more I hope they can take some comfort knowing that I left as much of myself as I could right here, for them, to bring the picture they might have in their head, a picture they will think is not fully developed, into better focus. 

When I’m gone and all that’s left of me is this I hope it’s a tool they can use to more clearly see who I was and how much they meant to me. 

That’s what’s in a name. 

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.

image
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.