Pomade Pampers Prayers

The Better Father Lives Within

Picking out a Christmas tree. Yes, son, that’s Johnny Cash on my shirt.

Sometime in the spring, maybe May, of 2007 my life changed forever. I had sold everything I owned, quit my job and moved 700 miles away from everything I’d ever known to chase my white whale… a stunning, educated and wild redhead.

My girlfriend (at the time) and I had not been planning for a child. “I’m pregnant,” she yelled at me as I told her there was no way things would work out between us. Just like that I saw all my hopes and dreams burn into the darkness like a fading shooting star. I never really had any hopes or dreams, but I damn sure knew they weren’t to be a dad stuck in central PA. My boss was the first to hear the news when I got back to the shop.

“Congratulations,” he said with a big smile.

“What do you mean? This is horrible.”

I changed my mind. Thank God.

And now that baby, that miracle that I watched take his first breath– is five years old. I have socks older than that. Mom, please don’t read this and buy me more socks.

Jackson’s fifth birthday was January 8th. It was a rough day for a lot of reasons. I was already halfway into a sixty hour work week and had been struggling with depression. My mom made a post on Facebook telling the boy happy birthday. Great idea! I started sifting through pictures of him to do the same.

From his birth until his third birthday there were probably a hundred and fifty pictures of just him and I. From then until now– maybe twelve.

I swear he’s not a Yankees fan.

Time passes really, really fast. Between the mortgage and conference calls and my selfish wants: this child has been growing. While I’ve been working on building a future, it has been happening around me. Every day. The grains of time were passing through the hourglass with each missed opportunity. The world does not wait on you to become aware of it.

The thing is, though, I knew it all along. In the beginning of my neglect, at least. There was that twinge in my stomach each time I’d be watching a movie in the living room about some guy who had the potential but never really shined at changing the world around him for the better and I’d hear my wife reading him a book before bed. Deep down in that white velvet part of our souls that has no price tag: I knew. I knew I could do better. There was a better father living within me and I didn’t want to make the sacrifices necessary to let him out. As with most things we do in life that go against the tide of our moral foundation, they get easier over time.

We drifted apart. He became very angry with me any time I tried to discipline him; a natural rebellion that I should have understood as I had personally felt the same toward my father much of my childhood. Of course he couldn’t understand the feelings of love I harbored for him– all children see are our actions. All I knew growing up was that my dad never wanted to play video games with me. It was Jack’s birth that drove me to make a tearful phone call to my dad wherein I admitted I was scared and had no clue what I was doing. He told me that that was how it was and you just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and figure it out; a lot of my childhood made more sense.

Neither of us really has a clue what the hell we’re doing here.

You may say, “Oh that’s not neglect. He was still fed and loved and had a place to sleep at night. You didn’t beat him. He smiles and seems happy.” What someone else’s standards of right are do not matter. It’s great to have convictions and measuring sticks, but we all know somewhere within what we find acceptable. Living outside of that is not easy.

This goes for everything.

So the time for taking inventory of our stock, practices and procedures is here. It is a new year.

What are you doing in your life today that does not drive you toward being the man (or woman) you would have wanted to be when you were a kid?

Let it go with haste.

The snowball effect works both ways. Just as that voice telling me to stop ignoring my child who gave me a relationship with my own father and so much more was slipping away: it gets louder when going with the tide. In just two weeks of giving him my undivided attention he became my biggest fan again. He thinks I can beat any level of Mario, lift the biggest things in the world and can fix anything.

Maybe you turn a deaf ear to that melodramatic friend that has whatever ailment is on the front page of WebMD today. Or you take the last bit of a toilet paper roll home from work (I’ve met them. I swear to God they exist) or whatever. Whatever IT is that sends that pang into your gut that you have to justify to yourself. Sure, you work a lot, that person always bitches and toilet paper is expensive. But we’re apart of a greater picture here and each one of us needs to carry our rock up the mountain- whatever size it may be.

Listen to that still, small voice within. Give it sunlight, nurture it and abide by its needs and it will grow.

So I vow to spend more time with my son. I will listen when he talks, no matter how tired or hungry or upset I am that my vanilla latte spilled on my pants. He will grow up knowing he is a marvel.

May you always reach for the stars, son.

4 thoughts on “The Better Father Lives Within

  1. As a fellow father who has been through that realization and who still, sometimes, has to give himself a gut check when life gets too busy, I truly appreciate your honesty and a message that applies to so many aspects of our lives. I had a very strained relationship with my father for most of my life. It wasn’t until many years after he died, when I found myself following in the emotional footsteps I swore I’d never follow as a father, that I forgave him and, to a certain extent, myself. I’m glad you had that realization while you, your father and your son can still make the most of it. Cheers, Dad 😉

    • Thanks, Ned! In my clinical work I’ve see so many men go through this. The father’s struggle and vulnerability is so rarely voiced. The father-son cycle of discouragement reads as resentment and anger when really there hasn’t been a welcoming space for the vulnerability and forgiveness that you are referring to. Thanks for sharing your perspective with us! 🙂 Julie (editor at DTAB)

  2. This was so touching to read.. I’m so happy for your son that you’ve made this decision. I catch myself listening with half an ear and have made an effort to look my kids straight in the eye and give them my full attention when they’re talking about their day. It makes a world of difference..

  3. This is a solid, well rounded offer to other fathers, and just thinkers, alike. Our parents, our roots, affect so much our steps forward as parents.

    I love your personal reveal, and that you are willing to speak so honestly from within – and the pictures are just choice.

    I think you’d be a truly wonderful father. Wish my son had one like you! 🙂

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