When my daughter was born, the world as I knew it disappeared over some distant evening rise, two tail-lights just going, going, gone.
Becoming a parent is either something you want to do or it’s something you don’t want to do, but when it comes down to your life, you are still a little surprised either way. For me, I reckon I have wanted to be a daddy for a long long time, way before I ever even knew that it was something in the stars for me. I used to look at other people’s kids when I was out on the road with my band, far from home, walking aimlessly down some Los Angeles street or just sitting there by myself, smoking cigarettes at some outdoor cafe table on a dank London corner.
I’d see people walking by me, their long arms stretched down, awkwardly, to hold the hand of a tiny person bobbling alongside them, keeping the pace with everything their Buster Browns had to give, and man, I would sigh and smile to myself and think about how far off a possibility that seemed for me right then, in that very moment.
But, life listens to you if you chatter at her enough and before too many years went by, I found myself married and she found herself pregnant, and we crossed that one particular line that you only cross once in this lifetime and never cross again.
Because once you’re a parent, you’re a parent forever, no matter what the fates allow.
Looking back now, my kids are 3 and 1, so it hasn’t really been all that long since my big dream come true. Yet, I sometimes try and remember certain things about my life from before I was living this one as a daddy, and to be honest with you, it seems so very long ago that it often just takes the shape of a whole other life that I lived before I was me.
Maybe that doesn’t make much sense, I dunno.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are so many damn bolts of hot dangerous lightning that we have to ride in our time on Earth. There are so many wars we have to fight and kisses we have to kiss and hearts we have to break or save or lose, but through it all, 40 years from now, nothing, and I mean nothing my man, has ever come close to lifting me higher than the feeling I get, in the middle of any hot-ass Tuesday afternoon when a whole lot of nothing is going on, and yet I find myself hanging out in the middle of freaking miracle, with two kids running around and crying tearing each others hair out between all the cookies and Saltines and bologna sandwiches that lay half-eaten in a pyre of crumbs upon the table of the luckiest guy who ever hung his life upon this particular set of weary electrified bones.
If I Needed You
I like the way Candace and Jacob need me. I’ve never known that sort of thing before, that feeling of being ‘needed’ in the purest, most original way known to man. No one ever needed me to hold them when they fell down or bit their lip. No one ever needed me to carry their sleeping bodies up the steps and plop them down on the bed as gently as a big bear can. And I have discovered that within that knowledge of being needed, there is a kind of massive strength inside me that guides me and defines me. It’s awesome.
…Gently Down The Stream
Babies and toddlers, they’re so small and so miniaturized that you can’t really prepare yourself for the feeling you get when you first hold one of your own. Having little kids has helped me to tap into a gentler side of myself that I never knew before at all. Holding hands as we walk to the beach, putting car seats on without pulling hair, tickling tiny armpits as if I were tickling a pretty strong egg…these things have opened my eyes to how gentle a full-grown man, full of vim and vigor, can actually be if he wants to.
All We Need Is Just A Little Patience
I grew up in a single-parent East Coast suburban house of hollering and rough-housing. Patience wasn’t something we saw a lot of. Later in my life, I’d have to stop myself in my tracks sometimes as I began to realize that I was as impetuous as a bull, hardly thinking stuff through or giving people much of a chance. But my kids have changed that quite a bit for me. I’m not saying I’m perfect, God helps you if you’re one of that 89-year-old granny tootin’ along in front of me on the highway, but I have come far indeed. In parenthood, if you are impatient, you’re doomed.
When You’re Smiling
When you first see your firstborn smile up at you, and you’re sure that it ain’t gas but the real deal, a real honest-to-God smile, your heart explodes inside your ribcage. I never did more smiling than I had to in life before my kids. I mean, I wasn’t a grump or a frowner or anything like that, but smiling wasn’t something I woke up and started looking forward to doing. Those days are over. I smile so much at my kids that I think it might even disarm them a couple of times a day when they are getting ready to wreak havoc upon the Earth and they turn the corner and there I am smiling a genuine grin down on them. Plus, there is no doubt that having a great reason to smile a hundred times a day is kind of good for old grizzled souls, ya know?
I’ve tried to take the more sit-com-ish approach to parenthood. I try and see the humor in most of the stuff that goes on, and while I’m nowhere near Zen Master status yet, I have found that I’m a happier chap when I just laugh my ass off over spilt milk and stuff. When I was younger, I think I was more intense than I am now, and I chalk that up to realizing that these kids are largely here for my amusement! The next time they put a ball through the window just start cracking up. I guarantee the outcome will be better than if you spazz out.
I was never all that in touch with the cosmos before my kids came. There were times, obviously, when I thought about the sweet lovely circle of all things, but mostly I just went about my days chugging along at my Earthly work and passions, rarely stopping to see the wonder of it all. But thank the moon in the sky that these two noodniks came along and changed all of that. The other night, my three-year-old daughter made herself a ‘diamond ring’ out of a lightning bug (sorry bug!), and for a few minutes there I just couldn’t stop staring at this kid who came from my blood and bones, just prancing around in the gorgeous twilight, showing off her new jewels. My appreciation for the enormity and wonder of life has grown leaps and bounds since I became a daddy.
The Game Means Nothing
We play games together, just like any dad and his kids do. And when we play, it’s as if the old competitive parts of me, the parts that used to HATE to lose at ANYTHING when I was a young man, are just vanished and gone. Nowadays, I let my daughter kick my butt at Candyland not so much because she can’t handle losing (she really doesn’t give a crap), but more because I am able to do it. For the first time in my life, I can give someone the gift of winning or just cheer them on like a crowd of ten thousand simply because they barely nudged the fat Wiffleball off of the tee. I love being able to do that for them, to give them something without them even realizing it. It’s a fabulous feeling.
Something that has freaked me out in the very best possible way is watching my daughter begin to acknowledge and love her little brother. Seeing her hold his hand here and there and watching her chase him around the living room as they both giggle their faces off because they are pretending they are baby hippos or whatever, makes my guts stand at attention like a million proud soldiers. It’s difficult to explain, but watching a big sister turning into a ‘big sister’ has enabled me to feel a level of success in parenting that fills a void that probably cannot be filled in any other way. I’m gonna go ahead and call it mega-pride. And that, my friends, is the first sweet dose of that beautiful thing that I’ve ever had.
Maybe nothing has changed about me more, with the addition of kids into my world, than the buzz I get off of learning to just stand back and watch them create their own tender messes. I used to be someone who was obsessed with making things right and always making sure that life was carried out in a careful manner, lest we have a bit of an accident along the way. But, slowly, I can feel that all fading away from my psyche. These days, more and more, I find myself just as thrilled as my kids when they are preparing to try and do something downright goofy or dumb. Now, I draw some lines, of course, like no crawling out on the roof after nightfall, but still…I have let so many of my reservations go and I’m digging the empowerment I think that brings, both to me and to them.
Porch Sitters United
We are lucky enough to have a big front porch and we spend a fair amount of time out there now that the weather is nice. It’s something that has helped me really concentrate on slowing down my day too. Being with them, just watering the flowers and watching the occasional car go by as we talk our nonsense talk and laugh at each other, it has brought me a lot of peace, knowing that life doesn’t have to be anything but what we make it. And when we’re porch sittin’, well, we are making life so cool just by sitting around like bumps on a log.
Postcards From Life’s Other Side
Without getting too deep on you, I have to say that I’ve been on anti-depressants for years now, from way before I had kids. But I swear on my fatty heart, I absolutely KNOW for a fact that deciding to be the best dad that I could possibly be, each and every day until I die, has been a more powerful and fulfilling, and uplifting trip for me than anything anyone could ever prescribe for me from the Rite-Aid. Just having that thought always sitting there in the back booth of my mind, that says, “You’re doing it, dude. You’re being a dad,”….that has really helped my self-worth more than I could ever tell you. And I have these kids to thank for that, I guess.
The Fun And the Glory
Having little kids has taught me once again that life should be as fun as humanly possible, no matter how much proverbial dog crap you find yourself stepping in on any particular day. I probably hadn’t seen life through those kinds of eyes since I was maybe 16 and, if Candace and Jacob hadn’t come along, I doubt I ever would have recognized that notion ever again. I’m 40. They are 3 and 1. But, I’m discovering that bouncing around on the mattress I paid good money for is actually more fun than just sleeping on the damn thing!
There is a thread now between us and I know it. Unlike anything I have ever known before, there is a thread made out of love and commitment and protection and caring between my kids and myself that I can stand in and feel all around me like a low-flying storm. Yet, I find it almost impossible to describe. I guess what I am saying is that in just knowing that I have that connection with two humans, the kind you get between a parent and child, I feel as if I have a direct line to the stars. I feel like I have insurance on my heart and my soul. Before them, I never felt anything close. I never even imagined you could.
You Be Me For A While, And I’ll Be You
Seeing the physical resemblance between your children and yourself is probably the equivalent of getting a Christmas card from Santa himself. It just rules, man. And I think I know why. It’s because when you look at your kids and you see features they have borrowed from you, you suddenly realize that being a dad is, in a very strange way, your chance to live forever. Just like the people in your family who are long gone, someday you will be too. And yet, their ancient cheekbones and their long-ago eye color and their simple mannerisms that are somehow stamped hard into YOUR DNA, those things survive and thrive today within us, within me and my kids. Yesterday is alive and breathing wherever we happen to be if you care to see it my way. And I love that idea because it means that when I’m gone, my kids will carry me with them and their kids will too, and so on and so on. In that light, we’ll all be around, forever. I dunno…maybe I’m nuts, but that kind of makes me giddy.
I have said the words ‘Be Nice’ so many times over the last year or so that I have begun to actually see how important it really is. It’s a simple little phrase, able to be tossed around without any thought at all when you are caught up in the bustle of managing little tyrants. But the truth is, those words hold water. They carry weight. I WANT my kids to be nicer to each other, we all do. But I’m realizing that it means that I have to be nicer to the world at large too. Because asking my kids to do it without giving them some lead would be a waste of tons of my breath. So, these days I try and extend my chivalry and cordiality just a bit, wherever I may roam. I don’t expect much back, the world doesn’t really work that way. But, in the act of being a bit nicer, I end up feeling a lot better about myself. So, I’ll take it.
Talking Up A Storm
Now that my daughter is past three years old, she is a chatterbox, learning new phrases and intonations every hour it seems. And, talking to her is probably the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me. Hearing someone who is carved out of you saying things like,”Daddy, are you pooping?” and “Look Daddy, there are so many beautiful colors on that boat!’…it just blows my mind wide open. So, we have our conversations now, at least a couple a day, and each time we do, I end up feeling way more in love with her and way more in love with the wild and strange experience of life. Kids say the darndest things and I’m fairly certain that it’s because they’re smarter than us in all the right ways. So, when we talk, I listen and try to learn, because the answers to life riddles just have to be in there somewhere, huh?
When you have children with another person, whether they are yours by birth or not, you are bonded to that person with a weld made of hot melted heartstrings. Marriage or partnership or whatever you wanna call it is difficult at times, that’s for certain, but when you begin to try and just stare at your kids, sometimes the answers become a bit clearer if that makes any sense. For me and my wife, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I know one thing that is for sure: I will never be able to love someone the same way because I will never make another Candace or Jacob with anyone else ever again. We are four peas in a pod if you like. And that thought often drives me forward into betterment or forgiveness or more critical thinking whenever things are tough. This is something I find to be extremely rewarding and highly beneficial.
Your Quirks And Ways
After infancy, after the first couple of months of life, I really began to notice the little things that were so individual to each of my kids. The way Candace likes to dance in front of the cartoons on the tube, the way Jacob likes to collapse in his crib laughing as soon as he sees me in the doorway. Noticing these things and falling in big love with whatever it might be that helps define my kids as themselves has made me turn the light back on to myself at times too. And that has really helped me a lot. Being able to see the funny and lovable quirks in my own children opened my eyes to the fact that I have a boatload of them too and that they are what help define me as a dad and a husband and a friend and a man. It’s been revealing as hell and liberating when you get right down to it.
Never Letting Go
I had a panic attack the day we first took Candace to daycare. It was one of those monumental mornings, you know, where you feel like you’re beginning to let go of something so wonderful and important that you’ll be letting go of, slowly, for the rest of your life. But then, I began to really examine that fear, the fear of losing my kids to the world somehow, to their own lives and dreams and far-flung travels, and you know what? The more I thought of it, of all the possibilities, the endless wonders and adventures out there waiting for them, the more I came to see that that was exactly what I DID want for them and that no amount of me and my trepidations were ever going to get in the way of that for them. Coming to this realization felt like I’d won on a minor lottery ticket from the gas station.
Love And Only Love
I don’t know how many kinds of love there are out there floating around in the ether. Six maybe? Sixty? No one has bothered to count them all up as far as I can tell. Plus, it doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is that we see love when it comes our way and that we recognize that it alone is the thing that can keep us from falling down into the deep canyons of loneliness where trouble abounds. The kind of love we end up feeling for our children is probably about the strongest kind that there is. Feeling it rush through my body and shoot through my brain and slam headlong into my heart has been the grandest trip that any guy could ever ask for so far. I see that clearly, and my gratitude to these kids for coming into my world knows no bounds. And that right their kind of says it all, I guess. I hope your ride is just as awesome.