Category Archives: Being a Dad
As I sit here typing, there are 3 days left in the month and I am at 55% to my sales objective. To non-sales folks, that may seem insignificant. But for those who know, and who live in the fickle cryosphere of professional sales – where organizations fire tenured employees on first infractions, or as part of ‘consolidation’ moves – it’s terrifying. The inability to pay ones mortgage is, of course, a factor as well. Suffice it to say, my internal pressure gauge is buried red, and the only thing shorter than my time is my fuse.
There is a 22 year-old idiot who lives inside my head, despite being due a decade of rent, who occasionally offers such sage advice as “I think GI Joe: Retaliation could be good!” He views any and all problems to be best solved after innumerable fingers of something Irish, or perhaps Kentuckian. He has Mssrs Morgan, Beam, Daniels, Cuervo and Walker on speed dial. The douchebag even plays golf with the most interesting man in the world. Regardless, he’s been talking to me a lot lately. He has a 19 year old clinically depressed coffee addict roommate who politely suggests long winded and detailed self hate as the only appropriate course of action. “You are an utter failure”, he bellows while writing bad poetry, chain smoking Newports. “Your family is about to be destitute, and its all your fault”. Of course, he’s so hopped up on espresso it’s hard to understand the nuance of his prose through the stutter. He may just be giving me diet tips.
Their 35 year old landlord ostensibly ignores such commentary, but at times it’s difficult. He finds himself asking dangerous questions without answers, and looking at the content of top shelves. On these occasions, I find divine intervention often rears and delivers a swift kick in the stones. This is the setting where our hero finds himself, staring at a computer screen, trying to make two plus blue equal strawberry, when his son steps to his side and asks, “Can tonight be a cuddle night?”
Now, this is not an uncommon request. The boy has a predilection toward bad dreams, and thinks falling asleep beside mom or dad keeps them away. We oblige him, knowing times will soon change, and our presence no longer welcome. Bedtime comes, and inevitably the first words from his six year-old lips are these. Yet tonight, it reminded me what he wants. What he REALLY wants. His bedroom is three times the biggest room I ever had growing up…and I lived. He has more toys NOW than I likely ever owned in my entire lifetime. He is healthy, clothed, and loved. He has no concept of real hunger. Of real need. What he sees as the real need at this moment is me, keeping his dreams safe as he passes into sleep.
Numbers hold no emotion. They are cold and constant. Victory could be wrenched from the jaws of defeat over the next 72 hours, and miracles happen. It wouldn’t be the first time. But the stress pressing down on my spirit has noticeably lessened, thanks to a bedtime request.
I watched my son tonight in that narrow bed, surrounded by half built Lego assault vehicles and action figures, his blue-grey eyes gradually falling before the tide of exhaustion, and knew my blessing. The idiot who squats in my brain thought I could use a shot or 12. It turns out I only needed one, in the form of perspective. Its last call. Be sure to tip well…your server lives off them.
Today, I got the call. The call every parent fears: “Meet me at the hospital.” We live busy lives and get bogged in the mire of our busyness. It’s nobody’s fault, the little kicks life gives you pile up until the fact there are no paper towels in the bathroom becomes a big deal.
And then you get the call, and suddenly you go all binary. Is he in serious danger (yes/no)? Do I need to get to you (yes/no)? Do we have someone who can watch our girls (yes/no)? Is he in serious pain (yes/no)? Can I get there fast (yes/no)? Is that fast enough (yes/no)? Is there someone I need to kill for this (yes/no)? Do I have enough ammunition (yes/no)? It goes on.
I call this mindset ‘the switch’. Pro athletes and military veterans talk about being ‘in the zone’ where everything gets quiet, and you are able to do things you never thought possible. The world goes in slow motion and you can truly see and think, as opposed to just react. The switch is not like that.
I had a train set as a kid. My dad and I had a blast driving around the engine, loading and unloading the cars, and flipping the levers to move the train smoothly from one track to another. It’s not like that either.
The switch is the antithesis of the zone. When you flip the switch, suddenly everything is moving at triple speed and you are standing knee deep in mud. The world blurs. You can’t think about anything except your boy going to the hospital, and you needing to be there.
The switch isn’t like going from one track to another, calmly rerouting and moving forward. Its jumping the train right off the rails and plowing straight at a nitroglycerin plant.
Suddenly, the client wailing isn’t the worst part of your day. It’s the wails of your 6 year old when the doctor tries to straighten his mangled arm.
Suddenly, the pain in your gut from losing that account is nothing compared to the pain in your gut as you are politely asked to leave, so the nurse can make sure you didn’t cause his screams of pain.
Suddenly, the stack of unpaid bills no longer weighs down your heart, but you are curious as to how many stuffed animals you can load on his bed without them falling off.
Suddenly, the “guys night” your wife has begged you to forgo ad nauseum is forgotten so you can kneel by his side until he falls asleep.
The switch is a sudden and dramatic reallocation of priorites, followed by a near super-human ability to focus on a single objective. Binary. 1 or zero. Yes or No. If you make my boy cry, I will end you, mercilessly, without hesitation, thought, or remorse. Do not stand in my way. If you make my boy well, I will give you my kidneys. Both of them. I don’t care. Each tear is a bullet. Each smile a salve.
I don’t know if as a single 20-something I would have understood the switch. Back then, I was the most important thing in my world, to my great detriment. Your switch can’t flip unless there is someone in your world whose well-being you hold in significantly higher regard than your own. There is less of that in this world than you imagine. The rush it fills you with is the most gut-wrenching narcotic you could ever be exposed to. It’s high is skin crawling nausia.
My son was playing video games with his sisters today on the Wii. Upon his dramatic victory, he performed an obligatory victory dance where he spun wildly in circles. So wildly that he cracked his arm on the furniture and broke his ulna. That information I learned later. It wasn’t a part of the call.
In that context, its a rather funny story. He was in pain for several hours, that part wasn’t fun. But 5 minutes after the splint was set, I was able to get a laugh out of him. By the time we got to the car, he was jockying for a happy meal. Now he’s excited about picking out his cast color. Yet for about 2 hours today, I was running through a mine field, my boy in my arms, as he cried to make the hurt stop. Making that happen was the only thing that mattered. My boy smiling again was all that mattered. Binary. 1 and zero. Yes or No.
It’s unfortunate that it took a broken arm to remind me of that. The clients are going to complain. The bills are going to pile up. Life is going to get heavy. We’ll find our nerves, our patience, and our attitude all on edge. When it happens, and its going to happen sooner than you expect, remember the switch. Everything will hit the fan, and things will get blurry while becoming a lot clearer; the switch is in that place. That place in between where you find the ‘other’ kind of love you didn’t know you had, the kind that doesn’t sell movies or make tabloid headlines. The greeks called it agape, the love unconditional; free and undeserved. We give it without expectation for its return. It’s a gift that can only be recieved.
Don’t let the switch be the only catalyst that activates your unconditional love.
Love your kids when they drive you nuts. Love your spouse when they can’t stand to look at you. Love you mom when she makes you feel small. Love you Dad even if he breaks another promise. Love your sister when she makes you look bad. Love your brother, because nobody else will.
Love them when they let you down. Love them when they don’t love you. In fact, love them when they hate you, then in particular. Love them in their faults. Love them BECAUSE of their faults. Love them for who they are, not for who you want them to be. Love them as they curse your loving them. Love them while they are here, because you never know when they won’t be. Love them from the center to the edges, and everywhere between.
Love them, because you CAN.
I sat at my sons bedside tonight, and remembered I was supposed to teach him to throw a baseball. In particular, how to do so in the manly way us neanderthals aspire to. We’d talked about it, he’d asked more than once, but I was always busy with something that, in the moment, seemed more important. “We’ll do it next weekend,” was the answer.
As I gazed at his arm, splinted and broken, I thought, “What could possibly have been more important than being with my boy?”
I don’t have a good answer.