A colleague had a child just last year. He’s an older guy, younger girlfriend, and has always been a very laid-back, surfer-type. We had been ribbing him for months about the drastic change in lifestyle that was about to occur. I think he took it in good fun, and maybe listened a bit, but you are never prepared for the change that a child brings. You could see it in his face in the months afterward – he was tired. Tired, but happy.
When I was in my 20s, leaving college, the most important thing was to do good design work. I wanted to get a good job, do important stuff. Like most kids that age, I thought I was worth more than I was – cocky, for sure, but in some ways it was warranted. I’ve never been the salesman, and never been one to strive for the accolades, but I made a name for myself, for more than 20 years, as the “guy that gets it done”. And because of that, I think I was more prepared for the changes in my life, though you can never transition from one stage to another without holding on to a little of the past.
I was still a bit selfish once we moved to Arkansas and had our first child. I still look back on ways I’ve dealt with my children in the past with regret, and even now I’ll cringe at myself five minutes after raising my voice for… what, exactly? Then I hug my boys and tell them Daddy was wrong. I want things to work, and work efficiently, but I’ve also been able to gain much more patience than I had as a child or young adult. I don’t know why, perhaps just out of necessity.
My parents raised me to be a very practical person. Things happen for a reason, you deal with them, you move on to the next task. It’s not the sexiest outlook, hence there are no medals or trophies or asterisks behind my name in design journals. I won’t be asked to speak at events, or convocations, or be interviewed for magazines. That’s actually fine, I’ve been known to hide in the back of the room while a colleague thanks me openly to a crowd. So jump in, clear the decks and sneak out the back door. I think it has actually served me well in the end – hopefully my clients think upon me fondly even when weathering an occasional misstep or foible on my part.
I’ve been examining where I am in life over the past few years. That time coincides with both of my boys growing older, becoming more independent, and learning who they are. I think all that past has served me well. I’m no longer the cocky youngster, ready to pick a fight or say something nasty in furtherance of being “honest”. I’ve learned to shmooze, a bit, although it isn’t the most natural for this introvert. I have good colleagues and clients that I really enjoy working with, as difficult and stressful as it can be at times. For the first time in my fatherhood I can say I’m a pretty good dad, but I tell my boys every day that they are going to grow to be strong, smart and kind, and a better man than their dad. And I mean it.
You immediately fall in love with your kids on sight. I know I did. Nikolas even turned his wobbly head, seconds old, when he heard my voice. Perhaps its coincidence, but everyone there swears it happened and I believe it. But you can’t immediately switch to full on selfless mode. Perhaps that’s more accurate to say about dads than moms, as the child has literally been a part of you for months. No, you don’t really, fully commit as a parent at first. You try to “balance” your old life with the new one – you’ve been talking about how you are going to do that for months! You’ve figured it out! But you can’t, unless you are a superhero or incredibly wealthy. You have to give up your previous life and start a new one, as you’ve started a new one for your child. And sometimes it takes time to fully adjust, to fully embrace that new life. At least, it did from my perspective.
But over the past few years, during this time of examining my life, I think I finally have. I think about my children more often than I used to. I chastise myself more when I make a mistake. Since turning 40 a few years back, I think I finally figured out how to be a complete person. Maybe not always a good person, a patient person, a kind person, but I certainly understand and accept my missteps more than in the past, and honestly feel bad while I try to make amends for them.
I always call myself “Mr. Mom” from time to time, when speaking to colleagues, family and friends about my lifestyle. I’m not fond of the idea that men are not good parents, and the stereotypes of the “bumbling dad” or the idea that dad’s “babysit” rather than parent, but I am also keenly aware that those expectations are historically warranted. I’ve finally reached it, maybe 95% of the time, where I really, honestly don’t “care” about myself, my desires and wants, if my family is in need. My kids are my world, and just keeping up with their clubs, their therapy schedule, their seemingly endless schedule of “this day is this, that day is that” is daunting to balance against work, cooking and – what’s that thing you are supposed to do at night? Oh, yeah, sleep.
I joke that parents (of human babies) immediately lose patience with the complaints of people without kids, and that it “levels” as you have more children. One kid trumps pets, two kids trump one, etcetera. When I meet a parent of three kids or more, I immediately give them kudos – I would never think to say, “Well, let me tell you how hard I’ve got it with just two kids…” Except if they are all girls in single digits. Those things practically parent themselves.
My wife lost her mother in January, and since long before then her time has been devoted to taking care of her family. She will often say, “Sorry you are the single parent again tonight” or something similar, which I scoff at. I’m not a single parent, I’m a parent, as is she.
So the import of things has shifted, as things do over time. For some colleagues, life is about work until tilt, then party until tilt, then rinse and repeat. They have their own issues to deal with. Some people have kids and family, but have chosen a path that was full of struggle very early and now are seemingly reaping the benefits – but that Instagram life you see is also part of the “job”, so to speak.
And me? I get to do exactly what I wanted to do from 13 years old, be a graphic designer, every day. I take care of my family, I work very hard and am content to sit in the back, quietly sipping a drink while others take the spotlight. And I’ve almost achieved my New Year’s Resolution – a normal work week. Almost.