I spent 34 years on earth only being responsible for myself, and the last 4 being a father.
My son Harrison turned 4 today and it got me thinking about all sorts of things.
I remember when my wife first told me she was pregnant. It was late March of 2016. I had just come home from work and was in a rush to meet Doan and his buddy Scott at the golf course.
I don’t remember exactly what I said to her. I think it was ‘are you sure?’
I had decided to stay at home, but Tabitha insisted I should still go play. Against my better judgment, I went ahead and went golfing anyway.
My head was in the clouds.
We were at some expensive course in Frisco, hazards everywhere, playing the ‘tips’ (golf term for the expert tee boxes that are the furthest from the hole to start.)
The course was hard as hell.
I don’t remember any specific shots, but I was never comfortable. I felt rushed all day. And I kept losing golf balls.
I had never seen anything like it. I was losing a ball every hole. Sometimes two or three. Despite having plenty of balls in the bag to start my round, I was out by the 12th or 13th hole. So I borrowed one from Doan.
I borrowed another.
Lost in the thicket.
I decided to skip the rest of that hole and I asked for another on the next tee.
Whoosh…right down the middle. I’m back.
I had a cart to myself that day as Doan and Scott decided to be riding partners. I drove up to my ball to hit my second shot, got out, hit it way left into the shit, looked around, saw Doan and Scott on the other side of the fairway lining up their shots, got back in my cart, and headed straight for the club house.
No explanation. No stopping. No Goodbyes. That was it. I’m out.
I didn’t need to be on the golf course that day.
That story is sort of a microcosm of how my life has been since becoming a father.
—(More on that Later)—
On the drive back home the feeling of immense pressure entered my bones and ran all through my blood. My wife and I weren’t married yet, and even though her two older kids seemed to like me, I hadn’t committed to being their father at that point.
But now it was official…no matter what happens from here on out, Tabitha was always going to be in my life.
That’s a lot of pressure to hit you at once. I think most men would agree with that. We are creatures that like to create our own timetables of when to commit. We prefer it to happen organically, even if it takes 50 years, with no extra little pushes or nudges along the way.
I’m a man.
It took awhile, but I’m not ashamed to acknowledge it anymore…Just ashamed that it happened…
I did some destructive things in my life in the days, weeks, and months after getting that news. I didn’t react like a 34-year-old man should’ve.
I was just so nervous about everything.
My job. Do I make enough money? My ability to be a father. Can I even do this? My father. How can I ever live up to the way he raised me?
My response was to avoid answering, or even hearing, those types of questions. Instead I drank more, worked longer, played more golf, spent more time with my friends, and did other destructive things to our relationship.
Any other time in my life where I felt too much pressure I’d always just ignore it or run away for good. I knew this time that wasn’t going to work.
I knew at some point I was going to have to permanently step up.
But I definitely avoided doing that during the time she was pregnant.
As a result my wife will tell you I wasn’t the best at being supportive or by her side when she was carrying Harrison (something I improved on significantly when she was with Mara) and I would agree with her.
When Harrison was first born I was surprised at how natural holding him came to me. I’ve never been good with infants or young kids. Enough to where I was worried about it in the weeks before he was born. But holding Harrison was different.
I was encouraged by that.
Upon getting him home, I was called upon to change the first diaper of my life. My son had been circumcised only a day or two before, and the site of his penis upon pulling off his diaper shocked me.
It was explained to me that it would look like that for a couple weeks until it fully-healed. I was not here for that.
I refused to even attempt a diaper change for a couple weeks. It hurt me so bad looking at that area of him or even thinking about it. I could tell my wife was thinking are you kidding me? I’m gonna have to change every single diaper this little boy has in his career?
But thankfully she was patient, and by the time everything looked good on him down there I was changing diapers like it was nothing.
The fact that I was now holding him, rocking him to sleep, feeding him, and changing his diapers…and feeling comfortable doing it…started giving me extreme confidence.
When Harrison was just under 6 months old Tabitha and I got married. My parents and her mom were both there, along with Chloe, Travis, and Harrison. About a year later Mara would arrive into our world.
But I am a selfish person. As hard as that is to admit, I have been my whole life. I’m also an extremely loyal person, especially to those closest to me.
I’ve lost my way several times in the past, whether it was gambling, or getting a DUI, (and getting away with several more) borrowing money without paying it back, lying, quitting jobs without giving any notice, flaking out on appointments or get togethers, screwing my friends over in some way, shape or form.
I’ve had bouts with all of them. And everywhere I’ve gone, everything I say, and everything I’ve done in my past has been geared toward ignoring that. Acting like it never happened.
That is hard to do. It’s taxing. It’s stressful. It’s exhausting.
If I had it to do to all over again, I wouldn’t change what I’ve done, but I would have done a way better job dealing with, and handling it.
When I moved to Texas I thought I could leave all the bad stuff I had done up in Montana, and start fresh.
What I should have done was be more honest with myself about who I was, who I am, and who I wanted to be.
Instead I cruised through my first year here. Working and having fun. When I met Tabitha she knew nothing about my past, she just knew the facade of the man I was pretending to be.
I regret bringing that man into her life, because once any sign of adversity hit, I’d turn back into the guy that I wanted to leave up in Montana, and use those trying times as an excuse to do destructive things to myself and our relationship.
Once I knew Harrison was coming along the responsibility of fatherhood hung like a piano over my head.
There is no room for selfishness when you have kids. It’s gotta be all about them. I knew that.
But I was worried there would be no time for me after he was born. No golf, alcohol, poker, bars, watching sports, etc. So my response was to cram as much of it in as possible before his arrival.
I told myself I’d turn into a different guy and put all that shit behind me once he was born.
Yet after he arrived I didn’t necessarily wanna let that independence go. I immediately got better, don’t get me wrong, but in my head I was still trying to figure out how I was going to get in all my me time.
I struggled with that for a couple years.
I wasn’t content to let life come to me. I was trying to force everything. I felt like I should still be able to golf, drink, or do anything else that I wanted, whenever I wanted to.
No matter what, I always felt like I had to have something that was just mine. I had to be able to still drink, or golf, or not ask permission to do things. I always felt like I needed to carry something from my single life into my marriage and have it be just mine.
I thought that was what a man was and that’s what a man should do.
Why couldn’t my wife understand this? Why was she always ragging on me for every little thing? I’d say.
The truth was I wasn’t being honest with her so I deserved that sort of treatment. Instead of acknowledging that was the issue, I blamed her for my inefficiencies and kept drifting further and further away.
Amazingly my fatherhood skills didn’t suffer at all. I’m a better father than I could’ve ever imagined. It might actually be the thing I’ve been best at in my entire life.
But my ability to be there as a husband was at the opposite end of that spectrum.
It’s only been for a little over a year now that I’ve finally felt comfortable in my own skin.
I understand everything that I’ve done wrong in my life comes with consequences, which are better dealt with by full-on admission and meeting them head on.
No more half truths. No more justifications. No more bullshit.
I also understand that I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my past. That’s who I was. That’s not who I am.
I’m man enough to admit that.
I’ve also learned, since becoming a father, what a real man truly is.
A true man’s words are backed up by his actions. He knows how to put his ego aside and take responsibility for his actions. He doesn’t quit or give up. And a man is not afraid to express his true feelings, even if he knows it’s gonna bite him in the ass in the short-term.
It took a couple years of marriage and becoming a father to not be ashamed of my past. The comfort of knowing I’m not trying to get away with anything (big or small) anymore is impossible to explain.
And the truth comes out so much easier and quicker these days.
I’m extremely lucky to have some amazing friends and family that have given me second and third chances along the way. They must have known someday I’d be sitting down writing something like this. Maybe they saw it in me before I could bring it to life.
I’m happy my kids will get to see the very best version of their father during my lifetime.
Being a father has made me realize that fatherhood is something I can call my own and carry with me for the rest of my life. No one else on this planet can say they are the father of my children.
I live a better life through them everyday.
I teach them things, spend time with them, and always point them in the right direction. When they get old enough to start making their own decisions and choices I’ll have plenty of real life experience to draw from when giving them advice. None of which I’ll be ashamed of.
That day out there on the golf course, driving off before the round was over without saying goodbye, was the way I had always treated my life up to that point.
First I ran off to play golf after my wife told me she was pregnant, then I ran off the course once things weren’t going my way. If I kept living my life that way pretty soon I was gonna have nowhere to run.
If I would have stayed at home I could’ve talked it all out with my wife. Been honest with her about all the anxiety I felt and dealt with it from there, while getting her involved and letting her know where I stand.
If I would have stayed and completed the round on the golf course I could’ve easily explained at the end why I was so unfocused and both of those guys would’ve understood.
Running in both directions solved none of that.
But there’s no running anymore. And it feels good. My family, wife and kids, are my first priority.
The times I do get to play golf with friends or hangout with the boys are still available to me, just not as much as they used to be. Ironically that’s a positive thing as well. Turns out less is more. Getting together seems like it’s ten times better than it used to be.
And when we see each other now we tell a lot of family stories. Crazy. Sitting around talking about our kids and wives with the same guys I used to ding-dong-ditch houses and throw water balloons at cars with.
It’ll be interesting to see in nine more years, when Harrison turns 13, if I’ll have to discipline him for any of the same juvenile stuff that I did.
Luckily for me today he’s only four years old.
What a blessing he has been to our family and to my life. He’ll never know the impact he truly had on me finally turning the page.
Harrison looked around today and said “It’s because mommy and daddy love me so much that I got all these presents.”
No, Harrison. Actually it’s because I love you and your mommy so much that I’m still here. It just took me longer to realize that than it should have.