I spent the better part of the night before I left to attend Dad 2.0 Summit filled with excitement. My son and daughter gleefully put on music and took my hands so we could dance. Filling my soul with all the joy and laughter that it could take. I knew that I needed it to sustain me. How could I justify flying across the country, leaving my wife and three kids (all under the age of five), to go to a conference that talks about being a good dad? My hope was that it would be found in these moments pre-flight.
With a final kiss goodbye, I slid the door closed and walked into the airport. It only took two steps for me to physically feel that my heart was not with me. Behind me, in that minivan, the one with the three crying children and teary-eyed wife, that is where my heart was. As excited as I was to be heading to Dad 2, I felt empty and alone as I walked through the airport. Something was lacking. Stressful as it may be to travel with kids, I missed having to chase them down. Usually I would be focused on my kids as we waited in the endless TSA line. Instead, I stood there, alone. I missed it so much, that it angered me. I felt a fiery heat rise in the void that was created when my heart was left in that van.
“Real fatherhood means love and commitment and sacrifice and a willingness to share responsibility and not walking away from one’s children.” – William Bennet
All of it, all the angst and torment, was directed at myself. Angry for getting on this plane. Torment because I missed my kids. But, woefully I moved on. I thought of the excitement that lay before me. I was going to be surrounded by other dads talking about what they have experienced, and what they are working through, as dads. This summit is a chance to have open, honest, raw and vulnerable conversations about the thing that we all love more than life itself, being a dad. There is much laughter, joking, and even crying about some of the things that we have gone through. There is so much acceptance and support for every single dad there. It is kind of beautiful actually.
Over the last five years I have discussed the state of fatherhood. I have written about some of the hardest things that I have ever had to do. I have written with raw and visceral emotion about every time that my daughter has had a surgery. Pouring out the feelings and encapsulating the moments while waiting for a team of surgeons to open her skull, re-shape it, and put it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I have expressed every question, fear, and worry as many dad’s do not. Open and exposed for the world to see.
On the other side of things, I have written about the things that have brought so much more joy than I thought possible into my life. Taking every single milestone and event as viewed through the eyes of a proud father. My pride being a banner for the world to see, and a model for my children to learn. Never shy of showing my joy for these things. Yet again, standing on the outside of ‘normal’ fatherhood. Unashamed of showing my feelings for my amazing kids.
The same amazing kids that I just walked away from.
The void which my heart left in its wake, quivers with sorrow as I board the plane. I miss them. My God do I miss them. Holding onto the memories of the dance gives me peace.
Why do I do this? Looking at my stats, usually with a stiff drink in hand, I can tell that my prolific writing is not just for solace, or confirmation. My reach is far narrower than many of the people that I will meet at this conference. I wonder how many know of the endless nights that I spend working though self-doubt, and creative enlightenment in ways to expand my reach. Of the countless drafts and plans that I have worked through in an effort to better tell this amazing story of my journey through fatherhood. Then I wonder that if they did know these things, would it matter?
In my last five years of being a dad I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by some prolific storytellers, who just happen to have kids. They write and shoot videos, often tongue-in-cheek, about their adventures into this great unknown we call parenting. They do not dance around the difficult topics. Instead, they face them head on. They have been some of my best teachers, and dearest friends, as I have pushed myself to write more, do more, show more.
As the summit carried on, one thing resounded in the general buzz of the atmosphere. With all the ideas and accolades, there was the same sorrowful voice about how much we missed out kids. I held fast to those memories of my kids and I dancing, without a care in the world. Those memories that I crammed into my soul before leaving. In a flash, something begin to happen. Over the crowd I could hear the music wafting through the air, mixing with the distant sounds of my children’s laughter.
It was so surreal. I could feel the carpet under my feet and the hands of my children in mine. I could feel my body wanting to dance with them, as though they were there. In this moment, it hit me. There was something that says more about the current state of fatherhood then I thought real. There is something about this dance that is now screaming as an epic moment of realization. So, I do what I have done for five years and I write. I glide my lyrical brush across time and space to make sense of it all. Removing layer after layer of dust to uncover something for all of us to see.
The very moment that someone becomes a dad their lives are changed forever. The act of entering fatherhood means that our lives are sent careening down a torrent path filled with the ominous unknown. The twists, turns, rises and falls are consumed with moments of fear, doubt, joy and often moments so hilarious that we can do nothing but laugh. We have to make decisions very early on that forever alter our children’s lives. Ironically is a decision that most of us make absentmindedly.
Holding onto my children’s hands as we dance in the living room, something was happening. As I replayed the moment over and over again in my head, I began to see. This moment has something hidden deep in the steps, the motion, the dance itself. Tightly wound like my son’s hand on a Popsicle stick, or my daughter’s on a piece of chocolate, so tight that you cannot see it, and surely it would break.
In a flash, it becomes clear. Brilliant like the sun on a summer’s day. Bright like the full moons reflection upon a still pond. This thing buried deep with the dance all centers on a single decision that we all make at that very moment we become dads. A decision that shows the importance of fatherhood as a whole, but also how the idea of fatherhood has changed. The simple act of dancing with my children exposes a question that many do not even know they answer.
How do we raise our children to be better people then we are?
As dads, we have the obligation, not the choice, of making a decision on how to raise our children. We can raise them in such a way that forces them to fit into a mold that, in-turn, fits into our lifestyle or point of view. We could constrain them to the perfect little thoughts and dreams that we have had for them since we found out that they were on the way. Society, and all of its morals and ideals could crash into our voices, masking reason with what society feels is right and good. Or, we can get uncomfortable with the unknown, and let our children become who they want to be.
Our decision, and my choice.
As for my wife and I, we could raise our children by any of these ideals. Instead we raise our children with the motto: live big, love bigger, and be kind, always. This means that we place value in living with honor, choosing to love, and the importance of being kind. To me it doesn’t matter who my kids might grow up to be. I just want them to grow up, slowly, and be happy with who they become. I have learned that it should not matter who they want to be. What does matter is that I exhaust all efforts for them. That I let them explore this crazy world around them. Ensuring that they find what makes them happy. Above all else, encouraging them to go after what makes them happy.
What matters is it that I cheer them on in every possible endeavor. To do this not just from the sidelines, but right there with them. That it is more important to cast aside my ideals, and help them explode onto this world, and leave a mark that THEY are happy with, not the mark that I hope they make. To show them that inclusivity STARTS at home, at our dining room table. That love and respect is a requirement, not some gracious thing they should do.
Fatherhood In Practicality…
There’s something awesome about being a dad. You must force yourself to take a step back from it all. Look past the unknown and see the brilliance and beauty behind it. If you let yourself just being your children’s cheerleader, their champion, and their springboard, there’s so much greatness that you have the ability to witness. There will be times when things don’t go their way, and all you have to do is be there for them. They will be things that they want to do that do not even remotely fit your mold.
I’ve been watching my oldest son over the last couple of days and I see something that would terrify most. He would make one damn good ballet dancer. Looking back, not too far, I would find myself doing a plethora of things. Spend evenings outside with him tossing the football with him in hopes of him becoming a defensive end like his father. Enrolling him in sports, wood-shop, welding and other things to entice the engineer side that I have seen in him. Excite him with Lego’s and building sets to have his mind shift to constructive creativity. However, fatherhood has changed. I have gleaned so much from my dad, as well as the other dads at the Dad 2 summit.
Instead of doing those things, what is it that I do?
I dance with him.
And he loves it.
Perhaps even more than I do.
Live big, love bigger, and be kind, always