Manhood by Cuddle


Tom Matlack has tried yoga and therapy, but when it comes to getting centered, nothing compares to cuddling with his kids.

Being a man is about fighting, winning, drinking, making money, getting laid, and being tough, right? That’s certainly what I picked up along the way. And I did plenty of all of it. I played sports. I made money. I chased sex (although not very successfully). I drank. A lot. And I flipped cars and punched holes through walls.

I wanted so badly to be a guy’s guy. A stud. A guy who was respected and admired. A guy who had proven himself worthy.

But somehow the “victories” in my life—the unthinkable come-from-behind athletic wins, the deals no one thought could ever be negotiated and closed—always rang hollow. They puffed me up momentarily only to make me shrink back into my dark corner, a scared little boy who couldn’t grow up and never felt good enough.

Lucky for me, I did manage to have two children by the time I was 30. I’d screwed up a lot of things in my life, but my babies were unquestionably mine. And they unquestionably saved me.

I remember the first night I had my older boy, Seamus, at my bachelor pad for the night. My life was a mess, but I found myself in a rocking chair as he sucked down a bottle in my arms. The room was dark. I could feel his little body go limp. And I could smell my son. I inhaled deeply. I didn’t place him in his pack‘n play for a long time. I just held him on my shoulder, his face nuzzled into my neck, gently breathing.

♦♦♦

That night, and the ones that followed when Seamus and his sister, Kerry, came to visit, changed my life for good. I’ve gone on silent retreats, done yoga, gotten sober, driven racecars, and pursued the Creator in any number of forms, but nothing has ever come close to the power of cuddling with my kids.

Now, fourteen years later, Kerry and Seamus have a little brother. When Cole’s eyes are heavy after a long day of pretending to be a knight, I get his jammie-joes on, brush his teeth, and he gives Mommy a good-night kiss and hug before I carry him in my arms down the hall to the cowboy-themed bedroom that my wife, Elena, designed for him. We snuggle into the lower log-cabin bunk bed and read three books—about lost penguins, monkeys toying with alligators, and dogs wearing strange hats and driving cars.

Often Cole starts snoring before I’ve finished the first story. But sometimes he goes the distance. Either way, I turn the light out while still pinned between Cole and the wall. Even if he’s already asleep, he stirs when he hears the switch and asks, “Daddy, will you stay with me for a little while?”

Holding my son as he slumbers on the bottom bunk of his bed, surrounded by big logs of raw pine, I feel cocooned and forget about whatever I was anxious or mad about before getting into bed with him. I have to force myself to leave.

In the dark I listen to Cole snore as I stare up at the top bunk, my mind empty of any thoughts. Every night some instinct eventually tells me it’s time to get up and walk back into my life. But I return nourished just enough to make it through another twenty-four hours, until it’s time to get our jammie-joes on again and climb back into bed.

♦ ♦ ♦

In September, 2009, Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.

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About Tom Matlack

Tom Matlack is the co-founder of The Good Men Project. He has a 18-year-old daughter and 16- and 7-year-old sons. His wife, Elena, is the love of his life. Follow him on Twitter @TMatlack.

Comments

  1. Craig Wagner says:

    “like” :-)

  2. Wonderful story! Thanks!

  3. Really catches the magic our kids can cast over us and the healing that occurs when we let it.

  4. Great story. Jammie-joes – that’s something we don’t get in our part of the world.

  5. Great story Tom! Thanks for sharing your heart. “I wanted so badly to be a guy’s guy.” – boy, is that a big statement. I get the same rejuvenation from my daughter and her smiles, hugs, kisses, hair pulling, etc. What a wonderful life when you can truly let that in!

  6. Tom Matlack says:

    Thanks for all the lovely comments. I appreciate the support and also the idea that our kids can teach us how to love fully if we let them. Innocence is something that is often learned from those who have it.

  7. kudos at work pale in comparison to my 2 year old daughter’s statement “Daddy, you’re the handosme prince!”

    Tom, thanks for so clearly stating what so many of us have come to discover as one of the greatest benefits of fatherhood – our children.

  8. You know what? This is the sort of stuff that melts my professionally-robotic heart. Thank you for sharing this: it’s beautiful and touching.

  9. The best part of my day is when I cuddle with my 7 month old…The time I spent cuddling with my older two kids means more to me than anyone could know…Thanks for writing this!

  10. Tom Brechlin says:

    My kids are grown and I can say, don’t ever stop hugging and don’t stop saying “I love you” .. I just got off the phone with my 27 year old son. “I love you” closed our conversation. I don’t leave his home or my daughters without a hug and an “I love you.” I’ve been blessed with a grandson …. 2 year old full of life and unconditional love. Thanks again Tom … you keep making my day!

  11. Just found this. I have a 2+ year old daughter and a 1 year old son. I love cuddling with both of them very much, and my wife too. My son turned out to be a formula baby pretty fast, so I got to feed him a lot more than I got to feed my daughter. It is an amazing experience, being forced to just sit and tend to the needs of a tiny little person.

Trackbacks

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