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.
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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.