Matt Sweetwood struggled with his identity. It was through his resolve on what childhood leisure his kids would be exposed to that helped him discover himself. Here’s what happened.
It was early 1997 and it was time for me to figure out how to take charge of this unimaginable situation I was in. I was the primary – correction, sole and single parent of 5 children ages 18 months to 8 years old. I didn’t plan well or really want to have 5 children but okay, I had them so I had to take care of them.
Imagine walking around your town, one child in a carrier strapped to your chest, one in each hand and 2 more orbiting around you wildly. I was mortified about having to change diapers multiple times per day. I was going to have to do all of this kiddie stuff, which I really didn’t like – not even a little. I was sure my life was over and my 20 plus year prison sentence had begun. I tried to make myself “Mr. Mom,” housewife.
I got my first get-out-of-jail-free card by following the advice of the famous philosopher, Nike: “Just do it.” I couldn’t quit my job. There was no one else to do it, so I just put my head down and worked my ass off all over the place. I needed to be a dad, and dads do things with children that are perfectly good and are perfectly acceptable to me. I could still take care of them, give them lots of love and attention and raise them right and be like a dad. Single moms do it all the time. They don’t necessarily try to be dads with them. They just are moms with them, even if the male parent is not there.
I started to think carefully what my version of single-fatherhood should look like. I formulated plans which made more sense to me and were more suited to me as a man. So I went for it and I found success. I didn’t need to be like a mom. That made me a happier man and that made me a better parent.
I remember the kids begging me to take them to Chuck E. Cheese. I knew there was no friggin way that I was taking them to Chuck E. Cheese. It was a living hell that smelled like a combination of urine, vomit, and stale pizza. Everything in there was sticky like glue, screaming, wild kids and gossiping, judgmental moms. So what was the solution for the next two decades or so for fun, quality parent-child activities? I applied simple logic. What did I like to do that the kids liked or would learn to like one way or another? That thought dialed in 5 seats for the season to New Jersey Devils hockey. Nineteen years of hockey later we have an endless amount of memories, including two Stanley Cups wins, countless wonderful nights to East Rutherford and Newark, New Jersey and priceless father-child time together.
NJ Devils Cup Run – Spring 2012
It’s not that I somehow magically avoided all of the unpleasant aspects of child care by simply applying my fatherly approach. I sometimes served time in that parental jail and I did fear solitary confinement. Once I realized that I could have my job and my big life and watch hockey and go play sports, race cars and do this and do that, I then knew that I really had it all. All I had to do was allow myself to be a man – and that’s how I found myself.
When I found myself, it gave me the perspective to guide five children into finding themselves, which they have in different places and in different ways.
None of which, in our case, was at Chuck E. Cheese. For that, I am eternally grateful.
Top Photo: Flickr/Brianne