I stood in the hospital room with a new life in the palm of my hand. It was an extraordinary, life-changing experience, as any new father can attest. This was what I was seeking—at that moment. It was life, the reason for living. I was here to pass on the life I had been given, like countless generations before me had and like countless generations after me would. This was where I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do.
As I looked at my tiny son I understood that all that had happened to me and all that I had done was so that I would end up standing here in this room with this miracle in the palm of my hand. Up to this point it was not about me or what I wanted, but there was no way I was able to understand that. I had to seek and push forward in the darkness, in the silence, otherwise I might have failed to carry out what was necessary to get here and create this life.
As I realised this I failed to see that beyond that point I would be on a different journey. Beyond that point I would slowly move into a life that could become what I wanted for myself. All I saw was that having created life I was responsible for ensuring that the life would continue and grow. That was an awesome responsibility, one that I was not sure I was ready for. But I had to continue moving forward and learn as I stepped into the unknown.
I accepted that I would never know why it was so important that I created this life, that was for the future, a future that would be way beyond my life. For the first time I truly trusted that I would know what to do when I needed to do it.
Family was a responsibility that I took on willing, if with trepidation. Relationship and marriage was hard enough but family was on a whole different level. At that moment I grew into being a man and started to understand what it meant to be a man. It was not close to being the final answer, that would come later. What I found was that life was not just about fun and desire, being a man was about putting the lives of others before your own. Women have always understood that, but men have found it harder.
My responsibility moved into providing a home and the means to live for what became a group of four people; my wife, me and two boys. This meant settling down to living somewhere permanent and having work that could be guaranteed to provide what we all needed.
We bought a house and entered a world that I still live in today; the world of debt. Mortgage, insurance, savings, credit cards, investments and bank accounts gathered and came to dominate my life. I started living on the promise of what my future would bring, so I needed to set about creating that future. This is the point that defeats many people, how to balance expectation with actuality. If the expectation constantly exceeds the now there is trouble, but if the expectation does not go far enough, everything stagnates. The balance is critical.
I moved away from the theatre, away from the uncertainty and unsocial hours. I wanted to experience and enjoy my family and I wanted to be around to influence my children. In time this did not happen the way I would have liked. This was partly through work becoming much more important but it was also because I started to doubt my abilities as a father and started hiding back behind what I knew.
Fatherhood was not simply about domination and control. I had experienced that in my own childhood and I was determined not to repeat it with my own children. But how was I to go about this? I had no idea of the answer, again I was left flailing around trying whatever came to my mind. Because of the experience I had with my own father I did not look to him to guide me, in fact I actively kept him at a distance. So I set about experimenting and discovering.
I did a lot that was wrong and unhelpful, but also along the way I made some discoveries that I still explore today. They seem so simple now and so obvious, but they were not at the time. At the time they felt dangerous because I had no idea how they would turn out. The biggest problem, though, was that they were both so against what I had learnt from my role model, my father, and they were so what he believed. I had to learn to accept all this to be true.
- Listening: Learning to listen was my biggest lesson, and the one I found hardest to carry out. Wanting to have the last word in any conversation is a sign of fear and weakness. It holds in it the fear of being irrelevant, the fear of not being heard. It shows a monumental lack of trust in other people. The only way I could develop an ability to listen, rather than tell, was to build my self-confidence and self-trust. Eventually I came to understand that what I presented to the world through my actions and my energy was infinitely more powerful than what I said. Words are only 7% of communication and yet I acted as if they were the other 93%. In shifting to listening mode I was showing my children how that worked, not telling them.
- Trusting: If you do not trust yourself it is nigh on impossible to trust other people. If you do not trust other people you find that you cannot resist telling them what to do rather than allowing them to forge their own way. I came to trust that others could forge their own path, making their own decisions. But this only came when they no longer felt the need to resist my influence. Once the boys knew that this was possible, without my influence, they amazed and inspired me with their choices. I felt pride that I had opened up a space for them to find their own answers.
- Independence: This follows from the ability to trust. Wanting my children to grow up as strong, independent men was important to me. At first I felt this for the wrong reasons. This was a central part of my father’s philosophy as a father; have independent children. I started by actively trying to encourage this, whether they wanted it or not. When I was able to let the requirement go they were able to make their own decisions on this.
- Guidance: Guidance, of course, for me was about telling and teaching. This is difficult with teenagers who want to do the opposite of what they are told to do. Then I realised that the guidance came from letting go and demonstrating what a strong, independent man looked like. I had to trust that they would see it behind all the bluster and anger. The hardest part is not knowing whether they see it or whether they develop it through not liking what they see. I suppose that either way, if it works, it is fine.
- Creativity: Central to my life had been creativity, but it was a creativity I had to struggle to find and develop. I wanted my boys to find and grow their own, if they wanted to. This was mainly encouraged by having the results of creative effort lying around, all the time. Books, paintings and music were normal features in our home. All forms were encouraged. It was always difficult not to force it on them, because I knew how much they would get from it, or would I?
This is an on-going work as I see what I set about developing being passed on to grandchildren. They will eventually pass it on to their children. Will the chain of domination and control be broken? If I can have influenced that, I will be happy.
Photo Credit: Flickr/Rachel Titiriga