My wife, Carlin, and I have five children. I brought two into the marriage and she brought three. We fell in love with each other and the children were a bonus. Over the years they have brought us heart-ache and joy and continue to teach us lessons about life, love, and transformation.
The birth of my first child changed my life. My wife and I had practiced the Lamaze breathing techniques and had taken the birthing classes together. I wanted to be a great father, but I was afraid I’d screw things up. My wife wanted me to be in the delivery room with her so I could experience the beauty and wonder of childbirth. The idea sounded good and all our friends were doing it. But still, I worried. I passed out once when I had my teeth cleaned (I wasn’t good with pain) and wondered whether I could deal with my wife’s pain and still remain on my feet.
My only hope was that we were told that I may or may not be allowed in the delivery room at Kaiser Hospital. The labor was a long one and my wife practiced breathing and I did my best to coach her and give her chips of ice to wet her dry lips. By the time we heard, “Let’s get her into the delivery room” I wanted to go all the way. But I was told I needed to wait in the waiting room and they’d let me know when I could see the baby.
I was both relieved and disappointed. By then I didn’t think I’d pass out and I wanted to be with my wife and see our new born child, but being a good Jewish boy I followed doctor’s orders and walked out to the waiting room. But I didn’t make it through the doors. “God damn it, I’m not going to be some kind of waiting room father.” I was startled by my own thoughts. It was almost like the calling of my unborn child wanting me to be with him and his mother as he entered the world.
I pushed my way through the delivery room doors and took my place beside my wife. There was no question of leaving if asked, and it must have been clear that there would be a lot more disruption if they tried to force me to leave than there would be if I stayed. Shortly thereafter, our son was born and they handed him to me. As I looked down at him, I made a vow that I would be a different kind of father than my father had been able to be for me and I would do everything I could to create a world where men were fully involved with their families.
As the birthing was completed I reflected back on my own entrance into the world and my own father. My parents had been trying to have a child for a number of years, but they couldn’t seem to get pregnant. They finally found a doctor who had an experimental procedure of injecting my father’s sperm into my mother’s womb (the turkey baster technique) and it worked. My parents were pregnant, but things became very difficult for all of us. My mother was terrified of losing the baby and lived in constant fear that something would happen to prevent the birth. My father, who had a history of depression and bipolar disorder, became increasingly withdrawn and escaped my mother’s worries by taking trips away from home that could last a week or more.
My father’s depression increased after my birth and by the time I was five years old he was seriously depressed and attempted suicide when the fears of supporting his family overwhelmed him and he couldn’t handle the weight of fatherhood. Although he survived physically he spent years in a mental hospital and our lives were never the same.
My wife and I had decided in college that we could have a child, then adopt a child. We believed there were too many children already in the world and thought that by adopting a child rather than birthing another, we would help the population problem. We told the agency that we didn’t mind what race the child would be. We wanted a little girl and we wanted her to be younger than our son.
When we were told that the agency had a little girl for us to look at, we were overjoyed. We drove to Los Angeles from our home in Stockton to see if there was a fit with this potential new addition to our family. When I held Angela for the first time, I fell in love. She was so small, but she had a large presence and the bonding happened very quickly between she and I.
But having two small children turned out to be a bigger challenge than we anticipated. Our daughter had physical problems and didn’t sleep for the first year, which meant we didn’t sleep much either. She needed surgery which caused her to be afraid of sleeping and we all suffered another year of stress, trauma, and sleeplessness.
By the time Angela was four and Jemal was six our marriage was coming apart. We tried counseling, but it didn’t help save the marriage and we divorced. Eventually, Angela came to live with me and our son remained with his Mom. When I met Carlin, she had her youngest son, Aaron, living with her and when we fell in love and decided to marry she brought her son and I brought my daughter.
Creating a blended family has its own challenges, but this one worked, though it forced us all to stretch and learn. It helped that neither Carlin or I demanded the other to “parent” the “step child.” We each saw ourselves as the primary parent and let the other adult find their own way to connect with the child. Over the years Aaron and I have gotten very close and Carlin became a superb mother to Angela, despite many challenges.
If I had any advice to parents or would be parents I’d tell you this:
- Children are our greatest teachers and create our greatest challenges. They teach us to love, but they also stretch us to our limits. Parenting is not for everyone.
- Becoming a parent to your spouse’s child has its own challenges and joys. Take your time. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle. Learn to expand your love.
- Get help. Parenting should never be left to only two people. If possible involve grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, neighbors, therapists.
- We now have 17 grandchildren. They say that having grandchildren is the reward parents get for not killing their children. But it’s not enough of a reward for having children before you’re ready and its OK never to be ready.
I look forward to your thoughts and experiences. You can learn more about creating the kind of marriage that offers a foundation for raising healthy children at www.TheEnlightenedMarriage.com
This article originally appeared on Men Alive
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