Sitting in the emergency room of Tucson Medical Center, the doctors just told us our youngest son, Grant, probably wasn’t going to make it… he was less than 3 months old and I couldn’t believe my ears. I mean, I had barely gotten to know him — how could this be?!
Well, the truth is I refused to believe what the doctors told us; and my wife, her parents, and I made sure he was never alone during his week-long stay at the hospital. We prayed every day and we gave him all the love and support that we could give. In the words of the very same doctors who had told us merely a week before that he didn’t have a chance, “it was a miraculous recovery.”
A flip was switched in me during this hospital stay … I went from feeling overwhelmed and perhaps unprepared for the burdens of fatherhood to realizing how sacred and how much of an honor it is to have the privilege of being a dad. Of course, I had heard throughout my life that every moment is precious and we should make the most of our time, etc, etc … but this experience made it resonate with me.
I never knew my biological father, and I’ve lived with the pain of knowing he’s never cared enough to reach out or have anything to do with me. Combine that with seeing my mom struggle as a single parent and her telling me all the things she could have done if she never had kids…perhaps it was no surprise that I didn’t have a strong desire to have children myself.
Growing up, I had a father figure in the man who married my mother when I was 6 years old, but we never had a strong bond … The only thing I could really talk to him about was sports. He was unfaithful to my mom and I witnessed a lot of fighting between them. A lot of times, I felt all the struggle, pain, and conflict was my fault and it reinforced the feeling that I ruined my mom’s life because she had me.
Much of my childhood was spent as a latch-key kid and I just couldn’t see why people had kids when they had to spend so much time working just to pay the bills.
In fact, it wasn’t until I visited Albania with my wife about 5 years ago that I realized how much having children can enhance and bring more joy to your life. The Albanian people are financially poorer than your average American, but they are much wealthier when it comes to things like friends, family, and quality of life.
It was after this experience that I finally decided to become a father. I now have two wonderful sons, Sam and Grant, who are 3 and 2 years old, respectively. And I just found out my wife will soon bless us with another child either in December or January!
Of course, having 2 rambunctious boys isn’t always a bed of roses… they wrestle, yell, and try to destroy everything in sight pretty much 24/7, but when they call me, “Dada”, I am not joking, my heart melts every time.
I recognize that each child has their own distinct personality, and I make a real effort to connect with them in the things they are each interested in.
My ultimate goal is to raise them with as much love and compassion that I can, while also instilling in them the confidence and self-reliance they will need when they become men. I hope to be a trusted advisor throughout their life… someone they can come to whenever they need advice or help and someone they would like to continue to share their lives with as they start their own families.
It’s a difficult balance to attain what I am going for because I do recognize they are equal to me on a human level, but I’ve also realized that left to their own devices, they do not automatically know right from wrong nor do they realize all the ways they can injure themselves!
So my role sometimes turns to that of a dictator, but every time they force the tyrant out of me, I can see that they gain respect for me, and the respect is mutual. I do believe they’ve chosen me as their guide to adulthood and I am humbled and honored to be given that role.
It blows my mind to think that for so many years I rejected the idea of becoming a father because now, I couldn’t imagine not being one. It is simultaneously the most challenging and rewarding thing I have ever done and I am so blessed to be given back my chance with Grant.
While my own experiences as a son who never had a relationship with his biological father, and as a step-son who didn’t have the greatest relationship with either his step-dad or his mom, really discouraged me from taking the plunge into fatherhood. I can tell any other man who has had a similar upbringing that ultimately, being a good father is a choice. And as long as you realize that it’s impossible to be perfect, it is possible to be a great dad if you come into it with an open heart and an open mind for the lessons that being a father teach you.
Now that I am a father, I have a newfound respect and understanding for the challenges my parents faced, but I also have the experience of being a son to pull from — good and bad — and I draw on that heavily because I know how important it is to be present and show interest in who your kids are and what they are doing.
Derek Alvarez has been creating art since he was 3 years old. One of his drawings was exhibited on a nation-wide tour at age 12. He earned an art scholarship to the University of Arizona, focusing on oil painting, graduating in 2004, Magna Cum Laude. He began selling his oil paintings while still in college, exhibiting his work in Scottsdale, Arizona, and New York City. His work can be found in several public and private collections throughout the country. Currently, he is working as a full-time artist while traveling with his wife and two sons, and shipping his artwork throughout the world.