I had a fascinating talk a few days back with my son. He is thirteen years old and is transitioning quickly from being a little boy to becoming a man. He was thoroughly engaged in the conversation, his eyes lit up as he spoke, and he was excited to share his point of view. He expressed his ideas on consciousness, love, and what it means to be human. He is finally old enough that his insights and intellect match up better with mine during these talks. It was evident that something deep inside of him has begun to grow, quicker now, and develop in its complexity and awareness. I could feel the resonance of his spirit. I’ve never been so proud to be his father. I put my very best into his upbringing. The great man that he is becoming is in part a result of my efforts. I have two kids, and by the looks of it, both are turning out just fine. If there is just one thing that I would tell a new father or one that is struggling, it is that this role isn’t simple or easy – in fact, it is all about falling down, over and over again, and then getting back up.
My marriage with my boy’s mother was shaky and problematic from the get-go. We met during a time when we were both emotionally unwell, and the marriage reflected that in its conflicted and short-lived existence. But a miracle came from it – a beautiful human being. Ever since he was six months old, I shared split-custody with his mother. For the next eight years, until I met the love of my life and the mother of my baby girl, I was a single dad. I changed hundreds and hundreds of diapers. I bathed him, fed him, put him to sleep, played with him, and brought him up speaking English (I live in Mexico, and his mother is Mexican and speaks to him exclusively in Spanish). He took his first steps next to me. I showed him how to kick a soccer ball and to throw a football. I also taught him to take responsibility for both his words and actions. At first, I strived for perfection, an unattainable and romantic notion of fatherhood. It took me almost a decade to understand that no such thing exists, and that seeking it out only resulted in frustration and feelings of inadequacy. I got so many things wrong over the years that I lost count. I had to learn patience, to control my temper, to not take so many things personally, to be more generous with my time, to see things from his point of view, to swallow my pride when it got out of hand. I also had to realize that there were two of us experiencing everything together – not just me. It’s easy to become self-absorbed and forget that last point.
With twelve years of fatherhood under my belt, I was forty years old when my daughter was born. I felt the middle-of-the-night wake-ups much more. On the other hand, I am now more relaxed and no longer sweat the small stuff. I have greater context. She’s getting a better version of me, one that was refined and polished by making plenty of mistakes with my son. I still screw up, just that now I make totally new mistakes. I am becoming a professional mistake maker. Perhaps I have incorporated a touch of grace in how I fall down and get back up. I have become more forgiving and compassionate with myself, which has also directly benefited my kids.
So what’s fatherhood for me? It is learning humility and understanding that I don’t have most of the answers, and that they become available after much trial and error. It is about showing up each morning with my heart full of love and being willing to make the effort necessary to be the example of what a true man looks like – strong and driven, but vulnerable and willing to admit being wrong. I am where my children train their strength, whether it be physical, emotional, or mental. I am the mountain that they climb and will eventually no longer need for the purpose of empowering themselves. I give them my love, my attention, and strive to provide them with the skill sets and structure that are needed to be able to excel in this world on their own. I’m their teacher and example.