This blog post has gone through several iterations. Basically, it has alternated back and forth between being about me questioning whether becoming a parent was a good idea, to “I really love being a dad”. I think it’s ended up being a bit of both, but much more on the positive side.
I had been in a “not so sure becoming a dad was an unqualified positive decision” a few weeks ago and we met up some friends who are about to start on their second kid. I think they were a little worried about how much harder it would be with two kids and asked me about my coming into fatherhood and if having kids had been a positive or negative experience for me. I was pretty blunt and said that on average I thought it came out JUST slightly positive, they were a bit taken aback; the husband actually said(kindly) “No, you don’t mean that!”. My main reasoning was that giving up so many things I loved and that made me feel good hadn’t necessarily been the right choice. I think the expectation is for parents to wholeheartedly believe that raising children is a difficult but nonetheless an overwhelmingly positive experience or decision. I understand the motivation behind that expectation, but I don’t always feel it. I love my kids and at this stage can’t imagine life without them anymore, but it’s been a hard journey with no signs of letting up. I felt bad in retrospect and was wondering what was wrong with me. I knew that I had good moments from time to time with the kids, but it just seemed like too much stress.
I then noticed an interesting trend with my kids. Basically, I would have an experience of feeling really good about being a dad, I mean a “YES! I can be a good dad and having kids is great!” experience and then almost always the next day one or both of the kids would act in some way as to stress me out and make me question what the hell I was thinking.
This has happened several times, but as an example, last week I ran across some old pictures on the computer from when my eldest was about a year old. I was moved by how little she looked in those pictures and how much she has grown up since those pictures were taken. I started thinking about all of her wonderful qualities and how she was growing up. I came home and was enjoying her and the rest of the family. Then at bedtime she went into a total meltdown/tantrum with screaming, kicking, some vomiting, hitting, etc.
Was something in the universe picking up on the fact that I was feeling open and loving and then deciding to knock that feeling out of my head, or test me in some way? Or perhaps, it was a message that the rest of my life was out of balance?
Last Friday , I had a really good morning with the kids and was feeling appreciative. We had a smooth morning and got out of the house with time to spare. The morning drop off at school for my older daughter was leisurely. What impacted me was being reminded of what a kind heart she has. She had made “Halloween Cards” for a friend and her teacher, just because she felt like it. She gave them to the recipients before school, and it was touching to see how much they appreciated it and how good she got to feel. Afterwards I was able to walk with my younger daughter to her preschool holding her hand. As I walked back home to get my car, I was struck by the warm air and smell in the air and on a hunch I took my surfboard with me for a post-work surf session. It turned out to be one of those classic fall days we get up in Northern California with warm temperatures and an offshore breeze. It was absolute heaven. I was so happy to be in the water and even got some decent waves. The photo up top is from that surf session. I came home and was in a good mood and enjoying the family. On cue, that evening my daughter started freaking out when bedtime rolled around. This time however even though it went much longer than usual, it wasn’t so overwhelming. I was able to have some empathy for her, and just let it roll off my back. I even was able to laugh (on the inside mind you) observing her theatrics. It was a totally different experience from the previous tantrum.
I always seem to forget this, but it is so much easier to take the hits in life when I am taking care of myself in other areas, and surfing really does seem to give my soul, or whatever you want to call it, nourishment. Surfing for me usually contains brief moments of intense focus and effort; when I’m actually going for a wave. Then during the longer periods when I’m waiting for another wave, I get to reflect on that last period of intensity but also on life in general. The ongoing struggle for me is figuring out a way to get the self nourishment I need on a frequent enough basis. The struggle seems worth it though, if it helps me enjoy my role as a father more.
Being out in the ocean seems to put things in some sort of perspective that I can’t quite articulate, but it makes my life seem pretty good, even if I do get knocked around by waves from time to time.