Fatherhood Made Easy(ish)

I woke up yesterday to the news of Steve Irwin’s passing. I think this post on daddytypes (via a.wholelottanothing and Waxy) explains the a dilemma that parents face when they have children. For some, the issue of personal and familial balance are small and easily navigated. For those who work in careers that regularly involve dangerous or life-threatening situations, I can’t imagine the psychological toll that just going to work as a cop or firefighter would take not just on the individual, but the family as well.

Fatherhood has changed me somewhat. I think most parents go through this on some level, consciously or subconsciously. For me, it has been far more overt.

It’s been a couple of years since Heather sought help and was able to get a successful treatment for post-partum depression. Part of my change as a parent came through near daily realizations that if Heather succumbed to her depression, all Leta would have is me.

The summer of 2004 was extraordinarily difficult. Heather was trying all kinds of different medications and none of them were reducing the anxiety and depression she felt. I ended up utilizing the Family Medical Leave Act as an emergency. Every day was touchy, even if I had taken that day and stayed home. It was like this for about two months. Every day was a new challenge and making it through the day wasn’t just a goal for Heather, but me as well. I was forced by circumstance to evaluate all possible outcomes and try to prepare for any eventuality. I don’t think I was fully prepared to face a life without Heather and the thought of raising Leta alone was more than I could bear. But I had to face it.

In those months of hope and fear I took a very hard look at myself. Harder than when Leta was born. I would have to make some sacrifices. I would have to make some changes. On some level, personal introspection is a selfish act, but in this case I felt it was a matter of survival. In the context of life-threatening careers, the only thing I had to worry about was working in a job that was sucking too much energy from me. The job was getting in the way of taking care of my family. The situation was worsened by Heather’s illness. No job was worth losing Heather over, particularly a needlessly stressful one. Every day I drove off to work, I’d wonder if that would be the day that I’d come home and be a single parent.

Fortunately, Heather sought help and was able to get the level of treatment she needed. While not as acutely felt, that residual “what if” is still there, even today. Accidents happen.

Which is partially what made the decision to take the jump into starting our own business much easier. Part of that decision was that if Heather ever reached that place again, I would at least be here for her like I couldn’t be that summer.

The outcome of those hard days has been that I’m less likely to do things that might mean Leta has a different mom or dad. Some of those are extremes and some are not. I believe the best thing I can do is have a healthy relationship with myself, a healthy relationship with Heather and a healthy relationship with Leta. Most of my energy goes there. I have things I do for me, but my personal enrichment activities (I said, mine, not yours) need to take into account my family. For example, in a former life I used to golf a lot. I got great satisfaction from it, and my game was slowly improving. I never took it that seriously, but it was nice to get away from the computer.

Two weekends ago, we went with my sister’s family to a driving range near their cabin. That was the first time I’d swung a club in almost six years. Golf isn’t a family-friendly game for us and unless Leta shows continued interest, I’m not pushing her into golf or anything else. Golf might be just the thing for some men or women and even some families, but in our house if I were gone every weekend with the boys, that wouldn’t fly, nor would I want it to. Heather came along, but it was clear that she and golf don’t mix. Which is just fine. Not a tough choice at all. There are other things we can try.

The past couple of seasons, I started snowboarding again. I’ve wanted Heather to learn because I’d love to share it with her as well as a way for Heather to look forward to and enjoy the winter. Leta gets to spend time with family and Heather and I get a date. Heather has taken to it quite well and the other day exclaimed that she was excited to hit the slopes this year. As Leta gets older, I’d love to teach her to ride a snowboard, but I’m not going to force it. And I think we’ll have a few years before it’s even a question. The point is, I’m trying to take something I love and share it with my family. If they dig, it can become a great family activity and a way to build memories. If they don’t, we’ll try to find other things to do together and we will go snowboarding less.

I think another good example might be photography. I love to shoot. I do my best work when I have my own camera and the time to find shots. It doesn’t have to be days and days, but pushing a stroller or supervising a walk while trying to shoot is difficult. Heather enjoys shooting as well and it’s something we’ve always shared as a couple. Who knows what Leta is going to enjoy? Either way, I’m going to make accommodations so that Leta gets to learn and grow. If that means fewer frames or that I forego shooting altogether, then so be it.

This all may sound extreme, but I’m convinced that I’ve been given the opportunity to be a big part of my child’s life. Most men only dream of such a gift. It’s going to be just fine if my handicap stays where it is or if I never pick up a golf club again. Teaching Leta a new song or what sounds letters make is far more rewarding than smacking a maddeningly small ball around for a few hours.

Mr. Irwin’s sad passing only reiterates for me the shortness of life, the importance of being there for my family and finding joy in those things that keep me with my family.

  • http://www.jillshalvis.com/blog Jill Shalvis

    Steve’s passing made me so sad, and like you, self reflective. I had 3 glorious daughters and am grateful to be a writer so that I’m home more often than most parents. Sweet post, thanks for making me realize I’m not alone …

  • KaraBuggy

    That was beautiful. It’s amazing how a total stranger’s passing can make us look closer at our own lives.

  • June

    A lawyer friend of mine is the spouse of a divorce lawyer. Although the Hub and I were together for nearly 10 years before we married, she gave me some advice on our first wedding anniversary. She wrote, “Nurture shared interests throughout your marriage. A shared interest in your kids doesnít count.” She said that many of her husband’s clients were getting divorced because they didn’t have or try to find things that they could enjoy together.

  • http://mainelymadge.typepad.com madge

    Great post!

    Three years ago, while I was pregnant, my husband was almost killed. He made a miraculous recovery and all the while, spent every single day with his daughter. Then last year he went back to school and was gone almost 24/7. It was torture for all of us.

    Now I’m pregnant again and he has been offered a spot to return to the school for another year. We’ve decided that the gift he was given in spending so much time with our daughter is not one he wants to deprive himself of with the new baby. Because I work from home, he had the freedom to choose and he has chosen to focus on fatherhood and family.

    These kids who have both parents around are amazingly lucky. I wish this same good fortune could be given to more people.

  • Sally

    Off the subject of Steve Irwin…but on the subject of golf…When I first met my husband, I was very disappointed to discover he was a golf freak. When it was obvious we were going to be spending the rest of our lives together, I realized that this was something that I couldn’t change (nor did I want to). He plays at least once a week, rain or shine, most weeks out of the year. Frankly, it’s a measly 4+ hours, early Saturday morning (he usually leaves so early that my daughter and I are usually asleep) and he’s home by noon. Then we have the rest of the day to spend together. I completely support it. If it makes him happy, then he’s a better father and husband as a result. It’s his passion. It’s his therapy.

    Now my daughter and I have discovered the joys of golf as well, and we play as a family. We even enjoy watching it on tv. GASP. Everyone needs “me time”. Life is short, so do what you love. Go ahead and play 9 holes if it makes you happy. Heather will be fine.

  • http://missinginiraq.blogspot.com MissingInIraq

    This is where I’m living – and have for nearly three years. I am the single parent now, the one left behind. But I also have no regrets about the time I had with my husband, no words left unsaid, none I shouldn’t have spoken. And we were always aware of what we had; it was a fantastic life.

    It’s that awareness that matters, and you have it.

  • http://www.jeremyhanks.com JerCore

    Very well put. I used to ice climb and do other pretty risky things. When I got married, I sold all my gear and gave it up. Only to buy everything again and get back into it a year later. But then when we had our daughter 3 years after that, things took on a new meaning. The thing I loved to do more than anything fell away to realizing that my new passion was my wife and my brand new child and spending time with them.

    So I sold everything yet again, and haven’t gone back. I know do a lot of hiking, and most of the time, my 2 1/2 year old daughter and my 2 month old son are with me. Mom even comes more and more. I still get out on extended trips just for me twice a year, but I think what you said is right on. What I found is a transformation so that now, most of the time I’m faced with a choice, I’ll choose family over myself. It’s actually pretty amazing when I think of it, and to realize I’ve reached that place. Didn’t happen at any point of time, but it’s been an evolution. A great one.

    Thanks for the insights!

  • http://simzgirl.com/ simzgirl

    Very well said. I am currently 25 weeks pregnant and worry every day about having to raise my daughter alone. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  • BillB

    You’re the man, Jon. I can’t tell you how much these comments hit home with me. As a 33 year old diabetic, and a father of a two year-old, I often think about my own mortality and how not being in the best possible diabetic health could someday impact my wife and son. You’re brave to take steps to make sure you’re in a position to enjoy every day with Leta and Heather.

  • http://www.k1969.blogspot.com k.

    Very nice post. My husband came home to work nearly a year ago. If I think two weeks down the road, I still sometimes freak out, but on a day by day basis, we so far have everything we need.

    Somedays I get to thinking that a second car, or a cruise vacation, or even a fabulous pair of boots would be great. But not one of those things is worth giving up our two year son’s nap on his dad’s chest in the middle of the afternoon. Or forgoing our coffee break together on the front porch swing in the morning.

    I think in a post 9/11 world, there is a bit of a sense of “tomorrow may never come”. That is amplified for us by personal experience. My husband’s parents lived by the old paradigm: worked hard all their lives and deferred their dreams to the magical day they would retire, only to become ill and die within a few years of it happening.

    I agree with you that facing down the worst case scenario has a way of taking you down to what’s really important.

    Funny, Steve Irwin drove me crazy, but I was touched by his death too. We all hope to go before our children, but not before they are through needing us.

    k.

  • Amy

    Well said! I find that too often people ask me “Why don’t you do (insert hobby here) anymore?” The easy answer is that my marriage and raising my daugher (she’s 4) take up time I would have previously spent on whichever hobby. Some hobbies, I simply don’t care enough about any more to keep up with. Some, I might get back too once my time is more available. Right now? I’ll focus on my husband and my daughter because they give me so much more reward than any hobby ever has.

  • http://q.t_pihotmail.com Jezzie

    conservative comment redux:

    Ö”Jon, I know Heather must have her reasons for leaving the comments closed, but can I just say well played, my good man, well played.
    Chivalry is not dead, you are one of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure of comming in contact with. Thats not ass kissing, I just think if my son grows up to be anything like you, I will have done a good job.”
    it bears repeating, as this post so obviously proves me right!

  • http://bookworm12.blogspot.com/ bookworm

    It sounds like you know what (who) is most important to you, and are willing to do what it takes to make sure they know that they are the most important thing in your life. It’s a difficult line to walk, but it seems you walk it well.

    You have a wonderful family that you obviously love and appreciate very much. I’m so happy for you all that you have the opportunity to spend so much time with them, whatever you decide to do with that time.

  • Thirsty Gator

    Good for you — we all know too many men who equate keeping score at the bank with being a good father. There are only so many hours in a day and days in a lifetime (or in you daughter’s childhood) and no one will wish on their deathbed that they had spent more of them as a wageslave (no matter how high that wage might be).

  • Nicole

    When you write: “in our house if I were gone every weekend with the boys, that wouldnít fly”, I really hope for both your sakes that Heather isn’t dictating which hobbies you do or do not take an interest in. Doing/not doing something for another person will only bite you in the ass down the road. I agree with Sally, 4+ hours on a Saturday morning should not be a big deal to any wife, even one with a toddler to chase after. If it’s just the game she doesn’t like, she doesn’t have to join you.

  • http://aredeaf.blogspot.com Coelecanth

    Very well said.

    As a person contemplating fatherhood in the near future Steve Irwin’s death shook me too. I think about death, my own and others, a great deal. I used to wear a lot of black back in the day, go figure.

    There’s a standard thing that couples say to each other: “I can’t live without you.” Tragically, sometimes such statements get put to the test. Most of the time “I can’t live without you.” is a lie. We struggle, suffer and carry on as best we can and the people who already recognize that life is a series of choices, of shifting priorities, survive best.

    The only other thing I can add is that change is inevitable. I don’t enjoy the same activities as I did when I was 20, even without having a young child. This has nothing to do with growing up though. Conscious change, a re-ordering of priorities, is the hallmark of an adult. What your footgear is and what activities you pursue are just details.

  • http://www.blurbomat.com blurb

    Nicole, I think you might have missed my point. It’s not that anybody is dictating anything to me. It’s that I want to include my family, not exclude them.

  • nobody

    Here’s some unlovely advice for every parent commenting here: life insurance. Term is pretty cheap.

    My wife curses me every time she writes the check, and I’m hoping she’ll never bless me for it, but it’s there if we need it.

    Tomatoes ready? Commence throwing . . . NOW!

  • DrKoob

    John,

    You are absolutely right on. My kids are grown and moved out but I worry about my daughter as she starts her family as her husband is a state trooper.

    And Nobody you are also exactly right. Life insurance is a must for any parent. If you don’t have it, get it! Term is cheap. Get it on the web or locally but get it.

  • http://miniaturerose.blogspot.com Rose

    What a beautiful essay! Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  • keagansmom

    Nicely done, Jon. Bravo.
    Heather and Leta are lucky to have you.

  • tk

    Wow, you made me cry. I’ve often been moved by some of the stuff written by both you and Heather. I think this one particularly hits home because I have major issues with depression as well and while I don’t have children, I’ve been in that very desparate and horrible state where just getting through the next 10 minutes is the hardest thing in the world. I too have been hospitalized for my depression. In fact, I think that is one of the reasons I likely won’t have kids. As much as I’d love the experience of being pregnant and having a child and while I think I’d be a good mother, the thought of the possibility of post-partum depression as well as the thought of possibly passing this on to a child is too much to consider.

    I really admire your position on wanting to do activities that include your family rather than strongly sticking to a position of it’s “my time” and “I’m entitled to it”. It really seems like you’ve got a great handle on this and I’m sure that if it was something that was a huge issue you and Heather would work it out. I completely love your attitude about marriage and your family. It’s rare and I admire you for it.

    TK

  • happy

    It’s not romantic. But insurance says I love you and want to help take care of our family regardless of what may come. It’s the real world and you never know what might happen. I do know.

  • http://cowjumpmoon.blogspot.com Shalini

    I was very upset yesterday about Steve Irwin’s passing away.

    Making time for family is so rare here. I see men and women zooming off for these careers, and it’s a double edged sword; while you want to applaud ppl for high profile careers and things of that sort, you also wonder about their families and if they are getting the best of both parents as well.

    I think new parents as well as grandparents can take a page from you.

  • http://dooce.migrantroo.com minxlj

    Jon, you’ve got this fatherhood thing down to a T, and it sounds like you were made for the job! Seriously, sharing your thoughts on it will probably make a few other people think about their family and the future, and that’s a cool thing. I don’t have any kids yet, not sure if I ever will do, but it’s good to think about the impact they would make on my life and what that means to me. You’ve got a fantastic opportunity with Leta – and Heather – and it’s nice to hear you sharing it.

  • Mark7r0n

    That is awesome. I think you have perfectly summed up what it is to be a good husband and father. I am printing this out to put in my journal so I can make sure I remember all of this post. Thanks

  • http://www.davegannon.com dhgatsby

    Blurb, thought-provoking post. thank you. I just got married and I think about that a lot – doing things together. I want to find more fun, enriching activities to do as a couple and many times just watching TV is good enough for her. I think the “sacrifices” you are making are more about your awareness than the actual act. Irwin’s passing is very sad and opens up our minds – the ones that DO have that awareness. DG

  • http://www.lunacyforbeginners.com jamie

    Every father (or any male planning on being one one day) needs to read what you wrote and know that that is what is important when it comes down to it.

    Thanks.

  • Dawn

    Wow! I was so touched by what you wrote….I love everything that you and Heather write and every morning before my daughter wakes up I am checking both sites for a new post….This post rocked me to the core and I sent the link to my husband….You could not have said it better! Thank you for starting my day off with a spiritual leap!

  • Lane Meyer

    Powerful entry. It moved me to tears. Thanks for taking the time to write the things you do. You have and will continue to make a difference in people in their day to day lives, many of them not even seeing the connection…
    Thanks, Jon.

  • Teeny225

    Isn’t it funny how Steve Irwin’s death has affected so many people. Leta and Heather are lucky to have you – my husband-to-be has to be forcibly removed from the golf course! Great post.

  • Nicole

    I hear ya, and I didn’t mean to sound rude (just matter of fact). I guess I’m just one of those selfish, in need of “me time” kind of people. Hey, at least I admit it, right?

  • CJ mama

    Jon,
    I love what you wrote and agree with you on most points; however, I think having an activity that you do in moderation that makes you feel alive and is just for you sets a wonderful example for kids (particularly girls who might become moms). You’re showing them that it is ok to occasionally put themselves first. I took up running again in the last year (after my 2nd child) and quit putting everything (job, kids, husband) always ahead of myself. It’s been amazing.

  • http://www.monkeythoughts.com monkey

    I learned right away, especially with my lovely deathbed scare when my oldest son wasn’t even 2 yet, that I had to place the interests of the family over my own. Like the guy in “Daddy Types”, there are things I won’t do now that I have kids because I don’t want something to happen. But that doesn’t mean I’m missing out in life. It just means I re-evaluate and choose other activities. Heck, when I was out of high school, I majored in theatre. Then yada yada yada, I had my first a month before I turned 21 and realized there’d be no way I could put in the days from 8AM – 1AM (that was often the case- school, work, and shows) AND still be there for my son. So I re-evaluated and became a computer geek instead :-)

  • http://therodebachers.blogspot.com Elle

    Thanks for this, Jon. I’m 7 months pregnant with our first child and my husband and I have been talking about the importance of balance between his, mine and our time in order to have a healthy family life. I really enjoy reading the perspectives that you and Heather provide. It’s a tad weird to want to model your parenting after people you’ve never met, but I find myself turning to you two as not only parents that have survived, but thrived. Leta and Chuck are lucky kids.

    On the life insurance note that a few posters have mentioned. Yes, it isn’t romantic and can be a little morose, but we both have it so that in the event something as random as a stingray stabbing you in the heart happens the one left behind will have the ability to care for our little one.

  • http://www.omarphillips.net omar

    After having two babysitters leave to seek full-time employment, we had to start putting my kid in daycare last week. The issue of time spent with the family has come up quite a bit recently. I don’t get to see as much of my son as I’d like, so I appreciate that you don’t take your opportunity for granted.

  • tinker

    My husband and I (brand new husband) have suffered some, only some, of the same issues you and Heather have… and I wonder, how do/have you done it? Have you stayed so strong? How have you not been overwhlemed by what is depression? How can you be a constant support and not become overwhlemed by what my husband and I have named the vacuum… the vacuum of depression? Do you have some sort of armor that depression cannot break through? Are you some sort of superhero that severe emotions cannot touch?
    I know that my husband and I would love a blog or something about how you maintain when Heather is struggling, or when you struggle, or even if you do.
    I cannot imagine that there are not other people out there who may wonder the same thing.
    Just hoping for some love…
    Tinker

  • KK

    This is a really wonderful post. I’m going to share it with my husband and several other people. Thanks for making my morning.

    To be honest, part of the reason your post resonates with me is because it is similar to the way my husband has approached parenting (though not through the same motivation… I’m lucky in that I haven’t experienced PPD). I really wish that all mamas/wives got to experience something like this (a super devoted partner in life and parenting), because it makes the incredibly difficult job of parenting so much easier and much more enjoyable. If there were more men like you, engaged in their marriages, engaged in their parenting, imagine what it would do for our society. Wow.

    And to go off on another theme you touch on at times, this might be easier for more people if it were easier to be self-employed. (There are a lot of hurdles to jump, as you know, many of them financial.) More accessible/affordable healthcare is right up there.

    (Boy, that’s not where I thought this comment would go.)

  • http://www.paintingchef.com PaintingChef

    Your girls are so lucky to have you. That was really touching. Thank you.

  • http://www.amanda.veryzen.com Amanda B.

    I just can’t imagine the stress of living with me when I’m going through a really tough depressive episode. Thank God there are angels like Scott and like you to watch over us when we are lost and terrified.

    I’m just so proud for/of both of you.

  • http://www.troll-baby.com Karen Rani

    It’s a shame more parents don’t take this attitude. I think it is so important to continue to “date” Daren, as well as have my own interests. Happy, healthy parents make for a happy healthy family. Good on ya.

  • http://uppahand.livejournal.com/ uppahand

    I’ll bet if there were more fathers like you out there, the world would be a happier, more peaceful place. Your daughter is lucky to have you!

  • mdwhittaker

    what a lovely post. i do believe that the online adventures and musings of the family armstrong make me melt into tears more frequently than anything else i read. (that’s meant to compliment you, not to make me sound like a wimp.)

  • Onc Doc

    Jon’s post reminded me of all of the calculated risks we take in our lives and how having a family certainly amplifies the consequences of those risks. In my work I see families coping with the losing family members and have had to harden myself a bit.

    But there are always the patients who haunt you for some inexplicable reason, the ones who remind you that “you and I are no different other than the fact that you wake up every morning in a different house in the same city and that you happen to have a fatal disease that I do not have.” These are the people who remind me that luck has EVERYTHING to do with it, but that little sacrifices for the sake of our family may just tip the balance in our favor. These are the patients that helped me quit smoking- I just can’t afford to do it anymore.

  • Stacey

    Jon,

    Great post. I just wish we didn’t have to call them sacrifices – these choices we make for the enrichment of our families. I gladly put my ‘new clothes’ allowance on the table to pay for a movie with my son or skip the Starbucks on the way to my part-time job just to hear him tell me for the ten millionth time about the ‘funny cartoon he watched’. I especially appreciated your response to Nicole – pointing out that you are INcluding your family and not EXcluding them. Making the CHOICE to start a family means that you make changes. Be they financial or otherwise, they will happen. I can’t fathom telling my son he can’t try something just because it’s something I don’t or didn’t normally do. Who knows? I may find that I like it!
    Glad you’re feeling better, too.

  • http://lala.totsgo.com Lala

    that was very eloquent, beautiful even. I wish I could mean the same to my husband……

  • http://creatrix.blog.ca Creatrix

    It means a lot to me to hear about men who really commit to fatherhood. My childhood was a nightmare of abuse at the hands of a child-hating, vicious, sadistic father. I need to hear more from dads like you who actually love their kids. That’s an alien concept to me.

  • breathlss79

    Jon,
    While I think it’s really important to consider your family’s needs, I also think that seeing that my parents had interests besides just parenting me taught me something. I may not have liked hiking when I was a kid, but I started to love it as a teenager and now have my own relationship to it. I love it now because partly because it connects me to my parents, to my past. Every parent has to strike a balance, obviously, between the necessary sacrifice and compromise, the kind that even feels good, and being enough of your own person.

  • http://www.notesfromhalfland.blogspot.com nobledesign

    Oh my God, Jon. You are a Real Man. Halleluiah! Your choices are the unselfish ones, the dignified ones, the ones that make you a noble, honorable, admirable person. Thank God you are there.

  • http://annejelynn.blogspot.com/ Annejelynn

    one of my most favorite posts of yours yet

  • lionemom

    Jon,
    I have always felt, since I was a teenager, that when you have children it’s a lifetime committment. To clarify that, I believe that you make a committment to support that child for the rest of THEIR life (if you are around, at least.) You don’t know if they will be healthy, disabled, autistic, learning disabled, physically disabled, etc. So in my eyes, you take on the responsibility to provide for that child until they say they don’t need you to do so. Ideally, your kid grows up, moves out and makes a life for themself and no longer relies on you as their primary support (emotionally or financially). But even then, I feel like a person should always be prepared in case “disaster” strikes.

    There are a million things that could cause a child to come home to their parents – divorce, bankruptcy, injury, alcohol or drug problems….the list goes on. Excepting a situation where a family has to protect itself from being taken advantage of by a manipulating child, I think that as a parent, I take on the responsibility for that life that I CHOSE to bring into this world. Children don’t ASK to be born – that’s the bottom line.

    Accordingly, I also feel that if you do your job well as a parent, your children will feel that THEY OWE YOU for everything you did for them (unless they just have a damned attitude problem and a sense of entitlement!) 😉

    IMO, a parent should never feel like their children owe THEM something, be it taking care of them when they are old, getting them expensive holiday gifts…whatever! I just don’t feel that way about parenting.

    So I think I understand how you feel. I feel like when you have kids, they take precedence. I WANT to be like that. Which is why I have not yet had children. I am not ready to put myself after everyone else yet.

    Never doubt that you are a fantastic husband and father. You clearly try your hardest to be the best that you can at both of those and there is NOTHING better than that!!

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