Interview With a Trooper – Episode VIII

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted an interview segment (because reasons), so I figured I’d get another post on the wall. How’s everyone doing??

  1. What did you do for your last birthday? Idk, that was 7 months ago. I think the twins came over, we cooked out, and I had some celebratory drinks.
  2. What did you dress up as on Halloween when you were eight? Probably Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. Either way, I was winning.
  3. What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was very young, a baseball player. In high school, a teacher. In my 20’s, the best dad possible. In the 30’s…same. Now, in my 40’s, I want to go back to my childhood.
  4. What do you call carbonated drink called? Call 911! I think the interviewer just had a stroke!
  5. What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?  Weird.
  6. What do you call your grandparents? I never met either of my grandfathers. Well, technically, that’s not true. One died before I was born, the other when I was two months old. So I did meet one of them, but I don’t remember it. Both of my grandmother’s I called grandma. Unoriginal, yes, but still loving.
  7. What do you consider unforgivable? Cheating, or any other form of betrayal from someone in whom you’ve placed trust.
  8. What do you dislike about living in your neighborhood? Nothing, so far. I mean, being this close to train tracks is somewhat annoying, but it’s not the end of the world.
  9. What do you do for a living? I do IT support in a K-12 school corporation.
  10. What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep? Toss and Turn? Try to get up and do something productive? I’ll normally either read or put on a movie I’ve seen a million times (like Star Wars) and eventually I’ll pass out.
  11. What do you do most when you are bored? Um, find something to do that isn’t boring. Duh.
  12. What do you find yourself always procrastinating? Procrastination.
  13. What do you like about your home? The roof is nice. It keeps out the rain.
  14. What do you love about living in your neighborhood? Um…IDK. It’s a neighborhood. I just live here.
  15. What do you love about your favorite TV Show? I don’t really have a favorite TV show. I don’t really have favorites of anything.
  16. What do you think about more than anything else? I’m trying not to think about anything these days. It keeps me from despair.
  17. What do you think about the most? Well, right now I’m thinking…how is this question any different than the one before it, and how it’s not, and that this is a stupid question.
  18. What does your name mean? It means I answer when someone says it.
  19. What drains your energy? What doesn’t? I haven’t had much energy at all these past few months. Hopefully, that will change as I recover from surgery.
  20. What dreams have you given up on as unrealistic? Having a child who doesn’t talk back.
  21. What female celebrity do you wish was your sister? Uh….I don’t know. I’ve never wished for another sibling. My family is already big as it is.
  22. What flavor of tea do you enjoy? I don’t really like tea. I pity the fool.
  23. What has been the hardest thing for you to face or learn? Hell, I don’t know. Even if you narrowed that question down to the last six months I couldn’t pick just one thing so much shit has been happening.
  24. What has required the most courage of you in your life so far? Walking away from my first marriage, methinks.
  25. What inspires you? I don’t know if inspired is the right term, but my children keep me motivated. Without them I don’t know what would keep me going.
  26. What is a strange occurrence you’ve experienced but have never (or rarely) shared with anyone? That my first wife used suicide as a tool to keep me from leaving her. I’ve written about it at length here, but it’s not something I shared with many people in real life. For some reason, I still feel a bit of shame about the whole ordeal.
  27. What is an ideal first date for you? Not having one.
  28. What is at the top of your bucket list? Creating a bucket list.
  29. What is good about how you are living your life right now? So far I have not given into despair.
  30. What is hard about being a parent? EVERYTHING.
  31. What is hard about not being a parent? NOTHING. I mean, that’s probably not true, but I’ve been a parent so long I can’t remember what it was like to NOT be a parent.
  32. What is on the walls of the room you are in? Pictures. I am surrounded by family pictures. I love it.
  33. What is one guilty pleasure you enjoy too much to give up? Coffee?
  34. What is one of the worse things that could happen to you? It already happened, I think.
  35. What is one thing that you’ve never revealed to your parents? See question 26…
  36. What is one thing you’d rather pay someone to do than do yourself? Why? Move. I hate moving and have moved way too many times in my life.
  37. What is something about yourself that you hope will change, but probably never will? How easily irritated I sometimes can be.
  38. What is something most people don’t know about you? Me and Vader hang out and play Texas Hold ‘Em every Saturday night.
  39. What is something that amazes you? How people keep defending Trump and the actions of the GOP somehow blocking witnesses to his impeachment trial.
  40. What is something that scares you that you would never ever try? Jumping out of a plane. Or even flying in one.
  41. What is something you are gifted at? Sarcasm.
  42. What is something you look for in a partner? A sense of humor.
  43. What is something you wish you were gifted at doing? Writing.
  44. What is something you’ve never done that you’d like to try? Winning the lottery.
  45. What is the best compliment you have ever received? You’re a good father.
  46. What is the best part of your job? There’s a lot of things I like about it. The camaraderie with those I work with. Interacting with the students (most of the time). The freedom I have to run the network as I deem best and the trust that’s been given to me to do so. The list goes on.
  47. What is the farthest-away place you’ve been? Bentonville, Arkansas. That was an interesting trip…
  48. What is the first amusement park you’ve been to? Six Flags over Georgia, I think.
  49. What is the first app you check when you wake up in the morning? Depends on which notification is at the top of the list.
  50. What is the first book you remember reading? One of the Hardy Boys novels. When I was in middle school I read a bunch of those books.

The Apple and The Tree

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, the old saying goes. It’s an obvious statement, of course. Unless an apple tree is at the top of a hill any apple that falls from it isn’t going far at all.

My tree has dropped three apples, so to speak. None of them have fallen far from the tree. To be frank, I’d bet money the genetic engineers of Jurassic Park cloned my “apples” directly from me if I didn’t know better. I can see my likeness in their jokes, their intelligence, their behaviors, and their personalities. But nothing quite dissected how similar we are until I read a short essay today.

I was talking with Baby B about meds and school when he mentioned an essay he needed to turn in for English tomorrow was finished. I inquired more about it and found out that the topic he’d chosen for this essay was mental health. I asked if I could read it and he acquiesced.

And I was blown away.

I was taken by the content of his essay. It could easily have been written by me. It was like staring into a mirror and seeing my reflection, yet somehow knowing that the person staring back wasn’t truly me. Moreover, I was taken by how well-written his essay is. It’s not that I doubt his talents, but when I was his age I wasn’t quite as crafty with words as I am now (and I still have some of my senior writing projects to prove it). I was impressed by his articulation, punctuation, and vocabulary. I saw a bit of my own writer’s voice in his piece.

I asked B if he minded if I shared his essay here. For a couple of reasons. The first? I’m very proud of what he’s written and, like any proud parent, I want to show off what he’s done. The second reason is far more important, though. Just three days ago B was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I’d had him evaluated because in the last few months I’d noticed some erratic moods in him – the same sort of moods I used to have before I began taking meds. That was it, though. That was the only reason I could offer his doctor when I asked to have him evaluated. This essay, however, lays out all the things I didn’t know. All the things he’s suffered in silence. All the things he’d kept to himself despite knowing both mom and dad fight similar wars.

I want this to be read by any parent who has been diagnosed with depression. I want those parents to know that your child may be suffering even if he/she isn’t outwardly showing any symptoms of depression. Depression is genetic. My mom has it. I have it. At least two of my three boys have it. My message to parents with depression is this: have your child evaluated for depression and anxiety even if you see no symptoms. My only clue was mood swings, but that was but one grain of sand on a mighty beach. In the past week I’ve discovered that beach and I’ve been hard on myself for having never seen it before.

Please learn from my fail.

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”  Robin Williams said that. On August 11, 2014, millions mourned his passing as he took his own life. The world knew him to be one of the funniest men to grace the earth with his presence, and yet, even he could not escape the ever-tightening grip of depression.

Looking back, I first began to exhibit symptoms of this ominous mental illness in sixth grade, long before I could even comprehend the idea of depression. My motivation to perform important, even trivial tasks plummeted. I was eating less, I became antisocial and morose. My family was always there to help me, but I pushed them away, drove a wedge between me and everyone else around me. In the following years, I picked up habits that have both hindered and helped me, but after consulting with the voices in my head, I can now confidently state that my mental health, or lack-thereof, is the worst and best part of me.

Music has played a prominent role in my life for as long as I can remember.  When I first became overwhelmed with sadness the only thing I desired, other than someone to guide me toward happiness, was to drown myself in music. I walked through the halls of (my middle school) with my headphones blaring mellow acoustic rock. My classmates noticed at times that I was distant. Often, my peers heard my music and immediately came to the conclusion that wistful music was causing my unprecedented mood swings. It was quite the contrary though. Indeed, I did listen to sad music, but on a certain level, the lyrics resonated with me. It helped me realize that I was not the only one pushing through life with a weight on my chest. It was not until my sixth-grade year was coming to an end that I was presented an opportunity to learn to play guitar. I had little motivation to do anything, but this felt different. It gave me the chance to be a part of the music that had been counseling me so often. Music spoke to me and I spoke through music. Every song was like a therapy session.

Writing has become a recently developed tool I use to cope. I began writing in my sophomore year of high school. I was not outstanding, however the quality of my work was not my focus. Content is where I lived. I wrote how I felt, indirectly. Symbolism was rampant in everything I wrote. In this, I was able to create alternate realities, where I could be someone else. I had to become the characters I wrote about or the piece did not feel real.

Depression did not only affect how I conducted my life in the physical world around me, it also greatly changed my outlook on life; not for the better. I often fantasized of ways my life might end on a particular day. Not suicide. Suicide, to me, always stuck out as a coward’s way out. See, I wasn’t trying to die, I just was not making a conscious effort to stay alive. Most days were spent adrift in thought, thinking of how other’s lives might be better if I was not in them. My parents both struggle with joint custody ever since they separated. Being in the middle, trying to appease both parents has been more than stressful for many years. Often times, I wondered if they would be better off with me not around. Around this time, I developed one of my favorite coping mechanisms: sarcasm. My teachers and classmates were not as enthusiastic about it as I was though. It is not a healthy way to cope by any means, but it brings a sense of humor to otherwise morbid situations.

To others, I may seem insensitive. In reality, I have gained a rather sensitive outlook toward others. Having experienced the feeling of worthlessness, it brings me almost to tears when anyone around me is in a state of anguish. I try my hardest to make everyone feel confident in themselves; to never let anyone else’s opinion bring them down. Furthermore, it has forced me to take a step back from all situations before making a decision. I have become more aware of other people’s feelings, with an understanding of society as a whole, not just life from my perspective and people like me. Everyone is fighting their own battles. What may seem trivial to one person, might feel like the end of the world to another. It depends on where you come from and how you grew up. Everyone experiences stress in different ways.

Just a few days ago, I was officially diagnosed. Of course, living with depression has a special way to make a person believe they are at fault for any wrongs in their life. It was a relief to be told that I am not to blame for my mental instability. After speaking with my doctor extensively on the matter, my parents and I decided that it was best that I take medication to help balance the chemicals in my brain. Depression revealed the best part of me. Now, moving forward, I can still be the caring person I have learned to be, without the crushing density of hopelessness weighing me down.

Faded Blue Genes

I walked into the dining room and saw a Wendy’s cup sitting on the table where my twins sat eating. I hadn’t been to Wendy’s that day, and Baby A had been with me all day. Baby B had just gotten home from an 8-hour shift at work, so I was a bit perplexed to find it there.

“Where did the Wendy’s cup come from?” I inquired.

“Wendy’s,” Baby B deadpanned.

My face automatically twisted into the parental look one gets when one’s child is being a smartass. The boys laughed, relishing that they had gotten ol’ dad. “It’s like talking to yourself, isn’t it?” Baby B joked.

“Oh, shut up,” I snapped. But B was right. That is exactly something I would say. My boys are a lot like me and in most ways that pleases me. But not all.

The boys worked with me again this summer. Though working with your children can sometimes be infuriating, I loved it. I got to spend a lot of time with them and observe how they interact with others and teach them new skills. Being able to guide them in a professional environment and not just at home has been a gratifying experience.

For years I’ve worried that some of the demons who lurk in my genes may have slipped away 18 years ago and hidden inside my boys. Afterall, I inherited my demons from my mother, who in turn inherited them from someone further up her family tree. I’ve also worried that their mother had passed on some of her struggles to my boys. I don’t know that their mom has ever officially been diagnosed, but there was a period in time when she was extremely suicidal and made at least one attempt.

I’ve kept a steady eye out for symptoms, but up ’til now hadn’t seen any. My boys are surprisingly well-adjust for all they’ve been through. Of course, a lot of the shit they endured happened before they were seven, so they’ve had ample time to recover. Plus, they may not even remember a lot of the things that happened since they were so young.

This summer, I noticed the first signs of what might be depression in Baby B. His moods were a bit erratic. Some days he’d be extremely irritable. Others he’d be in a fantastic mood. Sometimes the slightest thing would set him off. Sometimes he’d make self-depreciating jokes. I’d wonder about those jokes. Does he truly think so little of himself or is he just trying to make us laugh? When I do it it’s a combination of both.

I went back and forth about saying something to him about it. We’d had talks about mental health in the past. I’d told the boys about my struggles with depression. I had my mom talk with them about her struggles with bipolar disorder. Their mom never told them about her struggles (other than to tell them she takes an antidepressant) so I told them about her suicide attempt, and that of their aunt – not to hurt them or belittle their loved ones, but so they know the consequences of mental illness left untreated.

About a month ago my brother and his family came over to the house. As we sat in the living room talking, Baby B began to tell a story (about what I can no longer recall), but he stuttered a bit as he conveyed it. In my family that’s grounds for ridicule. We laugh at each other often. If you fuck up you better be prepared to be crucified. It’s all done with love, of course.

So as B stuttered over his story my brother and his wife gave B a hard time about it. B knows how this goes. He typically takes it as well as he gives it out, but not on this day. He snapped at my brother, which is extremely out of character for him. I told B to calm down and that he should be used to how these types of family gatherings unfold. I also decided at that point that the next time B and I were alone we were going to have a talk about depression.

When I finally fell low enough to seek out assistance from my doctor for my mental issues five years ago I learned that mood swings and irritability were the most common symptoms of depression in men. Of course, I haven’t actually fact-checked that, but that’s what my doctor told me. I had no clue otherwise I’d have probably sought help much sooner. Anyhow, it was these symptoms I’d been witnessing in my sweet boy. I was seeing in him the same things with which I struggle. And the next time he and I were alone, I told him so.

“Have you noticed these things about yourself?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

I informed him we were going to talk to his doctor about this the next time we were in for an appointment, which coincidentally, was only a few weeks away as the twins’ annual checkup was scheduled already.

Last Saturday we went for the boy’s checkup. After their physical, the doctor asked if I had any concerns, and that’s when I laid them out for him. I told the doctor what I’d noticed in B and that there were mental health diagnoses on both sides of the family tree.

“So you’re only noticing these things in Baby B, right? Baby A isn’t showing any symptoms?” their doctor asked.

“Correct,” I answered, absolutely sure of my answer.

“Actually, that’s not true,” Baby A interrupted.

I turned to him, shocked. Baby A continued.

“I deal with anxiety a lot. I’m nervous all the time,” A explained.

I was baffled. I’d never, ever noticed this behavior in Baby A. He’s always so calm and easy-going. His feathers never seem to get ruffled. Though he seems somewhat apathetic at times, he’s usually in a fairly good mood.

Their doctor told me he’d send home some surveys for both anxiety and depression that we’d need to fill out and return to the office. That night the three of us sat at the kitchen table and answered the surveys their doctor had provided.

We were quite busy that weekend, as the annual Out of the Darkness walk was Sunday, so I didn’t get to review the self-surveys the boys had filled out until Monday night. What I read, quite frankly, broke my heart. It also showed me I don’t know them as well as I thought I did.

It appears that both of my boys struggle with self-worth. They both spend an inordinate amount of time wondering if they’re good enough, though Baby A seems to have a bit of a bigger issue with it. They both just…struggle. It’s very clear by their answers that depression and anxiety have snuck into their minds and made themselves at home. Though it looks like Baby A has more of an issue with anxiety than B does, and B has more of an issue with depression than A does.

I sat there for a few minutes fighting back tears, which might seem a bit melodramatic to some. Depression is not a death sentence. Neither is anxiety. However, the fact that I had not noticed these things about my children made me feel like a failure. That they hide these things about themselves didn’t matter; I still felt like shit for not knowing. Of course, they learned from the best. I am a master at cloaking my emotions. I could be on the edge of losing it all and most people would never know. In fact, when I confessed to a coworker recently that I’d spent much of the past two years medicating myself with alcohol he was shocked. He’d not been able to tell anything was awry.

Knowing this didn’t ease my guilt at all. And what cut the deepest is knowing that two of the people I love most in this world see no value in themselves. In my mind, I know that no matter what I do nothing will change that. In my mind, I know that that is the nature of this illness. I know that no matter how much I tell them or show them I love them there will still be a voice in their heads whispering into their soul that they’re not good enough. But my heart didn’t care. It was broken all the same.

I reached out to my sons. I told them I had reviewed their surveys. I apologized to them that they’d inherited my weakness. I implored them to talk to me if they ever found themselves in a desolate place. I assured them that they are not alone. I assured them that no matter where they find themselves that I have been there before and could readily understand. I also assured them that I love them and that I would get these surveys to the doctor as quickly as I could so that we could get them treated as quickly as possible.

I’ve struggled all week. Friends have assured me that I’d done a great job by having them evaluated and catching it now. It’s great that you’re getting them treated. You’re a great father.

I can’t hear any of that bullshit. I’m still beating myself up about not knowing. If not for B’s moodiness I’d still be none-the-wiser. And though I know that my boys can, and hopefully will, live long, fulfilling lives despite struggling with depression and anxiety, I still am a bit heartbroken that they’ll fight a war inside themselves for the rest of their lives. Depression doesn’t go away. It may take an occasional break. It may offer brief respites. But it always, always comes back. And this makes me sad. I didn’t want this for them. I wanted them to have a better life than I’ve had. They still can, but it’ll be a challenge.

Their doctor called me yesterday afternoon and said we need to come back in to talk about the surveys. He wants to sit down with both of the boys and discuss their answers. The earliest appointment he had was Tuesday. I’ve already told my boss I won’t be in.

We’ll see where we go from here.


The Struggle

h3dk9Being a parent is hard. At least, it is if you actually care about your children. It involves making tough decisions. It strains your patience. It cripples your style. Being a parent is also rewarding. Feeling the unconditional love of a child is absolutely amazing. Watching them grow into a human being you can be proud of is profoundly gratifying.

Unfortunately, at this moment, I’m stuck in a ditch on the parental road.

A little under a year ago, I moved towns so I could enroll Baby C in the same elementary school that the twins had attended. They had a great experience there. They had great teachers. They brought home amazing report cards and left the 5th grade with some sort of Presidential recognition reward for their academic achievements. I wanted C to have that same experience. I wanted him to enjoy that same success.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Before he even began kindergarten this year I knew my parental journey with C would be different from that with the twins. C has more energy than a chihuahua with Mountain Dew in his water bowl. He’s like a possessed electronic device that stays on even after pulling the plug from the wall. His attention span is shorter than that of our sitting president.

In short, I knew there would be some challenges.

On meet the teacher night I tried to explain to his teacher that C would likely have trouble staying in his seat and focusing. I’d noticed these things at home. I was not prepared, though, for just how challenging this would be.

Not long after the school year began I started receiving notes from C’s teacher about his behavior. Not only was C exhibiting the behavior I knew he would, but he was defiant and aggressive, too. C doesn’t handle it well when things don’t go his way. He stomps. He yells. He cries. When it was time to do his work he flatly refused. It was an ordeal to get him to follow any sort of direction. I was on a first-name basis with his teacher.

His mother and I decided to take action. We took him to the doctor and had him evaluated for ADHD. We had a meeting with his teacher and a “behavior specialist.” We decided on a plan. We got him medication. We waited for results.

Initially, C had a positive reaction to the medication. Incidents at school were less frequent. About a couple of weeks later, though, the shit hit the fan.

C became extremely aggressive after a couple of weeks on the meds. He was hitting and pushing other kids at school. He was having epic meltdowns in the classroom. He even yelled at me one day after school. That was what got me on the phone with his doctor. Sure, a young boy yelling at his father sounds normal, but it wasn’t for C. He’d never yelled at me before. He’d never even shown anger toward me before.

We took him off the meds and continued with the rest of our plan. Rewards for good behavior. A behavior chart. Constant talk about making good decisions. Yada yada.

Shortly after Christmas Break I received an email from C’s teacher stating that C had escaped the school that morning and they had to organize a team to find him because no one knew where he was. They found him shortly after, but she wanted me to have a talk with him about the dangers of leaving the school.

I replied to her email after composing myself. It would do no good for me to rant and rave angrily. Besides, having worked at a school corporation for over two years now I realize just how difficult a job teachers have. When I responded, I suggested that we needed more help from the school. I told her the things going on weren’t fair to C or his classmates. C wasn’t getting the help he needed and his classmates were having their learning disrupted. I also inquired (politely) how the fuck a 6-year-old boy can walk out of the school without a single adult noticing.

At that point I’m guessing the teacher felt a little in over her head because the response I received was from the “behavior specialist.” She informed me that C did not actually get out of the building, but tried to. She stopped him. Allegedly. She also told me that a staff member was visiting C twice a day to help him with his struggles.

I told her she needed to get her story straight with the teacher and asked her to provide feedback from this staff member who is supposedly seeing my son twice a day.

In her response she admitted to “miscommunicating” the events of the morning in question and offered me no feedback from the staff member. In fact, she offered no response at all to that question.

The next day I decided to drive C to school myself. While waiting for drop-off to commence, I gestured to the doors that C may or may not have escaped through. I asked him if he got out of those doors the other morning. Yes. How far did you get? He pointed to a spot about 20 yards from the doors. Did (the “behavior specialist”) stop you? No.

I was livid. Then it occurred to me that the “behavior specialist” was probably lying about the help C is allegedly receiving. I asked him if there was another teacher who came and visited him throughout the day. No.

Game over. I’m done. Fuck this.

I was upset that C had gotten out of the building under their supervision, but was prepared to let it go. Shit happens when a handful of adults are trying to reign in hundreds of miniature humans. I get it. Hell, C ended up in the ER a few months ago after busting his head open and I was no more than 20ft away. BUT…don’t lie to me about your fuck up. Had she said something like, “It was an oversight,” or, “the person watching the door was distracted by another student,” I would have understood. It can happen. Easily. But don’t play CYA with me because you’re afraid of ending up on Channel 12. That’s not me. I’m not looking to embarrass anybody. I’m just trying to do what’s best for my son. And when I lost trust in the school, I no longer felt comfortable sending him there. What else were they prepared to lie about?

The next day I approached the Superintendent of the school corporation I work for. I told him that I was planning on moving in-state so that C could enroll there, but also asked if I could enroll him that day and let him attend while I searched for a place to live.

Thankfully, he said yes.

C has still had some struggles since moving to his new school, but the frequency is far less than it was before. Furthermore, I am friends with the principal and the staff there (since I have been working with them for 2 years now) and I have complete faith that they will put C in the best position to succeed. I feel confident that I have made the best decision possible for C, even if it has come at a cost to me.

Tomorrow I will officially reside in my 5th state (not counting Confusion, Denial, and Fear, obviously). I will be moving back to the northern side of the Ohio River, but this time it will be in Indiana. It still hasn’t really sunk in that I’ll be *gulp* a Hoosier. I’ve lived in a lot of different places, but I’ve been living in Northern Kentucky for the last 20 years. I had no designs of ever leaving the area.

The downside to all of this isn’t the move to a different state, though. It will mean a significant loss of time with the twins.

While my new place is really only a 30 minute drive away, seeing them will prove difficult simply because they’re 17. They have one year of school left and they do NOT want to change schools. As someone who attended 2 different elementary schools, 3 different middle schools, and 4 different high schools, I get that. Man, do I ever get that. And I want them to finish at their current school. However, they also have lives of their own now. They have jobs. They have girlfriends. They have extra-curricular activities. It’s just not feasible to spend an hour of the evening driving just to pick them up, especially when they have different schedules. So, unless their mother concedes some of her weekend time to me, I will only be seeing my twins every other weekend.

Now, I have rationalized this to myself by telling myself that they’re nearly adults now and they don’t really need me for much anymore. And that’s true. They both have pretty good heads on their shoulders and, quite honestly, have been a walk-in-the-park to raise. I have told myself that it’s about time for me to start letting go. And that also is true. They will be 18 in 9 months. I have explained to them that I’m moving and why, and they understand, because, hey, they’re great kids.

But despite all that I feel like I’m abandoning them. Of course, I’m not, but that’s how it feels.

I’ve had about a month and a half (and a whole lot of drinks) to deal with this and I still don’t know how to feel about it. I know that this is a critical time for C which will lay the foundation for the rest of his education. In that respect, in my mind, I do not regret what I’ve done. I also know that the twins need me more for guidance now than supervision, and that the only way this should affect them is emotionally in the form of missing C or, maybe, me. In my heart, however, I feel something completely different. I feel like I’ve cast them aside, though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, yes, the struggle is indeed real. And it fucking blows.

Runaway Train

newcoffeeIf we were having coffee you might raise an eyebrow at my SoCo and Coke. “I thought we were having coffee?” you might ask. To which I’d reply, “Coffee isn’t strong enough to help me face life.” Self-medication might not be healthy, but it helps me not to care that it’s not healthy. It also helps me cope with the struggles I face.

Working two jobs fucking blows. I have never felt so worn down. I am working 6 days a week. 40 hours at one job and 17 at the other. Any free time I have is spent with my children.

Well, with one of my children.

Baby C has had a disastrous start to his education. The ADHD I suspected he had going in to kindergarten has been confirmed with all the grace of a wrecking ball taking down a wall built with Legos. He has trouble focusing. He has trouble following direction. He’s disruptive in class. He has punched other students. He has kicked other students. He has spent entire afternoons with the “behavioral specialist.”

My son is brilliant. He has no problem learning the material in class. He knows his letters. He knows his sight words. He can count way past 100. I have to stop him simply because he’d count all day long and I have things to do. He knows his colors. He can sound words out.

What he can’t do is get past himself. Everything has to be his way or he simply loses his shit. He wears an imaginary crown and expects everyone else to bow down to his will. Some of this is typical 5-year-old behavior. Most of it is just inexplicable.

A month ago (or so) we scheduled an appointment with his doctor to have him evaluated for ADHD. We filled out forms. His teacher filled out forms. He was prescribed medication. The results have been less than spectacular.

Initially, he seemed to improve at school. The longer he’s been on the medication, however, the angrier he’s become. That’s when he started hitting other children at school. He began having outbursts of anger at home. Just today he’s yelled at me twice. It may not seem like a big deal, but he’s never, ever yelled at me before two days ago.

I’m done. I’m calling his doctor on Monday and demanding he be switched to a different medication.

One of the benefits of working at a school corporation is having access to hundreds of teachers who have dealt with every type of child one can encounter. They have a certified counselor on staff with whom I’ve been able to discuss Baby C’s difficulties. I have a medication in mind I want to try and a plan on how to attack C’s issues. While I’m thankful for that fighting this battle on top of everything else I’m going through is taking its toll on me.

If we were having coffee I’d confess I’m emotionally dead. I’ve unwittingly built a wall around myself and heartbreaks of the past have paid for it. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt anything, good or bad. I actually had a coworker say to me the other day, “You don’t ever talk to us.”

“I’m here to make money, not socialize,” was my response. Without hesitation. Without thought. And it’s true. I don’t have time for any of that bullshit. I’ve got shit to take care of. I’m there to earn a paycheck so I can catch up on my bills and have money to pay for the things my children need. I don’t have time for any kind of drama. I don’t want to listen to anyone bitching about their problems. I’ve got my own I’m trying to deal with.

The counselor I alluded to earlier told me that I was in survival mode when I confessed that I’d run out of empathy. My coworker is having similar problems with her 4-year-old. Unfortunately, I can’t muster up a shred of empathy for her. I just don’t give a shit. A part of me knows there’s something wrong with that. Unfortunately, I don’t give a shit.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that I’m tired of politics. I’m tired of listening to Trump spewing his idiotic rhetoric. I’m tired of his whining. I’m tired of the lies foaming from his orange mouth. I’m also tired of Hillary spewing her bullshit and acting like she’s got the interests of the regular American at heart. I can’t stand that she keeps bringing up Russia every time someone confronts her about the WikiLeaks emails instead of directly answering the questions. I don’t trust either one of those fools and I feel like no matter who wins we’re fucked. It’s an indictment of our democracy that these are the best two candidates our government could put forth.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that I’m fed up with all the clowns indignant because of NFL players kneeling during the anthem. The National Anthem and the American flag represent more than just our military. They represent our entire nation. Anyone who is confused by this doesn’t understand what the flag stands for. Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players taking a knee during the anthem are absolutely NOT disrespecting the military. They are simply trying to bring attention to the fact that an inordinate number of minorities are being slain by white police officers. That’s it. They are upset that veterans of our military aren’t getting the medical care they need after sacrificing their lives and bodies for their nation. They are upset that “liberty and justice for all” isn’t actually for all. I get that people are tuning into football to escape the shittiness of reality, but that doesn’t change the fact that their message needs to be heard and acknowledged. This is not a nation I’m proud of. Yes, it’s a better place to live than most, but let’s not act like it’s perfect. We are flawed. Not all men (or women) are treated equally. This is NOT the land of the free.

If we were having coffee I’d apologize for going on for so long, but explain that I’ve got a lot on my plate. I’d then open my ears to listen to anything you have to say. After all is said and done, I’d probably give you a hug and apologize for being so distant. I don’t mean to be, but that’s just how I feel. I’d tell you I hope you’re all doing well and that things are looking up for you. Then I’d go crawl back inside the hole I’ve been hiding in.

Make Mine an Irish

newcoffeeIf we were having coffee I’d take my steaming hot cup o’ joe and apply a liberal dose of Bailey’s. It’s been that kind of week.

If we were having coffee I’d inform you that I’ve been overwhelmingly busy at work. Normally I wouldn’t mind having so full a plate, but my coworker makes things exceedingly difficult. My coworker thrives on drama. When she walks in the office she flaunts all of her personal drama. We all have problems, but when I’m trying to work I don’t want to hear about them. There’s a time and a place for that. She’s also an extremely negative person. She bitches about everything. She’s short with people. She’s rude. I could go on, but I think that’s enough. I’m honestly at the end of my rope. It’s to the point that I actively search for reasons not to go to our office.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that the kids went back to school this past Wednesday. As Baby C is 5 years old, that means he started Kindergarten. When telling anyone in the preceding weeks that my wee baby would be starting Kindergarten I got all manner of awwwwww’s, but I didn’t think much of it. Afterall, I’ve sent three other children off to their first day of Kindergarten. However, as I waited by the front door of C’s school while his mom carried him across the parking lot during a monsoon-like downpour, his smile so wide it nearly split his lips, I choked up a little. He was sooooo happy to be there and these past three days his most asked question has been when he’ll be going back. He loves it so far and I hope his enthusiasm never wanes.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that the twins worked with me this past summer helping me repair laptops, prep iPads, and do all other sorts of IT related stuff that we do while the students are out for the summer. They did an amazing job for the most part, even though sometimes their knack for arguing over petty stuff sometimes drove me nuts. Hence the Bailey’s.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that the transmission went out in my car a few weeks ago, forcing me to trade it in for a new vehicle and pick up a car payment, which, in turn, forced me to pick up a second job. I start that second job this Tuesday, so it’ll probably be a long time before we’re able to have coffee again. Irish or otherwise.

If we were having coffee I’d inform you that, tired of feeling like a zombie and being chained to multiple bottles of pills, I stopped taking my medication a couple of months ago. I’ve noticed that my well of patience is much more shallow, but overall I’m doing okay. I don’t like how easily irritated I sometimes become, but better that than feeling dependant on medication that perpetually left me with zero fucks to give about almost anything while completely draining me of all motivation.

If we were having coffee I’d tell you that my former mother-in-law (C’s grannie) had a brain aneurism a couple of months ago. Fortunately, the amazing staff at UC Hospital was able to save her. Unfortunately, she suffered untold damage to her brain. When I first visited her she was very aware of what happened. She was lucid and we were able to have a normal conversation. When I visited her yesterday, however, her grip on reality wasn’t firm at all. I’m hoping this is a temporary setback. It was extremely difficult to hear some of the things she was saying, which made absolutely no sense at all. I didn’t know what to say, so I just nodded along and laughed at the appropriate times. What makes it even harder is that C seems to be a little afraid of her and didn’t really want to be there. I understand he doesn’t know what’s going on, but that doesn’t make it any easier to witness.

If we were having coffee I’d admit that I’ve finally run out of things to say and apologize for having gone on for far too long. Then I’d ask how you’re doing and listen to you talk about all the things, all the while feeling guilty for having blabbered about myself for so long. I’d get a second, and more than likely third, cup of Irish coffee, because, you know, you can’t just have one. And as the Bailey’s took hold we’d have all sorts of laughs and I’d probably get a little loud and a lot silly, because that’s what I do when I get my buzz on.

Finally, if we were having coffee I’d apologize for not being around. Like, at all. In order to preserve what little of my sanity I have left I’ve distanced myself from pretty much everyone, because my psyche can’t handle the drama that often-times comes with any kind of relationship. I’ve even gone as far as deleting all my social media accounts. I’d love to be a supportive friend, but I can barely handle my own problems, let alone support others as they handle theirs. As much as I like to think I’m strong and can handle whatever bullshit life hurls my way, these past few years have taught me quite the opposite. Maybe one day I’ll feel like I can handle having a social life again, but for right now all I feel like dealing with is my children and trying to raise them to the best of my ability.

It was nice seeing you and sharing a drink (or three). I hope to see you again soon, my friend. Time permitting.

I’m Just Gonna Leave This Right Here…

About five years ago when Baby C was just a few months old he was chillin’ in his walker one night while I sat at the computer doing…something I don’t even remember. Probably answering blog comments or something. It’s not important. What is important is Baby C. And he was in his walker.

C navigated from the kitchen, where I was sitting, to the living room, and then to the steps. Now, had he not been in his walker this would have alarmed me because he was only a few months old and you just don’t give an infant access to the staircase without supervision. Everyone knows that’s just ludicrous. However, he was in his walker so I didn’t sweat it. Kids that can’t even walk, and can barely stand for that matter, can’t get out of their walkers, amiright?

Since I was absolutely positive he was absolutely safe absolutely, I turned my attention back to that thing I was doing that I can’t remember. Then, a few short seconds later, I heard THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP CRASH, then the sound of my sweet Baby C wailing the most horrific scream I’d ever heard escape his precious, miniature lungs.

I bolted from the table and raced to find C lying on top of his overturned walker at the base of the staircase. Somehow C had gotten out of his walker, climbed up some stairs, and then fell all the way back down.

Instinct took over. I quickly inspected the entirety of his itty-bitty body. I checked for broken bones, lacerations, swelling, etc. The worst thing I found on him was a red spot on the back of his head where he must have smacked it against something on his way down.

Once I was positive he had no serious injuries, I clutched him tightly to my chest and began to weep. I had done this. I had failed him. I had underestimated him and he had gotten hurt as a result. I was stricken with guilt.

In the end there were no visible marks to prove what had happened. No lasting consequences. The red spot faded after just a few minutes time. Inside, though, my heart was skinned and scabbed over. It felt like it had been chained to the back of a 4×4 and driven down a gravel road. It took me some time to get over an, in the end, extremely minor incident. Though it was a minor incident, it could have been much worse. The possibilities of what could have happened to him while tumbling down those stairs are endless, but by the grace of whatever deity you believe in the only permanent scar from that incident rests on the edge of my guilty heart.

I’ve yet to meet a parent who doesn’t have a similar story. Not a one of us doesn’t have a story where our child(ren) got hurt because we weren’t as vigilant as parents as we should have been, yet the mother whose child sneaked through (not climbed over) a poorly constructed fence into a gorilla exhibit the other day is being raked over the internet’s virtual coals. I’ve read some vicious shit on Facebook today condemning that mother. She was negligent. She needs to be charged. Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Rage.


Puhlease. Calm the fuck down, internet. You’re giving yourself an ulcer.

Witnesses have said that the child made a dash for the fence before anyone could even react. That child was through a gap in the fence before anyone could catch up. Now, could the mother have done more to prevent this? Sure. She could have had the child strapped into a stroller or something. Does this mean she’s a horrible mother for not having her child strapped to a prison on wheels? Absolutely not.

Though I am prone to crises of confidence in my parenting ability, overall I think I’m a pretty damned good father. I’m, of course, far from perfect. I have my flaws, but my kids have, thus far, turned out pretty fantastic. Should my abilities as a father be judged based solely on that one incident? No, that would be stupid. Yes, I had a lapse in judgment, but that one lapse doesn’t define me as a father or negate all the good I’ve done for my children.

Likewise, this woman’s ability to care for her son shouldn’t be determined by this one incident. The only thing 99.9% of us know about this woman is that her 4-year-old got into a gorilla exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo. That’s it. That is no basis for judging this woman as a mother (not that any of us has a right to judge her anyhow). Yes, her child got away from her. Yes, she could have done more to prevent it. No, she’s not a deadbeat or negligent mother. So let’s just pretend that this woman feels about the size of an ant inside, and is drowning in a growing pool of her own shame, because she probably is. I know I would be. Let’s also pretend that all the blowhards online calling for her to be arrested are making her feel even more guilt-ridden and ashamed, because they probably are.

How about instead of rage, compassion? Despite popular opinion, kicking someone while they’re down isn’t the most opportune time to do so. Frankly, we shouldn’t be kicking anyone at all.

While we’re on the subject of this horrible incident, let’s discuss a couple of other things…

That fence? It needs to be reconstructed. As an attraction mainly for kids, any zoo should be as safe as it possibly can be. A four-year-old should not be able to slip through a gap in the fence.

The day after the gorilla was put down there were protesters at the zoo. Animal rights activists were protesting the killing of the gorilla. While I understand their frustration, the fact remains that doing so likely saved that boy’s life. If those people would settle down and listen to the professionals (you know, the people who know the most about gorillas) then they might understand why the decision was made. For what it’s worth, I agree with the professionals. Not just because they’re experts, but because their logic actually, you know, makes sense. It’s tragic that it ended this way, but the right decision was made.

In the end, there is failure and blame littered all the way around this entire tragedy. How about, instead of tying anyone involved to a virtual stake and igniting them, we show a little sympathy for a mother who just lived through what was likely the most harrowing moments of her life? How about we take a moment to appreciate that the four-year-old was relatively unharmed during this ordeal? How about we realize that the zoo didn’t want to kill that gorilla, but instead did the unthinkable because it was the only sure way to save that child’s life? You know, show a little compassion for some folks who, despite having made the right decision, still live with the guilt of having made it. And then following through with it.

Put down your stones, internet. You need not cast them today.

A Brave Farewell

I haven’t written regularly in ages. I haven’t had the urge. Even when I get an idea in my head for a post, a lack of motivation kills whatever ideas I may have concocted. BUT…I’m sitting here a bit buzzed after a long, stressful week at work and decided to catch up on some reading when I saw this week’s FTSF topic: One of my biggest fears I ever had to face…

The biggest fear I’ve ever faced, and overcome, is the fear of leaving the twins’ mother.

What started out as a somewhat normal relationship between myself and a woman four years my senior rapidly turned sour. I realized rather quickly that we were severely different people and that there was no chance we would ever be happy together.

Despite my realization, I put off saying anything to her for a multitude of reasons. She was a single mom struggling to pay her bills. She guilted me into moving in with her because she was having financial trouble. Yes, the decision to move in with her was ultimately mine, but manic breakdowns where she told me she’d have to beg her ex-husband to take her back multiplied the guilt factor ten-fold. So I moved in with her. We are different people, though. While she has socially liberal views, she lives somewhat conservatively and has a very conservative sense of humor. Or, she did at that time. I obviously have no idea what she’s like now. I was foul-mouthed, 20 years old, and not ready for (nor wanting) the type of responsibility she was thrusting upon me.

After about three months of shenanigans, I decided I couldn’t live like that any more.  And I told her so. She flipped the fuck out. She went bananas. She screamed. She cursed. She stormed out the door and told me over her shoulder that she was going to jump off the I-75 overpass and left me there with her sleeping children. Eventually, she came back, but I didn’t end up leaving because I was suddenly afraid.

What if she actually kills herself? Could I live with the guilt? What would happen to me? How would I deal with it? What would happen to her children? Their father moved across the country.

I ended up staying, but things got worse. She was paranoid about me leaving. She was controlling. She was manic. She was oppressive. I knew she needed help, but at the tender age of 20 I didn’t have a damned clue how to help her. I tried to stick it out, but I just couldn’t deal. I told her again I was going to leave…and then it happened.

She actually tried to commit suicide.

When I first told her she tried to storm out of the room. She was going to go jump of the I-75 overpass. I had to physically restrain her from leaving the room. I was not going to let her hurt herself. After a while she seemed to calm down and told me she needed to use the restroom. I moved myself down the hallway far enough so that she could reach the bathroom, but couldn’t make a run for the front door.

It never occurred to me just what we kept in the bathroom. You know, where the medicine cabinet is. For the life of me I just didn’t see it coming.

She came out moments later. She slowly crept towards our bed and laid down on the floor beside it. She calmly gazed towards me, and as a tear rolled down her cheek told me, “When you wake up tomorrow you won’t have to worry about me again.”

She had swallowed an entire bottle of Benadryl.

To say that I was shocked would be an understatement of elephantine proportions. I collapsed upon our bed and wept like a child who’d had his candy taken away. In my horror it never occurred to me to call 911. It never occurred to me to seek help. I was just…shocked. So I wept.

The morning came and we both awakened. Relief swept through me like a tornado through the corn fields of Oklahoma. She was alive, but she spent the majority of the next three days in our bed asleep. It still never occurred to me to call 911 the next morning. It never occurred to me to do anything. I knew she needed help, but the thought of telling her family the reason she was trying to kill herself was because I was trying to leave her prevented me. So I said nothing to no one.

I also decided from that moment forward that I would stay with her no matter what. I was not going to be the reason she committed suicide. I was never again going to do anything to push her towards that ledge. I was never going to do anything to jeopardize our “relationship.” When, months later, she dragged me to the jewelry department and said, “This is the wedding ring I want,” I didn’t object, despite the fact that I had never proposed (nor did I want to). When, a couple of months after that, she told me she wanted another child, I agreed without argument.

Eight months later she was pregnant. Nine months later I was the proud parent of a set of beautiful twins.

Years went by. She spent two years in college. Our boys took our full attention. When they got a bit older and required less of our attention, though, unhappiness began to creep back into my psyche. She was still controlling. She was possessive. Our personalities were still complete opposites. Most importantly, though, I didn’t love her. And never had.

For years I had wrestled with the idea of leaving her, but I never did. I was still frightened by that night. I was still afraid of what she’d do to herself. More, I was afraid of how my children would cope. Would they be okay? Would me leaving fuck them up? Would they hate me? Would things be alright? It was a perpetual struggle.

But I made a commitment. I told myself I would honor that commitment no matter how unhappy I was.

One night as I sat at the computer (doing whatever it was one did at a computer in 2006 – probably MySpace), she came down to say goodnight. The obviousness of my unhappiness was soaked on my face. She asked me what was wrong.

Before I could come up with some bullshit, which was what I always did, I blurted, “I don’t love you.” I have no idea what compelled my mouth to spew those words. In the past I was always able to come up with some lie to tell her about what was bothering me. Maybe my subconscious was tired of my bullshit.

She flew off the handle. I can’t even remember what she said, but none of it was pleasant and all of it was at a decibel high enough to shatter glass. As I sat there, dejected and berated, I decided I’d finally had enough. My limit had finally been reached. The meter was full at last. I wasn’t going to take this shit anymore. I wasn’t going to stay in this façade of a marriage. I wasn’t going give her happiness at the expense of my own. I was finished sacrificing my life.

It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done. I refused to be controlled any longer. Her emotional manipulations fell on deaf ears. Her angry outbursts solidified my resolve.

There was one moment of weakness, though. One night as I returned the twins to her, their tears shattered my resolve. I came back home, but things only got worse. A month later I left again and never looked back.

It’s been nearly 10 years since this all transpired, and none of my fears came to fruition. She didn’t commit suicide. In fact, she finally sought treatment after I left. My boys, though they were initially distraught, have turned into fine young men whom I’m proud to call my sons. They are kind, funny, and compassionate souls and I’m still unsure what I did to make them turn out as well as they have (or even if I had anything to do with it).

Deciding to end a relationship, and a family, may not seem like a brave thing to do, but out of everything I’ve ever faced it was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.

If I Had My Way

My phone vibrated in my pocket. I fished it out, wondering who might be calling me so late in the weekend.

The caller ID said it was my son, Baby B.

“Hello?” I answered in a somewhat confused voice.

“Can I come over and pick up a pair of shoes?”


“Okay. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”

I dropped my phone back into the lint-trap that is my pocket and resumed my battle with the evil pile of laundry which had inexplicably invaded my bed. Several minutes later, Baby B arrived and grabbed his shoes. On his way out the door he thanked me.

“For what?” I asked, perplexed.

“For letting me in. I didn’t know if you’d want to see me. At least, any more than you have to.”

That caught me off guard. I couldn’t tell of this was a lame self-depreciating joke (the sort which I have perfected) or if he was deadly serious. In my response, I opted to reply as if it were the latter.

“Son, despite how crazy you sometimes make me, if it were up to me you’d be here every day.”

And I mean that, from the very bottom of my grinch-like heart.

I know I don’t always show those I love how much I care about them. It’s a foible I’ve yet to remedy despite my feeble attempts. I love too much. Or sometimes not enough. I don’t really know how to love. But I’m still learning. And I hope I’m getting better.

So in the event that my children will inevitably read this (because I’ll be IMing them the link), let me tell them now (in written word because I’m 1000% more capable of articulating my emotions in written word rather than in person where my emotions get the better of me and words spill incoherently from my mouth like vegetable soup from a broken bowl (my mom did the same thing…I get it honsetly)).

My twins, you have no idea how much time and money I spent fighting for every minute I get to spend with you. It took almost a year after leaving your mother to get the 50/50 arrangement we have now. That was the one thing I fought for in the divorce was equal parenting time. I was not going to let you guys go.

For years afterward there was a gaping hole in my heart whenever you weren’t there. I’d often stare at my wall full of your pictures while agonizing tears of sorrow poured down my (likely) unshaven face. In fact, just the other day I had a “memory” pop up on Facebook in which I lamented (just a month after Baby C was born) just how much it still hurt that I didn’t get to see you every day.

I love you. All three of you. And if it were up to me, all three of you would be with me every minute of every day. You guys are what keeps me going. I do nothing without forethought of how it will impact your lives. But I can’t have you all the time, and, quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t even if I had the opportunity. I could never take your mother and her family away from you. I may not always agree with her parental choices, but deep down I know she loves you as much as I do, and I could never deprive you of that love. Or that of her family. Know this.

I know I’m sometimes hard on you, and that can make it seem like I don’t love you. I can assure you, though, it’s quite the opposite. I’m hard on you because I love you. I push you so you will become the very best version of you that you can possibly be. I want you to choose the right path where I choose the wrong one. I want you to have a better life than I have had. I want you to be able to provide better for your children than I could for you. I want you to be more prepared for the real world than I was, because, let’s face it, the real world blows. (Case in point, Trump is probably going to get the GOP nomination.)

I also know that I’m sometimes short with you. I don’t mean to be, and I never ever seem able to stop myself. I don’t realize I’ve snapped until afterward. Please remember that I do have a mild mood disorder and that I am being treated for it. I’m trying. Really.

I hope I’m wrong and that you don’t really feel like I don’t want you around. Trust me, I know that feeling and felt the same way about my father at your age. It’s not pleasant at all. I will continue to do my best to find ways to show you I care. On the off-chance that I’m not able to make that change, though, please refer to this. I cannot imagine my life without you boys, and I hope I never have to.

You boys have grown into young men of whom I’m very proud.

I just wanted you to know.


My Children Trump You

On a cold, dreary December morning in 1999, my life was drastically and irrevocably changed. I was blessed with not one, but two children within a span of 60 seconds. It wasn’t just the sleepless nights, nasty diapers, and mountain of new responsibilities that turned my life upside-down, though. My heart changed. It was restructured. Everything that mattered to me before took an immediate back seat to the two bologna loafs wrapped burrito-style in bleach-white hospital blankets.


My marriage, as every marriage does, had more than it’s share of challenges. One of those challenges, unfortunately, was the fact that I had children from a previous marriage.

When we first began dating, my wife and I simply did not see each other during my allotted time with the twins. That was a rule from which I simply would not deviate. I did not want them to know that I was dating someone. I did not want them to know that I had moved on from their mother. I did not wish to dash their wounds with salt. I did not want to introduce them to some woman I was still getting to know. I did not want to bring a woman into our lives whose time might be short-lived.

After about five months I felt reasonably sure I had a long-term relationship on my hands, so decided I wanted to introduce my future wife to my past, present, and future children. But first I had a discussion with them. I asked them how they’d feel if I loved a woman besides their mother. Their first response, naturally, was they wanted me to love their mother and to come back home. That was most definitely not going to happen, and I told them so. I then asked again if it was okay for me to love another woman. They thought about it, then decided unanimously that it was. Then they immediately demanded to meet her. My sweet, seven-year-old boys always could make me laugh.

My wife and I had many disagreements over the years about my children. My staunch refusal to attend any sort of social activity on nights that my boys were with me were often moments of frustration to her. I am truly sorry for that, but when I have only 50/50 custody of my children I’m not going to find a babysitter for them just to go out with friends. Especially when I’d rather spend that time with my boys. My wife would also become upset over the fact that she had no say-so in their upbringing. She felt that since she was helping to raise them that she should get to share in that responsibility. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. I appreciate, truly appreciate, everything my wife did for my children, but ultimately they are not her children. They have a mother, whether I like her or not, and it is up to their mother and I to make decisions regarding their upbringing. That’s just one of many pitfalls being a step-parent can bring. I was a step-parent for nine years, and I know it’s not easy, but that’s how it goes.

I recently read an article about modern American parenting and its profound affect on American divorce rates. In this article the author suggests that it’s okay to love your spouse more than your children. (The author encourages it, even.) That it’s okay if you’re children don’t always come first. That putting your children above all others, including your spouse, is detrimental to your relationships and, yes, your marriages.

Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.

Obviously I can only speak for myself, but I can tell you with utmost certainty why I feel the way I do about my children, and why they come before any one.

The answer, quite simply, is divorce.

When my parents got divorced I feel like my brothers and I kind of got lost in a cataclysmic emotional supernova. Having been divorced I know how emotionally devastating it can be. The problem, for me, came when my parents began to move on from each other. When they began dating their respective significant others I felt left behind. Neglected. Devalued. Of course both parents had the right to move on. They both had the right to be happy. But as a teenage boy who saw his time with his parents dwindle, and whose opinion was dismissed the moment it was voiced, my heart was bruised.

That feeling has been nestled in a forgotten chamber of my heart since I was 14 years old. So, yes, when I was going to bring a woman into my children’s lives who wasn’t their mother, I asked for their permission. It didn’t matter that they were 7, I wanted them to be okay with it.

Every decision I’ve made since becoming a father has had, at its core, the well-being of my children in mind. I consulted them before marrying my second wife. I consulted them before dating her again after we got divorced. I consulted them before I leased my new car because it would tighten our monthly budget. I may not always make the best, or even a good, decisions, but when I do anything I have fully considered how it will affect them before I act and, most of the time, consider their input beforehand.

So, yes, my children and what I deem best for them comes first. It isn’t some misguided devotion to a phantom “parental religion” or because of some bizarre expectations of society, as the author of the referenced piece above suggests, but because I don’t ever want my children to experience the feeling of knowing that someone else is more important to their father than they are, because it’s entirely impossible. No one means more to me than my children. No one. The love I have for my children is as indestructible as Superman, sans his weakness to Kryptonite. My children mean more to me than any other thing or being on this planet. When my children were born they literally shoved almost everything in my heart out so they could have it all to themselves. (#OccupyDadsHeart) Loving my children more than anyone or anything wasn’t a conscious decision I made. It just happened.

Perhaps the author is correct about one thing. Perhaps putting my children first was detrimental to my marriage. You know what, though? I don’t even give a fuck. I’d rather lose my marriage than make my children feel neglected. If your children feel neglected or unimportant, you’ve lost them.

zero fucks given

If/when I decide to bring a new woman into my life it will not be before I’ve had a discussion with all three of my children. You might think it’s idiotic that my children have a say-so in who I do or don’t see. I disagree. My decision to bring a woman into my life will affect them as much as it affects me. If I bring a woman into my life I’m bringing a woman into their lives, and if I do so without even discussing it with them I have devalued their opinions without even hearing them. And that is unacceptable to me.

Frankly, I think all parents should put their children first. To me, that’s part of what being a parent is. When you bring another human being into this world you have a responsibility to care for, love, and mold that human being into a functioning member of society and I just don’t believe you can properly accomplish that if you’re not putting their needs first. And just to be clear, putting your children first doesn’t mean always giving them their way. It doesn’t mean pampering them. It means ensuring what you do has their best interests at heart. It means ensuring they know how much you love them. That they are valued. That what they say matters. It means they know that you’re there for them no matter what challenges they face.

At least, that’s what it means to me.

The hat I wear as a father is more important to me than any other hat I wear. It’s the hat I wear most often and most proudly. I’ve been married to two different women who were both affronted upon learning that my love for my children mattered more to me than my love for them, and I’ve never understood that indignity. I assumed every parent felt the same way. I guess I was wrong.