Woody Allen says 90% of success in life is showing up. That’s definitely true for being a good father. Your wife delivers the baby, but the ball is in your end of the court, half of the time, after that.
I was terrified when I brought my infant son home from the hospital. I looked at the tiny, six pound, six-ounce, boy and nearly panicked when I realized he was going to be living with me. I didn’t know how to feed him, change him, or get him to stop crying. I was afraid to hold him. I was the ultimate newbie dad. I wasn’t confident I’d be able to fill a father’s shoes.
I was a full-time, financially strapped, married, twenty-year old college student when my son was born. I had no money, and only one way to get any. I worked five part-time jobs during the day and into the night to pay the rent and feed my wife and son. Sometimes I ate dinner, and sometimes I didn’t. I was that close to the edge, and still had seven months to go before graduating.
While I didn’t have any choice about showing up, in person, showing up emotionally was a choice. My anxiety level was through the roof just thinking about being responsible for such a small, helpless human being.
I suppose it’s obvious, my son wasn’t planned. While a baby is born whether he’s planned or not, intention does play a helpful role in mapping out a baby’s life. My financial instability worried me every minute of every day, and I feared being poor even more than I feared being a father.
My marriage to a young French girl I’d met studying in London was a disaster. I had made a complete mess of my life. My wife and I divorced just after I graduated college. She went back to France, but I refused to allow her to take my son with her. He was American by birth and consequently I was given sole custody of a one year old.
I was a wobbly father at first. I had just begun my career after college and needed more sleep than I was getting. I remember trying to get my son to sleep through the night. I thought that a small amount of oatmeal mixed into his night bottle might stick to his ribs and help him sleep longer. I used a hot needle to make a bigger opening in the nipple and fed my son the mixture. It worked. I had discovered that at least some of being a parent was being innovative.
When I think about raising that baby forty-four years later, the beginning seems like a foggy dream. I went to work, hunkered down and made a living. I found a wonderful woman to take care of my son during the day, and when I traveled for business. Life as a single dad was good. I spent nearly all my free time with my son. I didn’t have much of a social life for a decade, but I felt something in my heart that directed all my energies to him.
Somewhere along this journey, I fell in love with my son, and I’ve adored him ever since. I raised him as a single dad for most of his childhood. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Raising my son was the greatest achievement in my life.
Did I do a good job? When I look at the man he is today, I’m certain I did. I have a seven-year old grandson, and for the first time in my family’s history, there are three generations of Solin men living at the same time. We all share a sense of unconditional love for each other. When my grandson wraps his arms around my neck, kisses my cheek, and tells me, “I love you Grandpa Kenny”, I feel the same joy I felt with my son.
Since I was my son’s only parent, showing up wasn’t really an option for me. But it’s not really an option for any father. Granted, there are circumstances under which it’s far more difficult to become emotionally involved, but in the end, a son needs his father to nourish him emotionally as much as he needs food. And, a woman can’t be expected to raise a son without the much-needed, male influence of his father.
If you’re a new dad, congratulations. I hope you find it in your heart to show up. I promise you’ll never be sorry. I’d like to hear from new dads, and I’m open to sharing what I’ve learned, so please feel free to write and tell me your story.
For twenty years, author and lecturer Ken Solin has helped men move beyond the issues that limit their lives. Both men and women follow Ken since his work is primarily about relationships.
Ken’s website, http://www.kensolin.com/ is filled blogs about real life problems.
There’s a frank, gritty, 42 minute television pilot about men that will surprise men and women alike.
There’s also book excerpts from Ken’s new, soon to be published book, Eight Angry Men.
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