When I was a teenager my father and I were at odds with each other. He hated my long hair; he was antipathetic to my dream of becoming a writer; and it seemed like we argued about everything. Worst of all, he so was consumed with running his construction business that when he got home from work, he didn’t want to be bothered by me. He just wanted to have a cocktail, watch the nightly news, and unwind. I sort of understood that part, but I still resented that he never had time for me.
Then about the time I graduated high school he changed. It wasn’t like Mark Twain’s observation of his father, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” My father genuinely changed. Perhaps he was seeing the light at the end of the parenting tunnel with me going to college in the Fall. He started treating me better - like an adult. He wanted to spend time with me. We had amazing conversations; and I fell in love with him again. I recall my mother and I competing for his attention when he came home from work.
It wasn’t to last; a year later I lost him to a stroke. I was devastated. I had just regained my Dad, and then he was gone. While I have relished that one year in my memory, I still felt deeply cheated. It was a grievous loss that still resonated with me 20 years later when I became a parent. I was determined to spend enough time with my children that they would never feel the same loss I felt. It motivated every aspect of my being a parent.
Despite that desire, I never anticipated being the full time parent. A month before my first son was born, my wife announced that she was not quitting her job. I was dumbfounded, I thought we had agreed that she would be a stay-home mom. I made enough money that she didn’t need to work. I was torn up by her decision, but I always wanted her to be happy, so I capitulated. Then a week before our son was born, providence struck. I was laid off from my job. I became a full time stay-at-home dad.
I returned to self-employment (writing and later speaking), and for the next three years my income remained nearly what I had earned at my last job. At that point our second son was born. Once he became a toddler, my hands were full, and my career started getting pushed to the back burner. That didn’t seem to matter as my wife had started a business and it was becoming quite successful.
Being a full time dad, however, required a serious mental adjustment. I was raised in a traditional nuclear family by my mother. So, when anyone called me Mr. Mom, I would cringe. When I took my sons to the park, I would be the only dad. I watched as all the moms would cluster together and talk, while I felt like a freakish outsider. Eventually I came to embrace it. I was living my dream of spending plenty of time with my kids. And, they needed, wanted, and demanded so much of it!
Over the years I would sing them to sleep with Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Did you know that is the number one lullaby fathers sing to their children? That’s because it’s the only song we know all the words to! I forced myself to learn the lyrics of other songs, just so I could offer them some variety. Spiderman was their favorite.). Every night I read to them or made up stories. Later, I taught them to read, so they would have a head start in school. We even conducted exciting science experiments that usually involved fire or burning things.
When my oldest son was eight, my wife told me she was leaving the marriage. Retaining custody, I became a full time single father. That’s when my dream turned into a challenge. I continued to put my children first even as I battled the depression of divorce. I coached their soccer and baseball teams. I led their Cub Scout pack. I helped them with homework, and prepared all their meals. I earned a living when I could, but it continued to take a back seat to spending time with my children. I taught them right from wrong; boosted their confidence; and encouraged their independence. Most of all, I gave them love.
A woman I dated, who had never had children, broke up with me because she couldn’t understand why I attended my children’s games and other events on the weekends they were with their Mom. For a while after that I would only date women who had children.
Now I am seeing the light at the end of the parenting tunnel. Andy graduates high school in a few weeks. Evan is already at college. He was home this past weekend, and as we were talking, he told me how his best friend’s father passed away when he was only ten. I said I understood how hard that must have been because losing my Dad at 19 was hard enough. He then threw his arms around me and hugged me like he was never going to let go. I said, “Hey, I’m not going anywhere.” But in my heart I knew that when I do, he’ll be okay.
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist/speaker and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is the author of ...and Never Coming Back, a psychological thriller-novel about a motion picture director; The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children's book about dealing with a bully; and the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.