Monday, November 10, 2014

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My Biggest Fear Is Becoming My Father

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Both Tristan and Norah are in soccer now, which means our Saturdays consist of taking kids to a game in the morning, and then a game in the afternoon. Most of the games are in different towns and last about an hour or more. Between getting the kids ready, drive time, and so on, most of the day is shot. With our new baby, and Mel back in school, our house is usually a mess, so I tend to spend most of the weekend cleaning while Mel gets caught up on homework.

During the week, I work two jobs. One is at a university as an academic counselor. The other is teaching online classes. With the blog it feels like three. I get up at 5:30AM, drive to my office, write for a couple of hours, and then stay at work until 6PM. Then I drive home (30 minutes), have dinner with the family, help the kids with their home work, get them to bed (so my wife can have a break), and then teach my online class from about 8PM until 10 PM.

Then I go to bed, and get up and do it all over again.

On top of that, I’m Mormon, which means I take on church obligations every Wednesday night and have church meeting until about 3PM on Sunday. I believe in my religion and enjoy helping people in my congregation.

I know that my schedule isn’t anything unusual. It’s just the demands of raising a family and being religious, but that doesn’t make it any less stressful.

Sometimes I get time to myself. Writing in the morning helps. But a lot of the time I don’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating. Sometimes I long to be home alone, watching TV, or doing nothing. Sometimes I just want to sit in a dark room for a day and let the world move without me.

And in those moments, when I feel like I want to walk out on my obligations. When I think about how much easier my life was when all I had to do was care for myself. I think about my father. I think about a man who got caught up in the stress of raising a family and turned to prescription drugs. He was married four times before he died from drug addiction. He worked ridiculous hours as a heating and air-conditioning contractor, and when I think about that, I think about myself. I think about the hours I put in trying to support my wife and three kids. When my father left, I couldn’t understand why he would ever want to leave us. What it was about me that made him want to walk out and only see me one or twice a year.

I’m not justifying what he did. Far from it. But what I can say is that as a father now, I can understand how easily the weight of caring for a family can feel like the deep, stressful panic that comes with treading water too long. And when I feel that tightness in my chest. When I feel that longing to walk out and say, “to hell with it all.” I think about my own childhood. I think about how I longed for my father every day. How I wished he’d stuck around. Honestly, I think my father’s abandonment impacted my life more than his presence ever could have. It has made me know what it means to not have a father. It has helped me realize how much a father means to a child. It has made me look at my three children, and know that without me, their lives would be very different. My son would have to learn how to shave on his own, like I did. My daughters would have to learn how to make a marriage work without an example, like I did.  My son would have to constantly question his ability to be a husband and father, and wonder if he’d be better at it if he’d had an example. Or even someone to call when things got stressful and chat about how to overcome those moments.

The crazy thing about my father leaving is that I have a deep fear of becoming him. I worry that I might follow in his footsteps. So I try extra hard to not be him. And for some reason, that seems to keep me in line. I think about him when I get overwhelmed. I think about my mother working two, sometimes three jobs. I think about her sitting at the table, crying, surrounded by bills, not knowing how she was going to afford to buy groceries. I think about how little I knew her because of how much she worked. And then I think about my wife, whom I love more than anyone else in the world, and realize that I could never do that to her. I could never walk out and saddle her with the burden of raising a family by herself.

Knowing what leaving a family looks like has made me better able to cope. It has helped to know what it looks like when a father abandons a family, and somehow that seems to help me stay centered. To trudge through those long days when all I want to do is spend some time by myself, but can’t seem to find it. I hate to say that my father leaving was a good thing, because it wasn’t. But what I can say is that it gave me a perspective, a nasty example, that seems to keep me motivated. It keeps me focused on the importance of my family. It helps me to realize that even though my days are long, my place as a father is valuable. It’s needed. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter