Finding Fatherhood in a Snow-Globe (Part 1)
Updated: Sep 16
I sat there freezing, trying to read Vonnegut, while snow whipped around the inside of the bus that was zipping North toward Crested Butte from Gunnison. This particular morning registered -18 degrees fahrenheit, which was not particularly bothersome; however, one of the windows was jammed in the down position, so those riders accustomed to grabbing their hour-long nap on the way to work that morning were out of luck. It was a snow globe on wheels.
This wasn’t so bad. Five days a week I would take this ride on the way to my job; got to ski on my lunch breaks, catch up on tons of reading and always had breathtaking mountain views traveling to and from work. Wednesday mornings my wife and I got to ski together for a couple of hours while our little boy went to his school (where mom worked); and Thursdays, I got to spend the entire day with him (while mom worked).
As long as we have been in a relationship, my wife and I have always been able to adapt and make the most of situations. And there were plenty of things to be proud of, happy about and content with, as long as money was coming in. Still, it was grinding. I was able to spend a whole day with my little buddy, but on my other day off I was dropping HIM off (even if it was for some quality pow time w/ the love of my life). The rest of the week I’d have to catch the bus before dawn and would return home well into the evening, often past 7PM. I would see him for 30 minutes of breakfast in the morning and an hour, at best, in the evening.
Again, this doesn’t sound so bad. This is life for most of us Americans who are simply trying to get by: a family and a work-family. But I was depressed and worn out. It became clear that no amount of powder days could replace even a second of time spent with my family…and it was an epic season of pow. I found meditation at the library in Crested Butte, where I checked out 10% Happier by Dan Harris. It was a quick read, a bit anecdotal for my taste; but it got me through the door. I was used to meditative breathing in the form of vigorous fitness workouts and trail running; this seated, calm process was new to me and it was good…until it wasn’t.
I hear a lot of people say there is no way they could get their body and/or their mind to be still enough to meditate, as if that is an admission that they have zero control over their most basic human instincts and behaviors. Relaxation is assuredly an incredible benefit of meditation and the human body/mind are capable of virtually anything, even sitting down in silence for 3 minutes. But in deep breathing and achievement of clarity, sometimes the elevator descends. Sometimes you feel the entire scope of things before you can see them.
Nobody prepared me for the level of clarity that I was to obtain. It was as if the curtain of life had been pulled, but I was not ready to observe what was behind it. There was something beautiful and vast there, something visceral; and it was clouded by the reality of my circumstance. The tragedy I was absorbing through mindfulness was the crux of my everyday existence, my goings about. My sense of happiness and security, along with my subsequent job performance at the ski resort were slipping when I received an offer to work for a title company in Gunnison. “Alas!”, I felt, “the meditation has paid off! Now I can bike to work just blocks from my house, see my family on lunch breaks and make a real, honest paycheck.” Or so I thought.
For the next 10 months I was overworked and underpaid by a petulant and verbally abusive boss. Mediation was becoming a losing force in the battle against toxicity. I even started to improve my eating habits in an effort to curb these negative effects on my personal wellness. But every day was gut-wrenching pins and needles, awkward encounters and toddler-esque tantrums…ironically, Jessica had quit her job and opened her own in-home child care operation for clients who were actually behaving appropriate to their age. I’d slip out daily for Noon-1PM lunch breaks to go home and eat, play some music with the kids and head back to work. Eventually and long overdue, was my sudden departure (walk out) from that, my last “job”; my final “boss”.
The best thing that I could have taken from that last job was that I started to associate their anger and tension with fast food, as he/they ate literally tons of it…basically every meal times two. I hadn’t eaten fast food in a number of years, trying to be collectively conscious and all, but needing some type of change and as a person who, at one time stated “I could never fully give up meat”…I gave up meat. And I felt a little better. Then, I didn’t.
So you quit eating animal flesh, you quit your job, what next? Time to acquire something: update that resumé and land another job, somewhere. Jessica didn’t wait but a day or so before she blew the whistle and asked that I help her build a school. I had experience in music therapy and we had just moved into a 2-story home with a yard, perfect for a pre-school. I was all in, but the first couple of weeks were weird for me. There was this looming, patriarchal man-guilt inside of me, as if I was making some sort of fiscally masculine mistake of a sacrifice for this newfound endeavor. These feelings did not last.
Fastforward, the least confusing thing about the Spring/Summer of 2020 have been the countless moments I have spent living and growing with my family. With every passing day, I’m increasingly grateful to know that I’m exactly where I need to be. I recognize that very few people are afforded this option; but I’m also aware of the overwhelming number of moms and dads that “need” to afford and uphold a certain lifestyle. I’m here to tell you: that lifestyle is archaic. It has no place in modern society, particularly now and in the age of desperation for sustainability and change. If we will grow, we must be able to let go; that is of previous conceptions, educational norms/practices, material items, stuff. And it means optimizing balance in your universe, starting with you and your tribe.
As a dad, something happens to you when you dive head first into your own creation, your family. I’m not talking about an annual vacation to the lake, but more of a sabatical. Maybe your traditional instincts kick in and your guilty gut and brain tell you that it is necessary for you to be out earning dough for your creation, your family. Maybe you feel frustrated that you are not mentally and emotionally equipped to handle domestic responsibilities, whatever that might entail. Maybe you’re clueless and that is as normal as it gets. For all of us, it is a learning curve that never peaks. For some of us lucky few, it is an opportunity.
By “lucky”, I mean those that are fortunate enough to have an exposure and willingness to life, to possess an openness to let things go and to let certain things filter into our picture. Like all things, it is not easy. But unlike most things, it is as fulfilling as anything you could imagine. Fatherhood, as in life, is not about providing, it is about being present. When your child is born, your first fatherly instinct is to hold them in your arms and assure them that everything is alright. Don’t lose sight of that. I would ride a snow globe on wheels into the depths of hell if it meant my family’s survival, but I would rather be at home with them, watching the snow fall.