On Being a Gay Father in a World Full of Chaos
After attending a vigil for the Parkland students, this formerly chaos-loving gay man reflects on raising children in a turbulent world.
Since becoming a father, I've watched my entire life change. In an instant my world was flipped upside down and thrown into the washing machine. While at a vigil for the students of Parkland, I realized life could change in the blink of an eye, for better or worse, because the one constant we have is change. But our core, the authentic self, remains. Those feelings, fears and emotions genuine to our true self are steadfast in a constantly evolving life. Despite everything around me changing, I'm always stuck with me. Since becoming a father I've found a renewed thirst for self-improvement and spiritual growth, not only for my own wellbeing but also for my family. While on this journey to accept my truth, I'm faced with old ghosts ready to be embraced. Because in order to rise I must be willing to examine all aspects of me, and most importantly, be O.K. with all aspects of me.
My husband caught me pre-tears last night.
Lying on the couch, staring through a wall in search for the meaning of life.
Eyes entranced in one of those limp gazes where only the mightiest of efforts can pull you out. Like my eyeballs took a momentary repose while the rest of my body went into hibernation. It was nine-something at night, a dull incandescent glow in a relaxed home. The stretch of deep orange light matched my mood, my stale state of blah. Background music, don't ask what – a down-tempo alt rock Pandora station, probably Aquilo.
Chris busied himself accessorizing our new house. Unpacking boxes that have yet to see the light of day since the move back in August. I just got home from the Parkland vigil, a candlelight ceremony led by religious and spiritual figures of all faiths. Our twins were asleep in their crib, meditation music soothed them from dream to dream.
Me on the couch, lost in space, fixed gaze on nothing in particular. A feeling heavy as hell, a weight lodged upon my chest. My head spirals from the prayers at tonight's vigil, to the laughter of my children earlier in the day, to the ongoing list of things I keep putting off, to analyzing my marriage, to looking at our home and seeing new memories in the making.
I'm not sure what happened in that moment, but I began to dig myself into intoxicating depths of melancholy (an unintended but apropos Smashing Pumpkins reference).
Cue the first tear.
Mid vase alignment, Chris stopped to ask what I was doing – a question directed at my blank stare.
Cue the onset of tear two.
I couldn't answer him, transfixed on the wall ahead, overcome by the racing of my little brain.
I had no answer, really, just feelings. Like an uncomfortable itch in my chest, a heaviness, something like dread. Or ache, or worry, or –
I don't know.
It was silent for a moment until Chris asked again. I broke my stare and saw him for the first time. I told him I felt strange, told him I was upset but unsure why. He asked if it was from the vigil, to which I replied that was only part of the reason. Maybe it's what tipped the scale, but certainly not what started the fire.
And like a dartboard littered with a hundred reasons, you must first throw the dart then talk about the first thing it lands on. I closed my eyes and threw said metaphorical dart forward.
I told Chris about the religious leaders who brought comfort to the suffering, peace to those in need, courage where strength had dimmed. An interfaith blend of monks, rabbis, priests, ministers and spiritual figures who, in the wake of such tragedy, brought a message of unity and hope. But my feelings toward these beacons were met with equal parts admiration and anger. An indescribable weight, that of which I did not understand.
And as conversations like these inherently go, a flood dam was released.
I realized I've been overcome by fear. That slithering, insidious little monster so much a part of me as my very breath. I'm fueled by fear, someone who thrives in chaos but complains about the chaos in his life. Rarely at the time do I realize I'm the culprit, always the big fat spoon stirring the pot. My history of addiction and struggles with self-acceptance taught me I've got a tendency to destroy things when they go well.
But suddenly I'm a father.
Suddenly I'm a father and the idea of chaos concerns me. Just the fact that I said, "concerns me," concerns me. I was never one to be concerned, let alone talk about my concerns. Unless it was completely self-serving, in which case I more than happily shared those concerns with anyone who was willing to listen. Or unwilling. My mouth has a tendency to overwork when I become fixated on a subject.
I was the kid who got off on scary stuff, who knew heart-pounding fear better than anyone. I was petrified of the dark and slept on my parent's bedroom floor for years, while my favorite movies were The Shining, Dracula and Return to Oz. I loved the scary shit, but cried at lights out. I wanted the rush of fear but couldn't live with the consequence of fear. Fast forward and I'm still searching for a rush without consequence. I'm still the little boy who finally has a few good nights sleep then decides to watch The Shining again. Because when things get good I somehow forget the struggle to get there. Or think maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time I'll change. Maybe this time I can get away with it. Maybe this time it will be better.
Now as a father I cringe when I see a horror movie. I immediately think, oh shit what if that was my kid? Maybe I'm getting soft, but becoming a dad has changed something. The discontent, rebellious kid has to learn a few things. I'm realizing how incredibly fortunate I am to have these two little humans. To have a husband who loves me, to feel more secure in my own skin than ever before, to have a life I never could've imagined. But there's still part of me that wants to turn on the horror movie, that can't help but release ye olde bull in China shop.
And there it is – the reason for my waterworks. The tears are coming because I'm petrified to loose this life.
Any of it.
All of it.
I'm so accustomed to chaos and fucking shit up that I wait for the other shoe to drop. Wait and let opportunities pass by, wait to be told I'm a neglectful parent, a crappy husband. Wait to loose our home, to let goals pass by, to unleash my inner addict. Because nothing can be this good, nothing is this easy. There's always something lurking around the corner, something hiding in the shadows ready pounce when least expected. That's just how shit works, right? I don't know anymore.
My feelings toward the religious figures at the vigil – those equal parts admiration and anger – are feelings of resentment. I want what they have because, for whatever reason, I'm unable to be comfortable in what I have. It's resentment because I see what I want for my life so clearly in front of me, the idealized man I'd love to be – the healer, the spiritualist, the teacher, the mentor, the inspiration – I see the reflection of my desire beaming from them in a moment of pure vulnerability and it cuts deep. Placed high on a pedestal, untouchable and draped by gilded spotlight, I look outward only to pale in comparison rather than go inward. Rather than looking exactly where my feet are planted to realize I've got everything I need right here.
In a time of great sorrow, immeasurable pain and suffering for lives lost, my heart is guided to those who shine light on tear stained faces. Guided as the freshly hatched turtle toward a night soaked ocean filled with dancing moonbeams.
It's human nature to want more, to seek betterment and progression. But there is a difference between wanting more and needing more, a fine line between healthy interest and unhealthy obsession. More often than not, my healthy interests creep into unhealthy obsession and before I know it I've crossed into something dangerously familiar. I had a genuine interest in exploring a more spiritual path, connecting with mentors and speaking to a rabbi about furthering my education – all things I felt would ultimately benefit my family. Until spiritual seeking became envy, became resentment. Became me feeling like I had to be at the pinnacle of spiritual enlightenment. I read one book and suddenly I had to be a master. So quickly I travel down a comfortable path of darkness, losing sight of why I started in the first place – to learn. Not to be an overnight Buddha.
This is me, broken. Me, not focused on what really matters. Me, blind to my gift of life. This is me, vulnerable. Me, a man, a dad, a soul kind of hoping to be better than before – honest about where shit is at. Because, no, I don't want to lose it all, don't want another shoe to fall. I want to sincerely appreciate the change, to be easier on myself and those around me, to be better than yesterday without the obsession of being the best today. I want to lead by honest example, not bullshit smoke and mirrors. I want my kids to learn from authenticity, from mistakes to triumphs, both the good days and the growth days.
Maybe I've gone off on a tangent, but somehow it's all relevant.
I unleashed these feelings on my husband who sat next to me. Maybe not in so many words, probably a fraction of what you're reading now. But the scab was picked, the blood fresh, tears no longer visible in my eye. Because it was released, the obsession a little less than before. But resentment has no power when lights are on, and there is no darkness in transparency.
There is no brokenness in truth.
And I guess the truth is I'm struggling to keep it together. Struggling to figure out what "together" really is, because I have no idea. Since becoming a father everything has changed but so much remains the same. Still the same man trying to mend a void with an insatiable thirst for greatness. Wanting, dissecting, riding an endless rollercoaster of 'now what' and 'what if'. Balancing new roles with old ones – the father and the son, the boy and the man, the husband and the free spirit, the provider and the taker. Like an artist who lacks technical skill, I see a beautiful Surrealist masterpiece inside me but can only paint stick figures. Constantly learning new tools for life while trying to master the previous ones. Trying to figure out who I am while opening myself to new ideas of who I want to be.
But these are good changes. Changes that bring awareness and hopefully a stronger connection to myself, to those around me, to something greater. Resentment, anger, those old stale feelings – the chaos once loved, now met with concern – it's movement. Albeit slow, sometimes uncomfortable movement, but movement nonetheless. A restless desire to face life rather than hide from it, a shift in hero.
I watch my children discover the world with eyes wide. My son looks at his hand as if it magically moves in midair, a smile creeps across his face when he understands it's connected to his body. He shakes his arm up and down, up and down, with a new sense of control and perspective. Apparently those revelations never change, we continuously discover new aspects of ourselves on many levels from physical to spiritual. Even at a vigil when overcome by emotion. With wide eyes and aging bodies, we are children always learning. And in turn, teachers to our children who will ultimately do the same for us.