I was just in Austin, TX. There for a Twitter event covering the finale of ABC’s 21st season of the Bachelor, Trista and I got our first taste of Austin’s famed South by Southwest festival. We had a great time in Texas. The vibrant, friendly people of Austin and the “South By” crew were electric. The atmosphere was youthful. And though an early flight the next day influenced a premature ending to our night, I could not hold back the realization that my kids would soon be the source of this powerful energy. They are in grade school now – that’s a whole other kind of energy – but in no time they will be young adults, inspiring creativity, purpose and meaningful thought. They will be wild. They will be free. They will be beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful, Trista and I shared a part of our Texas experience with Jade Tolbert (formerly Jade Roper of Chris Soules season of The Bachelor and now married to Tanner Tolbert whom she met on the Bachelor Pad). Jade is pregnant with her and husband Tanner’s first child and fits the part perfectly. I listened to Trista and Jade talk. The conversation took me from the wonder of my children’s future to the moments they each entered our lives.
Both our kids arrived under rather dramatic circumstances, Blakesley in a blizzard and Max via emergency C-section. Though Blakesley is my baby girl and an eternal source of learning, it was Max who taught me to be a father.
Max was born early. He was healthy but had trouble eating. That, along with his mom’s need to recover from her own traumatic experience, meant I would need to regularly feed him via a nasal feeding tube. It was time I cherished and from which I felt a fatherly purpose. As Trista recovered, however, and Max learned to effectively nurse from her, that purpose began to wane. Though I tried, I could not summon the deep seeded love I had so often heard came with fatherhood. I read him books and held Max. I checked in on him at night. Despite my best efforts, I felt no connection. It appeared to me that he did not need me, want me or know me at all? While Trista’s emotional attachment was super sizing by the minute, I sat in quiet contemplation, wondering what was wrong with me. Why didn’t I love my son?
Then one-night things changed. I was reading out loud to myself while Max lay sleeping in my arms. (I’d given up on saying I was reading to Max cause I didn’t believe he was listening and I was pouting.) The book was, West of Jesus by Steven Kotler. Perhaps out of frustration or perhaps not, I stopped reading. I glanced down at my son as he opened his bright blue eyes and looked gently up at me. I started reading again. Max fell back asleep. I stopped. He opened his eyes. I started to cry.
There are not words powerful enough to describe what happened to me there that night. The military Special Forces refer to something comparable in combat situations as “flipping the switch.” They spend years training to achieve it. Artists and athletes describe a similar “flow” state as the condition of being completely present in the moment, focused and without distraction. It seems the driving force behind this transformative state is purpose. In Max’s bright eyes I saw my purpose restored. I had mistakenly believed that the gift of fatherhood was a child, that Max was my gift and thus I put unfair expectations on my infant son. The truth is children are not presents for adults. They are agents of purpose, delivering meaning and intention. In a single glance, Max “flipped the switch.” His gaze connected me to the flow state that is fatherhood. Though Max may not have needed me for immediate survival like he did his mom, he needed me nonetheless. He needed me to be strong and patient – to protect and teach him. Max knew my voice and was comforted by it. He knew me and our relationship and that it would be critical to his growth as a person. He was listening as I read out loud to him. Max loved me. And I loved him.
Every father will tell you how their kids changed their life. How great it is to be a dad. I heard all the stories. What no one mentions is the incalculable diversity of the experience. It is different for everyone and, until you experience it, you simply don’t’ know what’s coming. While technically we become fathers at the moment our first child is born, we don’t fully develop as fathers until we understand that our lives are now bigger than us. The mistake is to believe that fatherhood is a gift to be received when in fact it is a gift to be given. Thank you Max for teaching me this valuable lesson. Thank you for helping me to become your Dad.
Photo Credit – Bo Bridges
Kotler S. & Wheal J. (2017). Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy Seals and Maverick Scientists are revolutionizing the way we live and work. New York NY: Day St.
Found Online at www.stealingfirebook.com