Mama🐻Monday: A Letter To Dads, From David

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Dear Dads,

I don’t usually write for Mama Bear Mondays, but some things have been on my mind that I wanted to share with you. For the wives, this letter isn’t really for you, but I pray that it gives you a bit of grace and peace and understanding for your husband’s journey.

Okay, fathers, how’s it going? You have a kid, or several. Awesome, right? Not awesome? I get that; I have four children. I did not want four children. I did not want three children. I did not want two children. I barely wanted one child. They are he hardest, most disruptive, most frustrating houseguests in the world. No one ever told me that.

Maybe they joked about it.
But I’m not joking—kids will fuck you up.

Every one of my children has broken me in new ways, and I am writing today to tell you that there is hope. So let’s get practical. Here are a few practices that help maintain my sanity:

   1.  Take the long way home.

Yes, your wife may have the noose waiting for you when you arrive, but you are responsible for you first. Are you tense about what your boss thinks of your performance? Take the time to journal about it, call a friend to confess, or just breathe and remember that there is more to life than the American Dream Machine.

Did your parenting partner threaten to feed the babies to the dog when the witching hour hit?  Pray for her (she is responsible for her own emotional health and needs) & take the long way, listen to some music and enjoy being alone for a minute before you step back into the blitz. These things are important and your family will suffer if you don’t take the time to love yourself first.

    2.  Show up.

Going out to happy hour is probably not showing up, it’s escaping. I did it too. Finding an excuse to start a new project at work at 4:45, heading to the fridge for a beer the moment I got home, watching HGTV until my eyes were numb: all escaping and hiding.

Please be honest with yourself.  And ask for help if you need it.

None of those actions was loving to myself though, I was just avoiding the fact that I didn’t want to be spending another night stuck at home with needy kids and a tired wife. When I learned to suit up though, I found that a good night getting covered in baby food and reading Goodnight Moon for the 9000th time is genuinely more fulfilling than an alcoholic beverage or hours of TV

How great is it to be greeted by a kid who will love you unconditionally for at least another 3 years? How special is the chalk nebula they proudly scribbled on the front door to welcome you home? I mostly love checking the closet for monsters and tucking them in tight, sometimes.  Really, that’s all I wanted in the world. To be loved, to do good work. They all give me purpose.

    3.  Give yourself a break.

Men don’t often learn what masculine femininity looked like in regards to home life.  No one prepared me for the reality of feeling a hard, good life, the reality of four children, four miracles who just kept coming. Give yourselves a break on the days when you are ready to squeeze your kin until they snap.

Breathe deeply when your wife adds one more nail to-do to the list coffin. When you want to quit your job and step away from the pressures of reality, give yourself a hug in the bathroom and remind the little boy looking back at you in the mirror that you’re doing a good job.

I mean that literally. Give yourselves a timeout. Tell your wife that you need to take a shit. Lock the bathroom door. Take a drink of water from the toothbrushing cup next to the sink. Lay down on the floor if you need to. And breathe until you believe that you are capable and effective of going back out there. Because you are. You are allowed to take a break too.

You are allowed to be afraid and confused and angry, too.

But if you start to take care of yourself with the same tenderness that helps you care for your family, I think you will find you are a better, stronger, more loving man than you knew you could be.

Grace & peace,

David

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Step 1: I Suck At Life

 

A photo by Tim Marshall. unsplash.com/photos/cz7gGUd4cH0

I remember wanting to stop more than I wanted to take the pills, but will power wasn’t enough because my biology is different.  I remember keeping a strict schedule with the kids so that every four hours, when my skin started itching and I wanted to Houdini out of myself, I had peace and quiet to help ease me into that narcotic hug.

8am:  TV time.  Take 20mg of oxy and let it trickle into the blood that bedtime kept clean.  Strawberry Shortcake had the same effect on the kids.  We zoned out together, as a family.

Noon:  Rush them through lunch, hurry them into their beds, plop onto the big gray sofa, and take another 20mg.  The constant unyielding drive to make my life feel better made it impossible for anyone to exhale around me.  God forbid one of them resist sleep.  How dare you rob my high from me.

4pm:  Quiet time, which I still enact today, but now it’s so can read or prep dinner instead of melting into the sofa with narcotics, and Dr. Phil.  Dr. Phil is it’s own kind of opiate.

8pm:  Bed time.  I would purposefully go longer than the prescribed four hours sometimes, stepping right up to the edge of sanity, so that when I took the 20mg I felt that womb-y rush a little more like a wave and a little less like a ripple.

I know they advise against mixing narcotics with Vodka, but they probably don’t know how great it feels.  Sometimes I drank.  Often I drank.

Toward the end I was usually a day or five behind the prescription refill, but I had amassed a stash from all the surgeries and medical procedures.  Stealing Ambien from David worked in a pinch.

Toward the end I never felt the waves because I had sunk completely under, like when you dive under the white water and settle into the calm against the sandy ocean floor. I hadn’t breathed in years, since the bone marrow transplant.

Toward the end David left work early and often because I regularly nodded off or needed help with withdrawal symptoms.  How did he manage promotions and raises with a sunken wife?  Thank you, Lord.  Thank you, David.

My life was unmanageable, I couldn’t keep going—that’s all I knew.

I also knew that normal people didn’t need three laxatives a day to keep their bowels moving.  And maybe it wasn’t normal to have a 3-year-old who scratched her body, or a social & spiritual life dissolve away.

Once upon a time I decorated a home for Christmas without Adderall, I know that happened.  What about all the Elton John I used to play as I bopped around the house?  What happened to sex with my husband?

Ohhh, right, oxy replaced all of that.  No need for best friends and morning walks when pharmaceuticals rested in the little porcelain box on the side table next to the gray sofa.

My first morning in rehab, after a night in the Shake Shack (where one goes to shake from withdrawal), I woke up skipping because I could see the surface of the water for the first time in two years.  The filtered, green-blue light whipped my insides into a life-y froth.  I heard voices and music again.  Muffled, but audible.

Then Olive, the tall, southern, and slightly-Buddhist chaplain handed out a worksheet at my first inpatient session.  Only seven weeks prior they ripped my baby boy out of me in an emergency c-section, he flipped breach at the last minute, after my water broke at 10cm dilated—I labored right up to the end.

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He knew I needed help, too.  And so he ruined what would have been a perfect delivery.  We could’ve left the hospital before his withdrawal symptoms showed up, before they called social services.

In the big room full of bare faces and even barer souls I sat on a pillow on the floor to help with the pain from my half-natural, half c-section delivery.  Oxy would help take away the pain from the pink incision and chemo-fried nerves, but oxy would also drag me back down into the cold, lonely, quiet abyss.

Olive walked through the first of twelve steps: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/oxy/adderall/exercise/control/food/love/sex/power/fear/nicotine/marijuana/everything—that our lives had become unmanageable.

I will never feel more safe or more at home than in room full of addicts, a room full of people unafraid to admit defeat, humanity, and fear.  Turns out, nodding off with your children playing near-by and putting your son in the NICU qualifies as an unmanageable existence.  Which was such a relief.  I don’t have to hold it all up anymore.

Wait, nobody’s really holding it all up, are they?  So, we all need help?

Oh I could get used to this.  I inhaled and exhaled every day in rehab.  I drank way too much sleepy time tea because Ambien is a crutch, they told me.  They encouraged meditation or reading instead, which was hilarious.

“I hear you, but there is a very angry lady in the Shake Shack who is in fact shaking, and smells like kimchi, and maybe mentioned punching anyone who turned on the light again.  And if I get punched with a healing abdominal wound I’m sure I would need oxy but this is rehab, you see the dilemma don’t you?  So please give me some Ambien.”

“Sweetie, I can give you chocolate and a hug.”  The night nurse smiled kindly.

“God-damn it.”  Rehab is where I learned to curse.  People in recovery swear because we can’t drink and we don’t give a rip what anyone thinks of us.

“Fine, I’ll take the chocolate.  And the hug.”

 

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You’re A Superhuman

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Imagine a quiet, dark room.  Not the kind of blackness that stirs fear and mystery, no.  This feels like the shade caused by a giant oak tree, it’s alive.  It’s pregnant.  It’s holy and you know it.  All the walls are visible through the dabbles of light those frosted, dusty windows let in, adding to the sense of security.  Nothing is going to pop out at me.  Nothing will hurt me.  No furtive schemers here.

You exhale.

As your eyes adjust you notice a wardrobe in the corner of this safe space.  Think C.S. Lewis.  Large, but not overwhelming.  Pregnant, just like the room.  The thud in your heart beats your body toward the wooden mystery.  Calm, steady steps lead you right up to the mirrored doors.  Your reflection reminds you of your nakedness, but it feels Good.  Right, even.  This must be how Adam and Eve felt in the Garden.  The glory of your form folds a small smile on your contented face.

You inhale.

Somehow the doors open, you don’t quite know how, you were busy imagining what they contained.  And then you see the richness, tapestries and garments woven by Loving hands.  Robes dripping with jewels and colors you haven’t seen in years.  Someone spent a long time crafting these, you whisper.  Wow, who had time to do this?  Is it all for me?

It is all for you.  Unhurried, but curious, you pull out the one that flickers like a small campfire—it’s heavy and hot to the touch.  I didn’t even know this many shades of red existed, you note.  A word (or words) are stitched on the back piece of the garment, running along the shoulders, but in a language and letter you don’t understand.  Because you’re curious you heave it on top of your shoulders.

Red is my color, you remind yourself.

But then your throat starts to tighten and your jaw screws shut.  What’s going on?  Why do I feel like this?  You look in the mirror on one of the wardrobe doors you slammed shut.  Damn!  I look good.  I’m on fire!  I knew I needed to try this one on first.  The room starts to feel warm and small.  The inspiring light that brought you such peace before now annoys you, Why is it so flippin’ dark in here?!  I can’t see a thing!  

Weighed down by the robe, your strong, sure body now feels fatigued, sweaty, and sick.  Your reflection is almost unrecognizable, the peace your wore so proudly in your nakedness now hides under the rage.  Then you see that the symbols on your shoulders and upper back are ablaze.  Quickly you step out from under the woven heaviness.

Anger, the letters now read.  Oohhhh, you nod.  Yes, that was anger.

Respectfully and purposefully you lift the robe off the floor and hang it back up, giving it a gentle and playful pat-pat.  Thank you but no thank you.

Your body has cooled, so has your heart, and now a yellow linen seems appropriate.  You think you know what’s going on here.  And you do.

It weighs as much as you imagine a little sparrow would, and metallic stitches embellish the hems.  Same as with the Anger garment, there’s an indecipherable word along the shoulders, but it’s shorter and was sketched by a lighter hand.  I can’t wait to try this one on.

Wow.  You look in the mirror.  The room lights up, but it’s a humble brightness, like the sun shifted through a big gap in that old oak tree and some clouds rolled away.  I had no idea…  Nothing in the room has changed; it’s still just a wardrobe, some old windows, a dirt floor.  Thank You for this room, your voice sounds clear and strong and tender, like a tulip or the first rays of sunlight touching your holy skin in the early morning.

You notice your lightness.  Yeah baby—all feather all the time.  A silly laugh tumbles from your toothy grin, you stick out your tongue.  You don’t care if anyone heard the snorts, because you only have space for gratitude, presence, and…JOY.  The letters illuminate as you twirl around, and you catch a glimpse out of the corner of your bright eyes.

This is Joy.

For the next hour you try on the remaining garments of glory.  A dirty, ocean blue robe with gray velvet trim causes tears to well up in your eyes, and your heart to sink down into a cold abyss.  You detect concrete, and not the hip kind—a jail cell.  Why do I feel like this?  Oh this is awful.  Colors fade away and you almost feel unable to remove the tapestry. I’m not sure I have the strength to take this one off…  You finally do, but you need a moment to recover.

The pink one with emeralds, turquoise, and pearls made you feel like the Love Hulk you always knew you were.  I LOVE this one.  Love Love Love.

Finally, it’s confirmed.  What you thought you knew becomes Truth.  You have choice in which coat to wear and when.  Or whether you need a coat at all.

Your perfect, naked reflection was everything it needed to be.  These robes were crafted by a Love who wants to help you navigate each step of your journey home with as much grace and help as possible.  There is a time and a season for each one.  All those colors need honoring, Anger, Fear, Joy, Sadness, Love— they all need honoring.

BUT YOU HAVE A CHOICE.  Because the Love that wove together each garment wove you into existence, too—using Love, free will, and divine power as the materials that would soon become  your breathing matter.

You inhale.  You exhale.  And you strap on the garment made of crimson, blood and iron melted in—Courage.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, you remember.  I have a choice in how I respond to every. single. thing, you remember.  I have authority over evil and hate and envy and anger!  You exclaim.  I’ll just take off the coats!  And vice versa, I can choose Joy and Love and Peace!

Now that you’ve learned you’re a superhuman, you confidently exit the room and enter a real Life worth living.

And it is Good.

Amen.

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