My first experience as a dad was less than ideal. When my son Franklin was born, his mom and I were in a really tough time of our marriage. He was born premature and had to spend nine days in the NICU.
I came to visit during lunch and each night to check on him. I would sit next to his box of blinking lights and tubes. The air tube and feeding tube went up his nose and down his throat and were taped to either side of his face to keep them in place. The doctor said Franklin had a 25% of having heart, lung, and a slew of other developmental problems. He could be blind or deaf or both and the list went on. With each specific problem, came a crushing blow to my heart. This was my first parental experience. I call it the experience of being helpless and out of control…
Thankfully, Franklin recovered, but my marriage was falling apart. I moved to South Dakota to be closer to the support system of my parents. My son rode with me on the flight to Sioux Falls. There were two guys next to me on the flight making small talk. Like me they were young and in graduate school pursuing advanced business degrees, but unlike me they lacked a two year old riding on their lap. I was a single dad learning the ropes all by myself.
I remember the first time Franklin started daycare. He latched on to me as I tried to leave. He was crying and frantic. Outside, I sat in my car and cried; I felt like a horrible dad. I wanted to run in and take him home. I told myself it was only four hours - just long enough to cover time at my newspaper job before my dad would get off work at 5pm. He would pick up Franklin and my parents would watch him for the night and put him to bed. I would get the paper on the presses at midnight and head to my parents' house and carefully take him back to my apartment while he slept. As time went by it got easier. I would sneak over to the daycare and watch him play. I was always relieved when I saw him having a good time. I wasn’t such a horrible dad.
All these struggles have made me the type of dad I am today. I am remarried now and living in Nebraska; and even though, I’m no longer a single parent and he is no longer in the NICU, I can still be really protective and anxious for my little boy.
Last night I was reflecting on these times, while we were lying on Franklin’s bed in his messy room, with pistachio crumbs in his bed. (He likes pistachios a lot.) I swept off the crumbs and lay down next him. He listened intently just wanting me to be next to him. I told him all the things I needed to hear from my dad when I was his age.
I told him that he needs to save all the money he can in his piggy bank just in case of emergencies. I told him about discipline. "We all need a little discipline," I said. "It consists of three simple things: hard work, willpower, and persistence. When we feel like giving up, we don’t. When we feel sad, like a muscle, we train our minds to go toward the light and stay positive even in our darkest moments. Finally, when we are tempted to do things that make us feel too good or too comfortable we should use them sparingly, otherwise we’ll get nothing done in life."
"Are you disciplined?" he asked me.
"No," I said, "None of us are perfect." (Hey, I am a realist)
I went on to tell him that I am always proud of him. He asked why I was proud of him that day. He came home with a good report card from conferences and the teacher told us how well behaved he is. His face lights up, smiles and then buries his face in the pillow embarrassed. We talked some more about normal things. Our cats and how each has a different personality. That Halloween is coming and where he wants to go trick or treating. He tells me that his 3DS went missing...
I leaned over to tell him that I loved him…but he was already asleep.
I love being a dad.