Last weekend I took the Heathens to the movies. Just they and me, us just three. We saw “We Bought A Zoo”, a heart-wrenching tale of a father and his two kids who undertake ownership of a zoo as part of buying a house, all brought on by their attempt to move past the death of the mom in the family. Heathen #2 took the opportunity to nap, #1 took it all in and wrestled with the concept of death and roaring lions, while I took the chance to weep like a damn baby every five minutes. Yeah, I don’t recommend you go into that movie with the hopes of a comedic romp, but if you feel like staining your sleeves with tears and snot like a child might, then by all means, go.
The movie highlighted the struggles of family dynamic, of a father trying to connect with his son and daughter, trying to find purpose when his has seemed to vanish into the ether. I haven’t lost a spouse to death, nor have I up and quit my day job, but nonetheless, I’m struggling. We all are. In this time of Facebook and Twitter, where everyone is trying to sell either the very best versions of what they WANT you to see, or in the case of the latter, bitter snark, it’s easy to feel as though you’ve fallen off the Normal Train.
Lord knows I’ve made horrendous errors. My propensity to only learn things the hard way has cost me pride, dignity and self-respect on more than one occasion. I’ve had friends, good friends, take a look at me and just say “nahhh, I’m not dealing with you.” The ability to take everything too personally has slowed down my personal growth to the point where the middle finger is often my primary reaction to people who may, or may not be, just trying to help. And the sad truth is that is it’s probably going to be that way in many aspect of my life, always. I never wanted to grow up thinking “well I better not experience THAT part of life, because I’ve been told it’s not good, or it’ll hurt.” I’ve NEEDED to grab the stove, so that I could KNOW what getting burned felt like, to hurt like that, to live.
So how to reconcile this rocky path I keep choosing with raising my boys with a semblance of stability? I looked over at them during the movie, as the father in the movie was in the middle of arguing with his son, and I felt distinct chest pains; already my boys like to push the edge of the envelope, and although it’s a normal part of establishing your individual identity, it still hurts sometimes. People in this life will let you down, as I have to many, and I’ve had done to me; but these, my boys, my most rewarding endeavor in this life….they’ve changed the game completely. At the age of six and eight, they’ve taught me more about being an adult than any other adult I’ve known. It is they who continue to teach me how to be a parent. Those two giggling spasms of drive-me-loco energy are who prop me up from my darkest moments. From some unknown paternal well of inner resolve, I’m able to put aside my selfish drive and focus on strength for them in return. From the moment they arrived into this world, naked and screaming, nothing has driven me quite like the sense of protective love I feel for those lunatics. Nothing else could.
Our paths together will continue to wind around unknown corners, little hurts and big heartbreaks testing our will and resolve. But I didn’t get to town on the Normal Train myself, so to bend to convention seems an unlikely option as a parent for me. I’ll love those boys ferociously, for all their lives and then some, and maybe they’ll grow up to question just what kind of unhinged dad they’ve inherited. That’s okay, I’ve never claimed to be normal, or stable for that matter. They’ll grow up with many questions about this fantastic, mean, beautiful world, but one thing I hope they never question is my boundless love for them.
As heart-wrenching as it was, it really wasn’t the movie causing my eyes to leak so prolifically. The sheer enormity of this journey of fatherhood can, at once, cause you to buckle at the knees and give you the kind of strength you never dreamed existed. What a crazy blessing. Thanks for having my back, boys. I’ll always have yours. Always.