Listen to the sound of me spilling my heart through this pen
I looked in the mirror the other day, and recognized myself. That isn’t quite right. I looked in the mirror the other day, and I liked what I saw. I’m carrying a few extra pounds, as usual. My hair is thinning in the front, my nose is too big and too hooked and I could go on. I won’t.
I’ve spent years looking at the mirror, asking “what are you going to do?” or “what are you thinking?”. I’ve spent years, asking the mirror “Why aren’t you happy?” or “Why are you doing this to yourself?”. Maybe you know what that feels like. There came a time that I looked in the mirror and my face felt wrong. I felt like I was looking at someone else, a person who’s drives and dreams I couldn’t understand.
In therapy I spent a lot of time talking. I spend a lot of time talking, and in the last two years I’ve gotten to know that person in the mirror. I’ve written, passingly, about manhood before. When I used to look at the face I didn’t recognize, I always felt like a boy. In the mirror I saw a boy, too. The other day I looked in the mirror and felt completely at peace. Looking back at me was a man. He seemed confident, and I knew that finally wasn’t bullshit. I didn’t question him, I knew his face fit me, and I understood his drives and desires.
I’m finally understanding who I actually am, and that is an incredibly comfortable feeling.
Recently, my two and a half year old, Katie, has been asking me, “Daddy, how come you don’t love mama anymore?”.
She asks often. When she asks, I do my best to answer her honestly, and in a way she’ll understand. At two and a half, the concepts we’re discussing are bigger. Bigger than she is, and bigger than I am. I wish I could protect her from them, but it would mean lying to her, and I won’t do that. So I give her my best answer, and I finish by saying “You know, I’ll always love you and your sister. I’m your daddy. That can’t ever change, no matter what. ” She smiles, and hugs me, and every time my heart breaks for her, having to grapple with the idea that love might be impermanent, and possibly fearing that she might lose mine.
Last night her big sister said “Daddy, Katie asks that a lot!” I said, “I think she asks a lot because she doesn’t understand the answer. It’s kind of hard to understand, isn’t it? If she’s still asking then I need to keep trying to help her understand. I want her to know me.”
Katie, a big part of the answer is this: When I was with your mother, I wasn’t content within myself. I wasn’t living any of my life, I was skipping the moments that comprise it because I was unhappy and I didn’t want to be in them. It wasn’t something I could change. I did what I could to change it, but it didn’t matter. No matter how hard I prayed, how skinny I got, how far I ran or how hard I drank or how much I gamed, I didn’t find peace. It was preventing me from connecting with you, and your sister.
The rote Christian solution to the problem of internal conflict or pain is, “Give it to God. ” And now I will tell you a blasphemy. I tell it in hopes that it will make you a more whole person: Running to anything, including gods and faith, is a way of running away from yourself. To know yourself, you will confront your darkness, your fear and your shame. You’ll also find the truth, or the lie, behind your pride and your confidence, which may be harder.
When you’ve done this, you won’t be without flaws, but you’ll probably understand most of them. You’ll be more connected to your emotions and you’ll know the woman in the mirror. You’ll be able to connect more fully to the family and friends you have, and you’ll be less afraid.
You will feel deeply. The last few years have left me with regrets, I feel them always. I want to give you and your sister everything that it is possible to give. I want you to have what is in your best interests. I don’t want to hurt you. I found the choices I was left with impossible, I didn’t see a path that wouldn’t cause you pain, so I chose the path that I hoped would give you the best chance. I want you to be whole, I want to be whole so you might know what it means to be whole.
The last few years have also left me with a lot of happiness. I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and of the man I am. I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I’m a better parent than I knew I could be. You and your sister make it so easy. I adore you both. The time we’ve spent together has been this incandescent, living thing. We are alive, and that is pure beauty. I am not sad when you’re not with me but I am always sad when you’re not with me. Does that make sense?
At bedtime, Abby called me into the room and asked me what I was doing. I said I was exercising and she asked why. I said, “Because I want to be strong for you and your sister. So I can take care of you. ” It’s true. And it’s the reason I face my past, and meet my demons, and accept the parts of me that I don’t like. I am driven on your behalf. I know I’ve reaped benefits from this desire to be a better man, and I hope you’ll benefit from who I’ve become, too.
That’s all I can hope. That whatever pain and uncertainty I’ve caused you will be overridden by the love I bear for you, and by the things I can teach you about being a human.
I hope that I can help you understand how to accept life, how to find your place in the infinitude of joy and sadness, and how to become love.