There are so many identities that we have to have throughout our lifetimes. The labels of Son/Daughter, Brother/Sister, Mother/ Father, and Husband/ Wife can often become how we describe ourselves to others. Regularly we can lose one label to take on a new one. A son that now becomes a father may identify more as the father and lesser so as a son as time carries us on. Just as the thoughts of us being a child reduces as we grow into adulthood. We rarely think of the identities that we lose or that become lesser points of our lives as they descend into the background of our future. We don’t stop being those things they just lessen in significance to our overall identity. A doctor doesn’t lose the knowledge that they have gained over the course of a lifetime just because they retired. Yet adults lose the recollection of being a child or a teenager when attempting to relate to their own children as a parent. I am not sure if this is a subconscious letting go of the past that is deemed to be less important or if we consciously let go of what we believe is no longer relevant to our current lives.
From the moment I met her I wanted that label of being hers. Not just being in a relationship that label seemed less important than being in THIS relationship. Within a year of she and I being together I was provided the privilege of gaining a new label and soon forgot about the old on, I was now her fiancée. While this label doesn’t come with a sparkly cheap ring from a now defunct department store like it did for her, it was enough for me. I never needed an object to reflect the pride in where I was or who I was becoming. Labels came quickly over the course of our beginning. New identities seemed to fly all over the place just begging me to grab a hold of them and keep them in a jar as my own like when I would catch lightening bugs as a child. Later that year the title of expecting father was added to my list. Unfortunately that was the first title that I lost. December of our first year together our status of expecting parents ended with a few oddly chosen words from a physician. They still ring through my head 18 years later; our parenthood was not “viable”. While the definition fits the delivery was, well, it left a bad taste. It was like the doctor just walked in and tore the newly earned stripes right off of our chest, then turned and walked out. We were not viable.
The following year we earned our stripes back by becoming “Parents” which now made me a “Father”. This may be the title I love the most. In November of 1999, I, “Mr. Most Likely to…..wait who are we talking about again? Who is that?” became someone. While I was a Fiancée first and that title I held dear to my heart there was a step up that I could take from there, there as still a promotion that I could get, there is no promotion from father it is the highest ranking you can attain. This little boy lying in the crook of my arm would call me “Dad”, “Pa”, “Father”, whatever he chose but it all meant the same. My identity became a father. This new identity was scary at first, this little skin sack filled with bones and organs was looking to me to help keep it alive. What if I dropped him? What if I pressed that open spot on his head by accident and damaged that brain? Oh man, there is so much I can do wrong. I didn’t want to just be a father; I wanted to be the best father to them that I knew how. I never strived for perfection because well it doesn’t exist so why add that pressure. There is enough pressure being a parent, you can never be perfect. The thing is I didn’t know how to be a father, I didn’t know what examples to use to become the father wanted to be. So I made it up as I went. Two years later when I became a father again, I was still scared. The reasons this time were different, I loved my first child so much, I loved my wife so much, how could I possibly have room to love another. So “the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day” all of the sudden it just wasn’t a problem, in April of 2002 I now had a second son.
The following year it became time to get that last promotion I wanted. We set the date, set the location, and planned the party. I would finally get to be her husband. This date I have waited for since I was in ninth grade. I was marrying her; the identity of father would now have a very close equal in the title of husband. I took both very seriously; I wanted to be a great husband in so many ways, financially, emotionally, and physically. Some days just don’t go your way and so you have a bad day but when you are together for almost 20 years those days are bound to happen. The effort of wanting to make her happy was always on the forefront of everything I did. I never wavered in my commitment to being a husband nor did I tire of the role. I was passionate about it and her, falling in love with her many times over during our time together. Some say they have never felt that, I was fortunate to experience many times with her. I am lucky, fortunate, and in the end better for it.
When I became a husband, well really when I became her “boyfriend”, I set aside a piece of me to become part of a greater whole. When I took my first job to support us I set aside another piece. When I became a father another little piece of me was set aside to become the father I wanted to be. Slowly over the years I set aside more and more pieces. I was to be the provider, I was to be the coach, I was to be the rock at times, and at times I was to be the one who sacrificed his wants for the betterment of the family. This was never anything I ever questioned. I wasn’t asked to do this. I wasn’t put down if I didn’t. She was a supportive wife for the most part. I had no “honey do lists”, she never stopped me from seeing friends or buying something I wanted. It was just something I felt that I had to do to be able to be what I found more important than self. I watched generations of fathers do the same. They would go to a job that they hated, to provide, they would fix something when they were exhausted, and they would support when they just wanted to be supported. One thing I am not saying is that women have it any different, I am just speaking to my experience.
I placed parts of my identity into a box then placed that box up on a shelf in a closet and there it sat. Until that is, well she left. One of my identities was gone. It took pieces of my other identities with it. I was a Husband/ Father together. They were united and intertwined so much that when the title of husband was taken chunks of the father went leaving me worried that I would not be able to be a good father without being a husband. They are two separate roles or titles or identities. I was not a father to her just as I was not a husband to them but I didn’t know how to be one without the other. I didn’t know how to be an employee let alone a father in the beginning. So how do I navigate this? Where does one find themselves after 20 years of being someone different? That box that I had placed away it held more than I had thought. The box had become huge. It now rested on the floor of the closet with piles of junk keeping it shut. Opening it was like going through the boxes of a loved one who had passed away. I looked very closely at each item that was put away to decide if it was a throw away or a keeper. What was even “viable” anymore? I figured the longhaired hippy role I played in high school could go away but what about the guy who liked to play guitar? I love to write, always have, so that one can stay but do I really like…..?
It was like I was Dr. Frankenstein putting together a new monster. For a while I had to learn to speak again because so much of what I spoke about was her and my kids. I had to learn to think differently because now I had to make decisions that were for the betterment of me? I mean my kids too but I had to think about what I wanted, without thought of her. “IGOR! Rewire this man’s brain at once!!!” When I became upset I had to be the one to pick myself back up. When I got to excited I had to talk myself back down. If someone pissed me off I had no one to vent to. When I got worried for the boys or for her I had to learn to talk myself through that. I was becoming everything that I needed slowly. I was becoming something that I should have worked on becoming years ago. I just never concentrated on building a “me” before.
The immediate aftermath of her request for a divorce was that I didn’t like myself at all. The more I thought about it though, it wasn’t that I didn’t like myself, I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know if I did or didn’t like myself because I had no idea who I was. I was a husband, I WAS a husband, now what am I? Where that role or identifier was now lies what? So I checked the box, what is in here that I wanted to pull back out and practice? I was the provider for a family, so when I lost my job I lost yet another trait that I had taken on, back to the box. Slowly I started to pull out of this box the items that I wanted to keep and in place of the ones that I didn’t have anymore use for, I brought new items in. I not only learned who I was, but I learned who I am, and I learned who I wanted to be. I am a father, I am the best father to my boys that I can be. That isn’t going to change. When they are not with me I am not less fatherly but at the same time I explore more. Who am I? Today I am more me than I have ever been, and tomorrow I can and will say the same. I am getting comfortable with who I am and I am getting excited about who I am becoming. I think that this process may have been scarier than becoming a father for the first time. I feel like I was more fragile than that baby was lying in my arms, as I didn’t have someone guiding me or holding me through this. I raised myself, once again, the difference this time is that only I will determine if I am “viable”.