Eleven years ago my wife gave me a call. She was out of town with a friend of hers. I was home with my friends. We were living a great life. Her career was starting to blossom. I was still trying to figure out how to define my career, and having a great time doing it. Many might argue that I’m still trying to define it.
I was hanging out at my friend’s photography studio. We were shooting a video for the band I was in. The band actually had a decent following. Maybe more importantly we were having a blast playing together. Right in the middle of it all my wife called the studio: cell phones were not as ubiquitous as they are now.
She asked, “Are you sitting down?”
I chuckled and said, “Are you serious.”
“Very. I’m pregnant.”
I sat down. Involuntarily.
I had always thought that scenario was such cliché, until that moment. Nothing had floored me like that before or has since then. Little did I know, however, how momentous those two words would become.
All of us who are faced with the prospect of becoming parents imagine that our lives are about to change, but I’ve come to believe that it is humanly impossible to truly fathom to what degree one’s life changes once that new little life enters this world.
Like the variability in all of our personalities, how a child changes one’s life is particular to each person, each family. For my wife and I, having our first child was saved our relationship.
Some couples have a child thinking that it will bring them closer together and save the relationship. A year earlier we had put in a lot of effort into having our first child. Granted, we didn’t try as hard as many people have to try, but even after concentrating on timing, and giving ourselves the best chance nothing came to pass. For us as a couple, we thought that this would be our lot, and if the time came and we were really serious about having a child in our lives, then we would adopt. For that time in our lives, however, I suspect, in hindsight, we welcomed the lack of immediate results.
We embarked upon very selfish paths in our lives. We were essentially living very separate lives, in which we happened to be married to each other. We were faithful to each other, and respectful of each other, but our decisions for our day-to-day lives, and even short-term planning was very selfish.
When the little blue plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test for my wife, who at the time was two thousand miles away from me – literally and metaphorically – it started a very serious dialog between the two of us. When she returned from her trip with her friend, we had a few weeks’ worth of conversations about what we were going to do about the pregnancy. Yes, we considered if continuing the pregnancy was the best thing for us.
For one of the first times in our marriage we seriously looked at us – the two of us together as one entity – and asked if we could handle being parents. Only ten years later do I realize that the conversations we were having were about our relationship: were we ready to put the time into us?
Being married when life is all hormones, and love, and roses, and hope, and the future is easy. Anybody can do that. The real meat of marriage comes down the road when you start looking at each other, trying to figure out if the road you are on is the same as your spouse, or at least parallel. Parallel is perfectly fine, as long as you’re maintaining the same speed. We were on parallel paths, and only in hindsight did the two of us see that we had lost perspective, and that our paths had started to diverge. We had become so selfish, that we didn’t realize that given the frequency at which we were checking back in with each other we had failed to notice the slowly changing perspective. Like parents who don’t realize how much their children have grown, until a relative or friend who has not seen the children for nine months comments “my how much he’s grown,” the pregnancy slapped us awake to realize we had some work to do to figure out who we were as a couple, and if we wanted to put in the effort before this child was born.
The birth of our first child was a marvelous event: those moments usually are. What I’ve only recently come to realize, however, is the gift we gave each other. By spending so much time deliberating over whether we could handle being parents, we had established a pattern for us.
We are only human. In the eleven years since that time we have had a few moments where we’ve had to remind ourselves to return to us. Through those few moments, however, we’ve always grown stronger as a couple, building our trust in each other.
And maybe that’s the key. Trust. Mutual respect. Those elements allow two people to figure out how to build a partnership that is not only good for them as a unit, but mutually beneficial for each of the people in the relationship. After all, if one person feels their spouse is benefiting from the relationship more than they are themselves, there aren’t too many positive outcomes to come from that.
What I find amazing is that ten years into the journey of parenthood, I’m finding my children have become beautiful touchstones for trust and respect. My wife and I try to respect our children as little people as well. Yes, we have the final word as parents, and compared to some families we are quite strict, but our children know that we will always listen to them, that they have a voice, and that decisions never end with “because I told you so.”
So in those quiet moments at the end of a day, when I’m tucking one or the other little guy into bed some of those lovely reminders spill forth. The other night I was tucking in our oldest and he asked me, “Dad, what happens when you die?”
I told him the story about the thoughts he had on the subject when he was three. He speculated that our souls live on in the hearts of those we leave behind. He said that after I die, and after he dies, I would be on one side of our families’ hearts and he on the the other, and we would be able to look at each other that way forever. Even writing this I have a hard time not tearing up. I told him how when he told me this I had a hard time not crying, as he had already started to tear in front of me. Happy tears. We hugged.
I gave him a hug and a kiss good night, but returned only two minutes later to lay down with him as he fell asleep. And as he started to drift off I told him, “Whenever you have those thoughts, or want to talk about those, things, find me. Talk to me. I’m always here for you.”
My words were for me as much as him. To know that you have a partner who will listen to you, and not make fun of you, or question you during your most vulnerable moments, that is love. Familial love. Platonic love. Romantic love. And I feel like the most blessed man on earth because I have that with my wife, and I sense that we’re passing it on to our children.