I am a father, and that is the most incredible assignation in the world, to know that two little girls look up to me, that they see in me a role model for men everywhere. It’s an awesome responsibility and a true gift. I am a husband, which I cherish, being able to come home every day to the woman I love and to know that she loves me too. I am a son, a brother, a cousin, and a friend. But before it all, before I was anything to anybody else, I was me first.
My first memory is of eating bugs. My sister said I had to eat dirt before I died, so she handed me a fistful of the stuff. There were bugs crawling in it. I didn’t notice. I stuffed that dirt into my mouth and began to chew. I remember that for some reason, maybe because it was traumatic, eating those bugs in that dirt, or perhaps it was something else. But I remember it clear as day. For the first time in my young life I identified with me a someone separate from others, as a singular entity who could make decisions for myself.
When I was born I was the son that my mother wanted. She had been dreaming about me, and — poof! — there I was, in the screaming, caterwauling flesh. She said I came out demanding things. I wanted to drink, but apparently not breast milk. I wanted to be changed right away. I wanted, I wanted, I WANTED. And I had to have it right then. Apparently I identified with needs on a deep, basic level. I don’t remember any of it, but I guess I must have been kind of forceful. But I didn’t know who I was back then. All I knew was that the world owed me, or more specifically my mother owed me.
Then I got older and my wants merged with my needs. A big wheel? Why yes, I needed to have that. Ice cream all summer? Sure, I had to have that too. So, just as I was beginning to be more things to more people I was becoming more selfish, more “me-centric” too. I guess the two work hand in hand, though, because my sister began blaming more stuff on me, my mother began punishing me more for my bad behavior, and I got chores handed to me at around the same time.
There’s a picture of me from an Atlanta hotel hallway, when I was around 11 or 12, crying my eyes out. Every time I see it I focus on those chubby cheeks shiny with tears, and I still have absolutely no idea why I was so despondent. Apparently I had thrown a temper tantrum that night for whatever reason. I’m sure it had something to do with me not getting what I wanted, what I felt I deserved. But nobody deserves anything, which was a lesson it took me a long time in coming. We get what we get out of the kindness of other peoples’ hearts.
And as we get older the less “me-centric” we’re supposed to be. At least that’s what I’ve figured out. As we add more and more responsibilities to the mix we need to take care of those before we can be focused on ourselves. But is that true? It seems to me that we need to create more of a balance to make things work in the best way. What I mean is that it’s time we start separating our base, selfish natures from our care and maintenance of ourselves and our emotional well-being.
Being a father can be draining, and no matter how much I love and appreciate my children there are some times when I need some me-time, when I need to continue to foster my own nurturing. There are also times when being a husband needs to be paramount, when there is a disconnect between partners because both are so hyper-focused on the children. It’s in finding this balance that we can be “me first” sometimes, in a way that helps us be better when being around others, that can help us be better parents, better partners, and better all-around human beings in the long run.
Or maybe it’s just me.