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Scenes of Life
Hi readers and friends,
You may have noticed a new name in your inbox or Substack app. You probably don’t remember signing up for Get Real, Man. This is not some spam email. I’ve changed this newsletter’s name from Whose Mountain to Get Real, Man.
Why now and why Get Real, Man?
Simply, what this newsletter is about is changing. It started as an outlet for my own transition into a more creative life. Over the past nine months it’s become a place to share what it means to grow up, to want to become a fully whole man. It’s a place for us to get real with each other. If you want to see more about the focus, head over to the new About page. If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them. You can leave a comment below or email me.
And with that, I hope you enjoy this week’s piece.
There’s a memory I can’t escape: the piercing screams of my one-year-old, C, echoing through the walls of our house. That call, a mix of tears and screams, arouses my best Clark Kent impression as I rush upstairs, fill the room with my pearly white smile, and survey the crime scene with my X-ray vision, prepared to save the day. My best Late Night Love impersonation announces, “I’ve got him honey, you take a break.”
I’m all hope and optimism.
My first super dad move: music. The black Sonos tower on the bookshelf fills the room with Chopin’s Prelude in A Major, whose slow, tender melody leads to a graceful climax scientifically proven to calm even the fussiest of children. I learned that one from the “Dad Edge” podcast. My second super dad move: motion. The rhythmic rocking between my arms and his 22 pound body harmonizes perfectly with the music to heighten the calming effect. Thank you to this morning’s “The Daily Dad” newsletter. My third super dad move: books. Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go! conjures inspiration and deep lessons with bright pictures and rhythmic rhymes. That move was all me, also proven by science.
Like Superman, I’m unstoppable. It’s only a matter of time until he’ll settle. But as the minutes tick by, and Dr. Seuss gives way to Peter Rabbit, who leaves us for Llama Llama, C’s tears keep coming. How can this be? Another tear.Another crack in my armor, revealing that old familiar anger. Then the yelling.
“Stop crying. I’m trying to help. I’m doing everything I can. What is wrong with you?
Finally, my wife rushes in to save me. Or him. Probably him.
When we found out we were pregnant, my wife and I had opposite reactions. She was scared. Anxious even. Sure, she was excited, but also racked with doubt, unsure if she would be the mom she wanted to be. I, on the other hand, was confident. Being a dad would be amazing. Easy. Great. I knew exactly the kind of dad I was going to be. I had a dad counsel of role models.
There was Mufasa, saving Simba from the stampede and the wickedness of Scar. Except without the whole early death thing. Then there was Tim Allen, infusing humor and humility into just the right life lessons on Home Improvement as I tuned in every Wednesday night. Except maybe I didn’t have to be so stereotypically oblivious. And how can I forget Antonius, the adopted father to Marcus Aurelius who tutored one of the greatest philosophers and best emperors in history. Nothing to add there.
My dreams of fatherhood existed in scenes.
I envisioned us at the tee-ball diamond, my perfectly delivered pick your head up and shake hands speech teaching him about sportsmanship. “I know you lost, son. It’s okay to be sad. But I’m proud of you for giving it your best.” Then we’d go for ice cream so he knew that winning isn’t everything. I heard us talking man to man before his first date. “Remember kiddo, her dad is going to try and scare the hell out of you. You’re a good kid. You’ve got nothing to worry about as long as you treat her right.” Then I’d toss him the keys to the car, freshly waxed and shining bright. I felt the pages in the books that would inspire our evening lessons about life, learning, and the universe. “Be more precise, my love. Is that really what you think? How do you know?” You know, the big moments.
In short, I was going to be the dad I had thought I wanted. The dad who creates the big moments that inspire his child to heights they never imagined, who conjures opportunities out of thin air, who holds a firm line for his child but always backs it up with tender love and support. The dad who would have pushed me to be special. To live up to my potential. To be great.
Last week, C fell off his bike. He was crying worse than normal, but I was preoccupied. We were late to pick up his little sister from daycare– I really didn’t want to pay that $50 fine –and then we were going out to dinner. His crying wasn’t going to derail our plans.
Two hours later, as we finished dinner, I noticed spots where he had been sitting in the restaurant. Bright red saucer-sized spatterings of blood massacred the pillow he’d been sitting on, and with it my pig-headedness. In the privacy of the car, we saw what he’d been crying about. Under his black shorts were two bike pedal shaped flaps of skin surrounding what looked way too much like sheep brains. Pieces of skin and butt were stuck to his clothes. We rushed to Urgent Care.
As he lay on his stomach on the waiting room table, I found myself at a loss of words of wisdom. I racked my brain for my best Rudy speech but saw only pain and fear. His mahogany eyes begged for the hurting to stop. He recoiled to escape the torture of the needle poking into his wound again and again before he was numb. I gave him my hand to squeeze, told him to look at me, tried anything to take him away from here.
And at that moment, I found a story. One from my childhood, when I was about his age, that I’d long since forgotten. My dad and I were playing catch on the asphalt cul-de-sac out front of the house. Before every Little League game, we would have a catch and a quiz.
“There’s a runner on first and third. One out. What do you do when you catch the pop-fly?”
As I told the story, C smiled as the red and white ball flew past my glove while I was so focused on the answer — throw to first. And when I looked up, the nurse and the doctor were also smiling. They had stopped working altogether.
Over the next 15 minutes, I regaled my captive audience with jokes and stories. I intentionally got key details wrong, knowing that C wouldn’t rest until he corrected me. I teased the nurse about staring at his seven year old butt and teased him about flirting with a much older girl. I pretended to take pictures. “This is going to be great for my speech at your wedding.” I told stories of friends who had been shot in the butt and other friends who had dealt with worse. Instead of words of wisdom and support, I told R-rated stories and crude jokes. And he laughed through all 10 stitches.
The next day, I mustered the courage to call my dad. I planned to ask about all those moments when I hadn’t gotten my big scene. I wanted to tell him how I remembered playing catch and how that story had gotten us through a tough moment. I wanted to share a laugh and maybe even a cry. I really wanted my big scene. When he answered, all I had was the story. “Hey Dad, you’ll never guess what happened to C. You should have seen the blood. It was everywhere!”
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