Patrolling the Empty Nest

One of my all time favorite films is Raising Arizona.  Beyond the genius of Joel and Ethan Coen, the movie included a prominent copy of Dr.Spock’s
Baby and Child Care, as the official set of instructions included with the baby Nathan Arizona.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

Nothing against the bestselling non-fiction advice book, but the problem is, there are no instructions for new parents.  Micro-humans are just as unique as the ones who bring them into the world and every situation is different.

The reality is, parents and children enter into a situation together and everyone does the best they can to get through.  I feel lucky to have raised our rug rats into adults in a slightly simpler time as the modern baby shower gift request list is longer than a wedding registry.  Gigantic strollers, cribs that look like mini-aircraft carriers, and walking, talking wobbly educational toys that all cost more than my entire childhood experience.

While I always wanted to do the American Dream Family Pack © complete with dogs and the white picket fence, like most folks, I had no idea what I was signing up for when our first son was born.

We bought a crib, filled it with stuffed animals, a mobile with black and white critters on it (to help him focus we were told) and a football and soccer ball from me and my wife respectively.  From there, we had to do like everyone else, we had to wing it.

My oldest son decided to break us in the hard way.  Starting with a very difficult birthing process that put his mother into emergency Cesarean surgery, after taking the previous 12-hours to carefully plot his world entry path.  Choking on the umbilical cord and not breathing the first moment or two outside the womb was far more excited than it needed to be.

Of course life changes forever when a child is introduced to the world, and I was immediately overwhelmed.  He was cute – no really, not like the Seinfeld episode with the ugly baby only parents could love, our first born was a good looking baby.

He needed to be cute, in order to survive.

His nickname was the Fussmaster. Because he was.  It’s hard enough to be first time parents, but he only trusted us to spend time with.  The fit he would throw those first couple years outside of our arms made him impossible to pass off.  He rarely slept through the night and eventually, to keep my wife from losing her mind, I took a late shift feeding that generally went from midnight to 2 AM.  Lucky me, he would fall asleep on my chest as we watched ESPN SportsCenter together through the week.

I only thought I was overwhelmed with our first child.

His brother showed up 23-months later.  And somehow, he was completely different than his older bro.  He slept through the night at six weeks old.  We could hand him off to anyone — which can be problematic as well to have a toddler willing to live with any person who smiled in his direction.

By the time he rolled in to the world, we had some things down. In fact, we all did so well anticipating all of his needs, he was much slower to communicate and learn to talk.  And, I was the overprotective of the parent tandem and over-worried each setback along the way.  It turned out he was fine, learned to talk quite well, he just didn’t need to know how to ask for anything in his toddler years.

Schools, teachers, moving from Wyoming to Colorado and back, our family adventure was generally short on cash, whether both of us worked or not.  It was uphill most of the time, overtired and learning about how to be parents on the fly. Each of us bringing the best elements from our own families and trying to leave the less desirable elements behind.

Such filters don’t always work, and I’d love to say it was storybook all the time.  And while there were tough days, the joys those two kids brought to us and the rest of the world around them was amazing.

Soccer days, school plays, award ceremonies, dances, driving them everywhere all the time was not a chore.  That was the fun era.  So much fun that eventually, being ‘Dad’ is the only identity I had.  It was who I was and what I did.  And the exhaustion days gave way to pure joy of watching children evolve into young adults.

The joy of being around two sons who love to laugh and make others laugh, who are kind to their little cousins, who respect their grandparents and teachers and both love music, culture and learning, life is worth every moment of any grief that happened along the way.

As life would have it, as soon as you get the parenting gig down pat, they are off to college and trying to form lives of their own.  I discovered I was equally unprepared for their departure as I was their arrival.

I heard the phrase empty nest before, and now I understand. Suddenly I miss sleep deprivation or not being able to go to a movie for several years in a row.  Well, I don’t miss changing diapers, I’m totally good with that era being over.

But I do miss daily Dad duty.

I’m learning it is okay to be an emergency back-up plan, or advice in a crunch or simply a moment to listen when needed.  That said, I miss those giant rug rats a bunch.  Young men who walk around representing the very best of me and my incredible wife and then they take it up a notch with their own observations of the world. Proud is insufficient as a word to encompass my feelings.

Father’s Day is coming up and it may be another day without my guys around. We still have to patrol the empty nest.  If life goes well, they will not need us as much, as it should be.

But I’ll keep the phone charged and a light on.  Just in case.

It’s who I am, it’s what I do, even if I don’t get to do it as often.  As it turns out, no instruction book is necessary, just an endless supply of love and patience.