I was exhausted, and I wasn’t the one who had just given birth to a 10 pound, 6 ounce baby. It was the wee hours of the morning and after having a few hours with our first-born son the nurses took him to the nursery so we could get some sleep.
A few hours later a doctor came in and told us our son was being transferred to the NICU. I didn’t even know what the NICU was and I was trying to hang onto the doctors’ words and understand what he was telling us. We went back to sleep and the next morning I would learn what those letters stood for. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
As we approached our son we had a lot of mixed emotions looking at him through the incubator with all those monitors on him. I watched his chest rapidly move up and down as he struggled to get the oxygen he needed. He had meconium aspiration, a condition caused when a newborn baby breathes in meconium and amniotic fluid into the lungs as the baby is being born. It’s usually caused by stress during the delivery when the baby is not getting enough blood or oxygen. And I guess those three hours my wife spent pushing were a little stressful for our son.
With all that meconium in his lungs there was just no room for oxygen. Those first few hours were just about learning what was going on and what we could expect and hope for moving forward. It was scary. Looking back it seems obvious to me that he was going to be just fine. But reflecting on that moment, I just remember being terrified.
A week later we brought him home.
My life has never been the same.
I’m a dad. There are many roles I play but I’m arranging my life to first and foremost be a husband to my wife and a dad to my kids. I suppose you could say I’ve given up potential income, career opportunities, and social status.
And all I’ve gained are High 5’s for going pee on the toilet from my son and sloppy kisses from my daughter.
Did you know that my sweet little girl adores me?
A few months after our first son was born I quit my job. I left a lucrative, enviable position to pursue a passion I held deep down within me. And it didn’t work out. I didn’t have a Plan B so I quickly developed a new Plan A. It worked. Sort of. For a while.
And slowly the chase for a new career or business opportunity or more money began to take a back seat to lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an entrepreneur. I can’t escape that. It’s in my DNA. But you know all those stories you hear about guys at the end of their life reflecting about what they wish they’d done differently?
- Wishing they’d spent more time with their family.
- Wishing they’d gone on that camping trip with their family.
- Been with his son when he caught his first trophy trout.
- Taught his daughter how to dance.
- Read more bedtime stories.
That’s not going to be me.
There are bills to be paid to be sure. You have to pay the mortgage or the rent. You have to put food on the table and gas in the tank. The kids need shoes and clothes and diapers. And I need a drink when we put them to bed.
But I’ve chosen to not make the chase for the bigger house in a better neighborhood or a second car (my wife and I have shared a car for over 2 years), or a desire for any other material possession to rob me of the most valuable thing I can imagine: time with my kids.
People who don’t live in my world or share my mindset have a hard time understanding me. On just about any afternoon you can find me doing something fun with my kids. My friends with 9-5 jobs think I’m on a perpetual vacation. But I get up early in the morning. I go to bed late at night. And I have an iPhone for all the times in-between.
It’s not always easy. There are long days when my wife and I are juggling the kids and our shared and separate professional responsibilities and I think about how much easier life would be if I could just escape for 8-11 hours 5 days a week and collect a paycheck.
There are time periods, some painfully long, when money is tight.
A few years ago my wife and I rented out our home and traveled for 6-months with our son. We spent the first 3 weeks in Tahoe where my wife’s family has a cabin. We were there to ski and nothing is more depressing in a ski town than rain in February. And it was raining. We were in the doldrums, little money in hand, and I turned to my wife and in a sort of depressed tone I said to her, “This is the life we chose.”
Fast-forward just a few days. A cold front has brought in fresh powder and we are on the ski slopes. My wife and I get away for a morning while a friend watches our son and as we get ready to push-off to start down the slope on fresh powder I turn to my wife and I say, in a much different tone, “this is the life we chose.”
It’s not just the life we chose. It’s the life we choose.
We chose this life at a moment in time. But at any moment we could abandon our choice. There are moments of weakness when I’m ready to cry “uncle.” But each day our actions continue to be a reflection of our continual choosing.
I provide for my family. I don’t have a lot of money in the bank. I once had a decent retirement account but I cashed that out in a failed entrepreneurial effort. All, well. I’ll build it up again.
But do you know what happened after lunch today? My three-year-old (Jackson) picked up my briefcase and started walking toward the car.
Jackson: “I’m going to work!”
Me: “Oh, ok. You gonna make some money?”
Jackson: “No, no make money.”
Me: “Yeah, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
It’s a stupid moment in time. A silly moment with my three-year-old.
And he’ll only be three once.
That’s why I’m a dad now.
By the way, if we’ve not met before, I’m Clark. My wife Monica and I are living a life of our own design. We’re on a quest to work less, live more, and travel the world with our family. We have three kids, Jackson (5), Emery (3) and Abigail (3 months). I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter.