Like every Adele song that came before it, her latest single “Hello” feels like it was plucked directly from my life. When her majestic vocals wrap powerfully around the explosive chorus, and she confidently chants, “Hello from the other side,” I’m reminded that I too have braved the storm and made it to the other side — not the other side of a relationship gone wrong, but to the other side of parenting gone right.
If you know me — or have read any of my previous articles — you’d know that becoming a father has, for better or worse, defined me. I became the man I was supposed to be the day my son Max was placed into my arms. With just one look at him, I knew my life would never be the same.
In the days, weeks and months that followed I would learn very quickly that the bigger your family gets, the smaller your life gets. Or at least it felt that way. I no longer belonged to myself. I belonged to Max. And that meant putting the old me away to make room for the father me.
Or so I thought.
With Max turning 5 next week, it felt like a good time to take stock of how far we’ve come, and in doing so, I’ve realized that the old me and the father me can actually coexist. It doesn’t have to be one or the other as I had previously convinced myself. I’m happy to announce that I’ve turned a major corner — the old Dave is on his way back.
The shift has been slow and gradual. But little by little, milestone after milestone, year after year, I began to see certain aspects of my past life return.
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane so you can better understand my frame of mind when I was in the thick of it, and now looking back at it:
The main goal was to keep him healthy, clean and dry. It wasn’t hard, but man, was it exhausting. My husband Alex and I were walking zombies caught in a haze of round-the-clock feedings, sweatpants and takeout. Everyday things like grooming became low on the priority list. Basically my hair looked like the cover of Whitney’s second album. And not intentionally.
I barely had time to shower, let alone write the next great American screenplay. Shoot, I couldn’t even muster up enough wit for a charming Facebook update so I literally found myself stealing them from up-and-coming comedians — don’t worry, I credited the authors. Well … usually. And having time to see friends socially? Please! My only friends were Zol & Oft.
At this stage I remember talking ourselves into thinking, “Who needs friends? We’ve got each other.” We’d post idealized versions of our daddy-filled lives on Facebook, implying that fatherhood was all rainbows and unicorns. Like a functioning Taylor Swift relationship, looks can be deceiving. Don’t get me wrong: We were happy; we just had to filter the crap out of our happiness to cover the dark bags under our eyes.
Have you ever been so drunk you can barely walk in a straight line? That’s pretty much what Max was like as a toddler. We had to keep our eyes on him every second of the day. It was the best of times. It was the stickiest of times. Seriously. It was as if Max’s hands were made of crazy glue. There was wonder, humor and meltdowns over just about everything. We learned quickly that if you can’t find the humor in all the little things that can go wrong in a day you will end up crying in the corner before breakfast is over. Trust me.
Suffice it to say, during this time we had our hands full. Instead of going out on weekends, my nights were spent eating — and binge watching — my feelings: Ben & Jerry’s “American Dream™” and “House Hunters International,” respectively. It’s not that I didn’t think about the outside world: I did; in fact, I distinctly remember feigning interest in my friends’ lives. Well, on Facebook anyway.
Little Boy Max
Ahh … the hitting year. As age 4 approached, Max had become an itty-bitty volcano ready to erupt at any time. And over the silliest things, like not being allowed to Sharpie the new white sofa or peeing in an old pair of Doc Martins. He took up some fun new hobbies during this time: a mean left hook, not sharing and being the “boss of the house.”
On a positive note, Alex and I discovered the divide-and-conquer way of parenting that our dad friends kept telling us about. It wasn’t until the age of 4 that we stopped thinking we had to be with him, together, as a family every second of the day. This meant Max would spend some alone time with Papa, to allow me time to hit the gym. And by gym I mean hike Runyon Canyon to take in the some fresh air and beautiful views. And by beautiful views I mean sitting on a bench staring at the model-actor-waiters as they jog by. It’s true what they say — exercise really can make you feel better.
I even started to reach out deliberately to old friends to catch up. Like in person. And not out of guilt — I genuinely missed them. It was a little bizarre at first. What would we talk about? They worry about different things like what to wear to Boot Camp and One Direction breaking up. What do I have in common with non-parents? Um, the same things I always had in common with them: art, film, music, Bravolebrities — that stuff didn’t change just because they don’t change diapers.
Big Boy Max:
With Kindergarten underway, I’m seeing more and more of my old self returning. The fact that I can have a proper conversation with Max helps a lot. Now that he can rationalize things, there’s less acting out. Our days are filled with more fun conversations, peaceful time, humorous storytelling and light-hearted togetherness. I feel like a better parent now than ever before … like we finally get each other.
Now that he’s in school, aside from catching a lot more colds, Max has made a lot more friends. So our weekend calendars have filled up fast with birthday parties and play dates. And then there are the extracurricular activities. Max is on a soccer team. (Don’t get me started on his four handsome British coaches.) He also takes tennis lessons. Not only are these activities a good way to fill time, they also give Alex and me a chance to make new friends with other parents.
New friends means being more social. We’re back to meeting friends for dinner, taking hikes, seeing movies and we even take childless weekend trips a couple times a year. Having those quiet weekends away to look forward to makes a world of difference.
So through all the milestones of the first five years I’ve come to realize that children are amazingly adaptable; as long as they feel safe, valued and listened to, they will be fine. And it won’t feel all-consuming forever. In fact, just when I stopped having an overwhelming yearning for my old self, it began to reappear naturally.
In a recent interview, Adele said her new single “Hello” is really about regrouping and reconnecting with herself. It marks a triumphant return to form for the British chanteuse. And in many ways, it marks a comeback for me too.