I was doing it again. I caught myself at work staring into space. This time, it was in front of my computer at work. By Thursday afternoon, I guessed this had already occurred three or four times already this week.
Was it because I was tired? No, not that. I’m always tired. That comes with the territory of being a parent. It was something else. I sat there staring at a blank page on my computer screen, waiting for it to fill miraculously. A blank Word document is like the Bat Signal for complacency, so I figured something could be going on.
I guess you can say it was a “low point.” I’ve had them before for various reasons. But for what?
I instinctively put on some Morrissey on my drive home that afternoon. I figured I could get through most of “Your Arsenal” because I-295 coming out of DC was backed up. By the time “You’re the One for Me, Fatty” came on, I realized what was bothering me: I wasn’t where I thought I’d be.
Let me explain.
In my mind, I thought my thirties would be about crushing through my career in history. I thought there would be accolades, awards, publications, and lucrative book deals. To a degree, I’ve had a little of that. But since the birth of Zelda, it’s come to a grinding halt. I am now questioning my love for what I do and my place of employment. I often grow jealous of my colleagues who are succeeding when I am coming up with failure after failure. I think it was Jonas Salk who said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” I don’t know. I’m not finding a cure for polio in my research.
Jealousy is an ugly, terrible thing. It’s not my proudest moment, but remember, I said this was a weak point. Without becoming a cliché for my generation, I must implore that the emphasis is on the past tense.
That was the goal. That was the plan. Throughout my twenties, I adhered strictly to the movie quote made famous by Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. In the film, Baldwin plays “Mr. Blake,” a shrewd real estate executive sent in to rile up a group of down and out agents. Throughout his speech, Blake has little respect for the lives of these men. He only believes in two things: money and success:
Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here – close!
That’s me. That’s how I wanted to be. For a while, I was. I never had the suit, but the mentality fit me fine.
After a few hours with feelings of failure and inadequacy swirling around my head, I picked up Zelda from her home care. I was admittedly in a terrible mood, but Zelda seemed in high spirits as per usual. Despite that, I still mumbled my way through the next hour at home. I knew I should stop being selfish and subjecting others around me to it. I wore it on me like a cheap coat. In a way, the feeling was a comfort. If I didn’t feel so goddamned sorry for myself, who would? It’s my right, ok? As I cooked dinner, I looked over at Angela and gave her my fake reassuring smile. She calls it my “Koala Face,” and can see through the bullshit a mile away.
I was as energetic as a hot turd at dinner. Angela said nothing. I think she could feel the heat coming off of me and knew better. I looked over at Zelda, a face full of mashed potatoes. She looked at me and smiled her bit smile. I could see bits of potato sticking out of her prison bar grin of teeth. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. It was almost as if Zelda was telling me, “Get over yourself dad and play with me.”
I melted. I melted fast. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I began to laugh. At that moment, there was only one feeling: love. Love for my daughter. Love for my family. Love for feeling blessed we are doing okay and that everyone is healthy. She was right: get over yourself, Matt. I did.
I picked her up out of her seat and gave her a big kiss. I didn’t care that the potatoes got on my face. She made me feel like I could kick Mr. Blake THROUGH THE DICK at that moment. I’m a goddamn superhero to her. I’m dad. What is better?
There are things we can’t control in life. Where I am in work may be one thing. If I work hard, I’ll get there eventually. In the meantime, I’ll settle for trying to be the best father I can be to the best thing that’s happened in my life. Work is one thing. Life is something completely different. I think it’s time I change my point of view and start living.
Nothing will ever compare to having Zelda in my life. She is a lifetime fulfilled. She is my greatest creation, one that makes every accomplishment I’ll ever make in my career pale in comparison. She makes me proud to be a father. What better time to declare it than Father’s Day.
There are still things that matter. We need to work to have money for food and rent. I need to keep my dog and cat fed and healthy (shoutout to the pet parents). I need to ATTEMPT to not be an asshole to my wife. So, things do matter. But in the grand scheme of life, Zelda is the priority. Not the job. Not the prestige. It’s her.
Every time I see her smile I want to be a better fucking person. I try. We all try. But there comes a time when we all have to shut up and just do better for our kids. It’s not about me anymore. It’s all about her. I am ashamed it took me this long to realize it.
I win. I deal the cards. The game is mine.
My life can’t get any better. Everything else is just icing on the cake. Thanks for smiling at me, kid. You saved my life once again.
So, Mr. Blake, I will go home and play with my kid. With all due respect, Fuck YOU.
Here’s to the dads of all kinds who feel the same.