Today is my first father’s day as a Dad, and while it was a marvelous occasion so far, I realized I was spending a lot of time thinking about being a dad and what it means, somewhat taking me out of the moment. While the day was incredible, there was something at the back of my mind, some darkness, that I couldn’t shake. I’ll try and explain.
Of course, father’s day is a special time for a first time Dad, and my wife made sure we celebrated in the ways only I would have wanted. For instance, I drove to Coronado and brought Remy to the beach. We walked close to the shore, and he felt how cold the Pacific Ocean is even in the summer. I pointed out the Sand Dollars on the beach, and I let him put his feet in the sand.
He looked perplexed by the heaving, gun-metal blob making a tremendous amount of noise in front of him. Part of me thought he was terrified by the immensity of the Pacific. He held onto me tightly. The other part of me thought he wanted to swim.
On the way back to the car, I carried him in my arms, and he laughed the entire way as if he already knew the secret to life and found it hilarious that no one else could see it. The Tao of Remy.
Remy fell asleep in the car. To let him continue napping, we drove aimlessly throughout the city, into Sherman Heights and Barrio Logan, and we drove past Chicano Park and gazed at the murals. When we came home, I read him books and watched him crawl around his room, and then my wife made me scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls. Then I played guitar as loud as I did before becoming a Dad. It was the best day.
But there was something else there. Something that was just beyond my ability to articulate. I couldn’t quite see it, but I knew it was dark. It was hanging at the back of my mind.
Maybe it had something to do with a recurring thought: With every amazing day, with every moment where there is laughter, with every second that I’m completely in the moment, I know there will be an opposite feeling somewhere else behind. A moment of sadness, tragedy, depression.
For example, today is the one year anniversary of my dog’s death. (You can read about him here [Hendrix in Detroit] or my essay at the LA Review.) Hendrix was a companion for my wife and me, and for the longest time, he was our son. Maybe that was at the back of my mind.
It’s so easy to be so deeply in the moment, feeling good, but then it’s so easy to be in another moment, remembering the heartbreak. To understand where I was exactly a year ago today, read what I posted on Facebook:
I miss Hendrix tremendously, but I am no longer in that moment. I am no longer heartbroken, yet I understand how easy life can turn to break your heart all over again.
I think I understand, now, what was bothering me. What that aching feeling in the back of my mind was. It was the knowledge that not every Father’s Day will be like this one, and not every father’s day in the past has also been like this one. I think about the days, which seem endless yet nonexistent now, when I wasn’t a father, when I wanted to hold something I created.
My entire blog is about that very journey: the creative journey. It’s not a journey that is just about writing or art. It’s about bringing something into the world that matters, that I care about, that I love unconditionally. It’s about the struggle to find that path.
But I know the pain of missing something you weren’t quite sure what you were missing. I think about all the people out there who are waiting to be Dads or Moms. On a day where everyone is posting photos of their version of their glorious Father’s Day — mini golf with the kids, jet skiing down on the shore, eating hot dogs at a baseball game, dancing in a living room — there is someone else sitting at home, scrolling through their timeline, and wanting that feeling. Desperately wanting that feeling. Desperately wanting a different day. I feel tremendously for those who are hurting.
What I have come to understand is that often death and life come as a team. It’s not a new idea, and it’s about as old as the sun itself: When something dies, something else is often reborn. When I learned Bianca was pregnant, we also learned that Hendrix, our beloved dog of 12 years, was going to die. We said goodbye to him exactly a year ago today. We brought him into the B Street vet, and they ordered him up his last meal: dog food, chicken, jelly beans, chocolate, peanut butter, whipped cream. He loved that meal. I can still feel his body as I held him for the last time. I feel that pain now even with the tremendous love of being a dad.
A year later, I am holding my son who laughs at the world like it’s all his own inside joke. What I know, now, is that feeling that was gnawing at me this morning, even during one of the best days of my life, was the knowledge that pain is always on the other side of happiness. I have to remember that. Always.