Thirty-nine years ago I became a man. It was the night that my first born daughter came into this world. I was 28 years old, and you would think that age alone would qualify me to be a grown-up, but it wasn't the case. Boys grow up slower than girls, and I was still clinging with both hands to adolescence afraid that the grown up world would turn me into my daddy who worked like a dog and never seemed to smile.
Life for me was still a party back then, and I was party type of guy. I got married because I was afraid that if I didn't, I wouldn't get another chance. I had a girl who wanted to marry me, and she was fun to be around and kind of easy on the eyes. But that didn't mean I was ready to forgo all the pleasures of being wild and free. There were a lot of times that I came home late, and once I didn't come home at all. When I finally rolled up in front of my house on Letts Avenue, all of my clothes were in the front yard and the door was barred. I learned a lesson.
I went to work most Saturdays severely hung over, which was kind of bad because I drove heavy equipment. And I went to work most Mondays hung over because I drank all day Sunday watching football games.
When my wife first told me that she was pregnant, I took the news with mixed feelings. Half of me said calmly to myself, "Okay, this is how it starts," and the other half said, "Oh shit! What have you gone and done now?"
But the news was the start of a transformation. I knew that things were going to change, and that I was going to have to change along with them. I mean it wasn't mandatory or nothing; I knew plenty of guys who dismissed the responsibility part of having a kid, and it didn't seem to cause them too much trouble, at least, it seemed that way at first.
But I knew deep down that it wasn't going to be like for me. While I was a poster child for misspent youth, my parents had implanted some things pretty deeply inside of me, so deep, in fact, that I didn't know they were even there.
I was secretly pleased too. Seems a weird thing to say, "Secretly pleased" when talking about becoming a father, but there was always this Okie fear of hubris and not wanting to seem too pleased lest the Gods get jealous and take it all away.
There was also the mustang side of me and a fear of becoming too accustomed to the saddle. Even after years and years of being so domesticated that you trot over to the oat bin minutes before the oats arrive, an old saddle horse still harbors a deep yearning for the days of running wild and free.
You can see it in the far away look of old men's eyes when they see the latest painted ponies go prancing by them as they sit in a barber chair or while eating Sunday dinner with their families. After hearing the news that he is going to be daddy, a man knows his days on the range are over and the rest of his travels proscribed.
At least, a real man does. There are those who pretend to prefer the way of the stallion, but they do so at risk of losing their soul, for a man who has never faced down the responsibilities of being a father has missed out on his chance of ever being meaningful. And I don't mean just getting a woman pregnant either, any fool can do that.
I was in the delivery room the night my daughter was born. It was quite the experience I can say for a fact. I walked out of that room feeling like a skinny legged boy carrying a hundred pound sack of cement. I knew I was participating in a big fucking deal, and that I had done something I should be proud about, something that tied me to the great mass of humanity going back to the beginning of time, and something that made my life infinitely more meaningful. But I was still scared as someone afraid of heights standing on a cliff with one leg hanging over. But secretly happy too. I was also intoxicated by the little bundle of light I got to hold in my arms.
I was sitting on a dragline digging a ditch one day at work, reading some Biblical commentary during breaks because I couldn't stand the boredom of my job. I had been thinking back to the one day that my father visited my elementary school classroom in his greasy work clothes.
I remembered being ashamed. I am so ashamed to admit that now because I have always known my dad was a thousand times the father that I'll ever be, and a greater man than anyone I knew who wore suits and ties at their jobs. He had a suit coat, more than one. I borrowed one once, and inside a pocket was a stack of funeral cards two inches thick where my dad had been a pallbearer to the people who he visited on a weekly basis as they lay dying in the hospital.
Still, I remembered with shame that day he came to school, and I didn't want to put my daughter in the same situation of feeling ashamed of me for being dirty and then being more ashamed of herself for feeling ashamed.
I had an epiphany that day, a jolt of electricity that stood me upright, accompanied by a powerful surge of insight telling me that I needed to become better. I decided that day to go back to school.
I ain't going to lie and say that when I stand on a hill top over looking a valley and watch the young stallions running by that a part of me doesn't still want to be out there with them running way out ahead of the rest of the herd. It only lasts for a minute or two, and I never lose sight of the difference between being a good saddle horse and being glue on the hoof.
The greatest thing I can tell my oldest daughter on her birthday is that she bestowed meaning to a life that had very little meaning up to that point in time. And great joy. I should have named her that when I had the chance (It was that Hubris thing again).
Her birth changed my life forever and everything good that has ever happened to me came out of my love for her and her sister.