Nearly eight weeks ago, my wife and I had our first child. In the delivery room, I was anticipating Jameson’s arrival would also usher in a flood of parental emotions I had yet to experience in my life. After my wife’s hard-fought 23 hours of labor, time slowed and the flood came. I exhaled in astonishment when the doctor pulled him from the birth canal; I burst into an unrestrained laughter when I saw his tiny perfection; my skin tingled and my face flushed when I heard his cry for the first time; and when I looked up at my wife, tears spilled from both our eyes. I had never felt so attracted to or connected with my wife than in that one poignant moment. She has just given birth to our son, and the flood of emotion was more than I had accurately anticipated. It was as if an old, dormant heartworm was awakened within me, and like the heart of every parent before, I ached in ecstasy, hope, faith, and love as that worm bore unfamiliar but fresh pathways through my heart.
The flood of positive and life-affirming emotions were, without question, fierce. But like any flood, it comes quickly and recedes soon after. And since Jameson’s birth, the intense emotions have receded and the still waters of the storm’s aftermath have remained. I had hoped that when my son was born life thereafter would be an endless succession of birds singing on my windowsill, rays of sunshine gleaming across the mountain tops, and a Lion King meets Toy Story sort-of montage; a father-and-son duo endlessly playing and going on ad hoc adventures, minus the Scars and Sids of the world. I’d imagine those days will come; in fact, I am confident they will come, but they are not here just yet. The initial flood was intense, but the still waters left in its wake have taught me that parenting brings out my Mufasa, but it also reveals my Scar.
To make a different and altogether less Disney-esk literary allusion, being Jameson’s father brings out the strange case of my Dr. Henry Jekyll and Mr. Edward Hyde. It’s as if inside of me there are two men: one is a fierce father, ready to love, provide, and protect at all costs— a Daddy Jekyll. The other is a frustrated father, ready to leave, curse, and clamor at any moment— an exasperated Mr. Hyde.
The following is their account.
Daddy Jekyll: “Parenting is a noble calling.”
Being a father is finding one of life’s grand purposes. It elevates the soul; it secures one’s place in history; it gives a clearer direction. I see in the face of my son my father, my future, and my faith. I see his burgeoning smile and I want to do everything in my power to maintain it. I hear his innocent cry and I want to do everything in my power to sooth it. I love looking upon his face when I feed him. I love seeing his contentment when he is warm. I love hearing him coo when he’s sleeping. I love singing him songs like “Fighting in the Lord’s Army,” a traditional children’s hymn; “Love Without End, Amen,” a George Strait classic; and even “Real American,” Hulk Hogan’s old theme music. Even though I am not a singer or a vocalist, I love singing to him because he is a soulful melody that has found its way into my life and I can’t help but sing to him and because of him. Without question, my son has brought so much joy and contentment into my life, and I want nothing more than to return joy to him in anyway that I can. Fatherhood is the greatest noblesse oblige.
Mr. Hyde: “There is nothing noble in being used and abused.”
Being a father is finding that I live with a parasite. It’s attached itself to me, the host, and it saps my energy, time, and money in ways that it makes me wonder if it is all worth it. Our species doesn’t need me to participate in procreation for it’s survival, so what was I thinking getting involved with this mess? My parasite has been nothing but an amorphous blob that leaks from every orifice. It’s only participation in normal human activity is to violently demand that I stop a leak or provide it with sustenance. What’s worse, it’s banshee-like cries for assistance are finger nails on the chalkboard of my brain. I grew up listening to Midwestern thunderstorms; I’ve had upwards to 15 colleges roommates in one house at one time; I’ve lived two decks beneath the flight deck of an aircraft carrier— I know what it is to sleep through loud noises, but the cries of my parasite pierce the quiet recesses of my soul and violently detach me from the safety of sleep like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s in those moments that I desire to ignore my parasite’s cries for assistance, but instead, like a madman mocking it’s victim, echo it’s cries, surpass them in volume, and through pure lunacy wait until my parasite tires and returns to its own slumber. It never happens that way, though. The parasite always wins; no matter the hour, it always gets what it wants, and I am left staring through bloodshot eyes at the realization that the only cure is 18 years away.
Daddy Jekyll: “But fatherhood molds a man’s character”
Being a father forces me to evaluate myself and make necessary improvements. It reminds me that I need to hone all aspects of my life: relationships, intellect, health, finances, faith, emotions, and goals. I need to improve not only for myself and my wife, but I need to strive to be better man for my son. I want to live up to this calling; I want to set a good example; I want him to catch me in the act of excellence; I want to inspire him towards greatness; I want to be his hero. Naturally, these things take dedicated work. After all, it was Aristotle that once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” As such, I need to habitually live, though all of the day’s little details, excellently. Energy, time, and money may be at a premium, but a man of character has a reserve of each. While failures and frustrations will inevitably come, fortitude will outlast them; and that may be one of the greatest lessons I want to teach my son: perseverance is the sail that will carry the ship through the storm. Fatherhood is admittedly a ship set to rough waters, but no great voyage was ever charted while anchored safely in the harbor.
Mr. Hyde: “Character!? Life is hard enough already. Man doesn’t need children to make it harder.”
Being a father is a prison sentence, and there is no possibility of parole. Worse, this sentence is mostly served in solitary confinement. I rarely see my friends; I no longer have a consistent meal schedule; and I pay for a gym membership that sits mostly unused. My waist line gets fatter while my wallet get thinner, and I am pretty sure I already look a year or two older than I did two months ago. Like with any prison, there’s a warden, and my warden is unforgiving. I’ll never forget the night I was startled awake by my wife, standing at the edge of our bed, crying because she had spent all night desperately trying to appease the warden. He broke her that night. She works so hard to care for him, and he broke her. He’s trying to break me, too. I’ll do everything he requires of me; I’ll cater to his every need, and when I’ve finally settled down for a quick meal or a silent moment of reading, for no apparent reason, the alarm sounds and cell-block Shinn is up for another impromptu inspection. I always pass the inspection, but I know it’s only a matter of time before the warden is going to lose his cool once again and torment me as I wait out my sentence. It’s all a matter of time, hard time, served in an inescapable prison.
Daddy Jekyll: “It’s hard, but it’s an opportunity and an honor of a lifetime”
Being a father may be life’s most honorable journey. Not only do I have the honor of raising my son, but it’s as if God and the universe has chosen to honor me by blessing me with a healthy, happy baby boy. Not all are fortunate enough to have this opportunity. I know more than a few men that never received a son; and I know plenty of couples that can’t even have children. Because of this, I feel among men most richly blessed. My dad died of cancer when I was only seven, so know what it’s like to grow up without my father. I have the rare opportunity to be there for my son; to be the father that my father never got to be. I’d neither spoil or squander this occasion. When I hold my boy, I hold the answer to the age-old question: what’s the purpose of life? To live and let live; to foster and facilitate life; to provide the circumstance for life to thrive. I will, as long as there is air in my lungs and blood in my veins, provide those circumstances; and my child shall thrive.
Mr. Hyde: “If you want to thrive, I’d suggest you get out while you still can! Name him Sue, then run. That name is all he’ll need. He’ll grow up quick and mean, but he’ll get hard and his wits will get keen. Learn from Johnny.”
Daddy Jekyll: “His name is Jameson— and he’s a Shinn. I’m his world, and he’s mine. I couldn’t run out on him any more than I could run out on my own name.”
Mr. Hyde: “Nonsense! Moses that boy. Put him in a basket, send him down the river, and hope he finds a nice family.”
Daddy Jekyll: “No! I’m his protection, his stronghold, his safe haven— and I always will be.”
Mr. Hyde: “Protect yourself and run!”
Daddy Jekyll: “I will— to him. Every time.”
Mr. Hyde: “You’re crazy!”
Daddy Jekyll: “Smitten is more like it.”
Mr. Hyde: “Deranged!”
Daddy Jekyll: “Devoted.”
Mr. Hyde: “Mad!”
Daddy Jekyll: “I am, sir, all of the above. And I wouldn’t have it another way.”