Honestly I would be nowhere without my kids. That sounds nice to say, but I mean it. Thirteen years ago it was the smell of my then baby son Seamus who inspired me to do better as a father and a man. I'd been kicked out of the house and was holding him at my apartment, giving him a bottle on my own for the first time in a darkened room. I heard him sucking, felt his smooth skin, and looked down to realize just how much of my own life I had been missing.
Seamus, and his sister Kerry, are in high school now. But the healing power of fatherhood has endured as I have watched them grow up and had the chance to father their younger brother Cole, who is four.
The day they delivered the logs for Cole's bunk beds, I was in my car on my way to a business meeting. "The delivery truck arrived with a bunch of massive logs," my wife Elena called on my cell phone to tell me. "The driver says his job is done. It's up to us to get them inside." I turned the car around and headed home.
Cole had outgrown his baby nursery, and to replace it, Elena had designed a cowboy-themed bedroom, one with a tepee and log cabin bunk beds. When I got home, the situation was worse than I expected. The 6-inch-thick logs were wrapped in plastic and bolted down to several crates in the back of the semi. The driver wasn't budging, and the truck was parked on the lawn. A carpenter working inside a neighbor's house came out to see what was happening and took pity on us, offering to let us use his tools to dislodge the lumber. An hour and a half later we had the beams piled inside.
When Cole's eyes are heavy after a long day of pretending to be a knight, I get his jammie-joes on, brush his teeth, and he gives Mommy a good-night kiss and hug before I carry him down the hall in my arms. We snuggle into the lower bunk and read three books-about lost penguins, monkeys toying with alligators, and dogs wearing strange hats and driving cars.
Often Cole starts snoring before I have finished the first story. But sometimes he goes the distance. Either way I turn the light out while still pinned between Cole and the wall. Even if he is already asleep, he stirs when he hears the switch and asks, "Daddy, will you stay with me for a little while?"
Holding my son as he slumbers on the bottom bunk of his cowboy beds, surrounded by big chunks of raw pine, is a cocoon I have to force myself to leave. I allow myself 20 minutes of forgetting what I was so anxious or mad or sad about before climbing in to read bedtime stories.
I listen to Cole snore and stare up in the dark at the bottom of top bunk, my mind empty of any thoughts. Every night some instinct eventually tells me its time to get up and walk back into my life. But I return nourished just enough to make it through another 24 hours, until it's time to get our jammie-joes on again and climb back into the cowboy bunk beds.