Part 2 of Paul’s story can be found here.
Twelve years ago my wife and I went out to dinner as part of our commitment to weekly date nights. Our kids, Calvin and Molly, were 5 and 3 respectively and the coordination it took to make this commitment happen each week was nothing short of a minor miracle. Each of us worked in corporate America and had been highly career driven for as long as we remember. This particular evening found us discussing the challenges of juggling our careers and our family, which was becoming increasingly more stressful each day.
Most of the important decisions in our marriage had come after a few martinis, so as the second round of martinis showed up that evening, I should have known we were on the brink of another major life change. As we melted our stress away with the help of each others’ support and a healthy dose of Grey Goose, I asked my wife Nancy a question.
If we could have flashed forward to now on the day our son Calvin was born, would the way we are raising our kids be acceptable to you?
I guess I was asking myself that question as well because with very little hesitation we both resoundingly agreed that it would not have been acceptable. Daycare, meals on the go, a housekeeper and an increasingly stressful environment had taken its toll, and when all was said and done we had realized we had lost the forest through the trees. Not more than a month later, I set aside my financial consulting career and CPA license and my new business card read, Stay At Home Dad.
I would describe my transition into staying at home as my own personal submission into a witness protection program. The change in identity is profound, and similar to the witness protection program, it is like beginning a whole new life (minus the looking over your shoulder for someone who wants to kill you part). I went from a driven corporate America career climber to a CEO of a family of four virtually overnight.
The first couple years of my new job were marked by many highs and lows. Nancy and I both agreed that for the first 9 months our criteria to judge my success as an at home dad would be whether the kids were alive or not. Nine months came and went, and everyone was alive and well. I tried to negotiate a bonus for the fact that not only were they alive but all original body parts were still in tact. It turns out for the ease of my job, the fact that their body parts were all in tact, was my bonus.
I was 37 years old when my family decided to have me stay at home with the kids. A few years earlier, I was noticing an uncharacteristic tendency to become easily frustrated and angry, especially at work. When I transitioned into my new career at home, this tendency got progressively worse. The challenges of two kids under 8 were sometimes too much for my frustration and temper to handle. My angry outbursts got progressively worse and less justified. I never laid a hand on anyone in my family, but the rage and level of intensity of my tirades had to have scared my kids to death. Oh, at the time I justified my reactions as the kids’ inability to listen or the perils of fatherhood, or whatever helped me sleep at night. Deep down I knew something was very wrong. On one particular night, I launched into one of my more intense shouting episodes. It was right before the kids were to go to sleep and although I do not recall what set me off, I am sure it was their desire to not go to sleep that got the ball rolling. It was not uncharacteristic for me to slam doors or punch walls as part of my tantrums and tonight was no exception. I sent the kids to bed crying and scared……….and I retreated to our living room exhausted and ashamed. About an hour after the kids went to bed, my son came downstairs and handed me a notebook . He kissed me good night, and he went back upstairs. I remember being afraid to even open it up, but finally I did. I read what he wrote and when I was done, I cried with an intensity rivaling the intensity of my anger just an hour before. What he wrote could perhaps have been a turning point in my life. I put the notebook in my dresser drawer and hid it. I never wanted to read that again and I certainly did not want anyone else to know what it said. That was ten years ago and the only time I ever read what that notebook contained…until January 2015.
Shortly after this incident and with the support of my amazing wife, I started the journey of the rest of my life. I began to see a therapist about my anger and was eventually diagnosed with depression. Depression often strikes men at that age and can manifest itself predominately as anger. Depression ran rampant in my family and I was surprised I did not make this connection a lot earlier. My doctor put me on a low dose of an antidepressant. Within three days my life changed forever. I have never, ever, had an angry outburst or tirade since the day I was put on this miracle drug. Feeling like I had been given a new life, I started on an intense spiritual journey of self-discovery that has led me to where I am today.