Part 1 of Paul’s story can be found here.

In the spring of 2012 my son was diagnosed with severe depressive disorder. He was 14 years old. In the two years that followed we watched his world fall apart and our lives as the happy all American family came crashing down with it. Every parent knows the pain and helplessness of watching your child suffer. With a mental illness it can get unbearable. There are no pep talks, no suck it up speeches, and certainly no parenting techniques that can penetrate the darkness of depression. When things were good they were tenuous at best. When things were bad they were debilitating….for all of us. Throughout those next two years we circled the wagons like only a family can. We did everything we could for him, for our daughter and for ourselves. Throughout the severe ups and downs I clung to a couple of ideas that kept me going even during the worst of times. One was the belief that this was his journey and that whatever pain and hardship he is experiencing was a gift that later in life will serve him well. My own journey of self –discovery had taught me that much. The other was a more unexplainable feeling of being able to give him exactly what he needed as a father. I did not always know what to do or say…..but somehow I was being guided by an instinct telling me what to provide and when. After two years which included a hospital stay, outpatient therapy, stints in and out of school and nights with me sleeping on his bedroom floor for fear of the unthinkable, my son finally has the support network and tools he needs to face his depression with strength and courage, and has begun to put his life back together.

This January I was encouraged to submit a story for the “Listen to Your Mother” program. As I mulled over the countless tragedies and triumphs of my career as an at home father, my mind inexplicably went to the notebook my son gave me ten years ago. I have learned to listen to my instincts and intuition, and after considering the prospect of opening this wound, this dark shameful secret, I knew that I had grown enough in the last ten years, and that it was time. I took the notebook to a trusted confidant. Someone I felt would give me the space to do what I could not get myself to do since that night ten years ago. I read what my son wrote aloud. Stumbling with emotion at times and fighting back tears throughout, I fought through it. Vulnerability is a bitch and as my shame and hurt poured out of me, I knew I had never been more vulnerable than this. That experience gave me even more courage to share my vulnerability with my wife. I was most ashamed in front of her. It was my job to be at home with the kids, my anger hurt them, how could she ever forgive me. Deep down I knew she already had because of the father I have become, but to forgive myself, she needed to hear it.

In facing my shame, I realized an amazing gift the notebook was to me. Despite only reading it once prior to this year, its message grew in my self conscious from the day I read it. I realized that through some magical plan devised by whatever power you believe gives us this wonderful life energy, this message from my son was a roadmap to me. It was the “instinct and intuition” I felt during his depression. It was exactly what I needed to know when he was 14. It was an exact plan to be the father I needed to be when he needed me the most. And I was that father. At his darkest hour, I had become the father that I had the potential to be when he was 7.

I stand before you today as a father on a day that celebrates the sanctity of motherhood. I debated my presence here at length before I decided to tell this story. But there are no days or events like this for fathers. Through the natural evolution of life, and the inherent biological differences between the sexes, we developed needing to play to our strengths. For simplicity sake, men have always been the hunters, and women the nurturers and gatherers. Today we live in a different world. Evolution has today’s woman knocking on the proverbial glass ceiling with more and more breaking through as the workplace evolves. But for every women who pursues that dream, there is a man who must be allowed to be vulnerable and empowered to take on the role of leading the family without being considered less of a man. I have come to realize that I represent that man. I am part of a generation that will pave the way for a change in the way we view the American family. Fatherhood is on the brink of a revolution, and I see a day where we celebrate the love a father has for his children with the same conviction we do today for our mothers.

The Notebook read as follows: (including spelling)

30 Reasons why I love my dad:

  1. He helps me
  2. He is my hero
  3. He cheers me up
  4. He is my buddy
  5. He allways is forgiving
  6. He allways smiles
  7. He never lets me down
  8. No one is better than him
  9. He makes me laugh
  10. He is smart
  11. He is caring
  12. He is kind hearted
  13. He is a good rollmodle
  14. He respects others
  15. He shows tollerence
  16. He thinks the best of me
  17. He has a great personality
  18. He is full of justice
  19. He is brave
  20. He is strong
  21. He feeds me
  22. He clothes me
  23. He shelters me
  24. He gives stuff to me
  25. He thinks I am cool
  26. He protects me
  27. He thinks I am special
  28. He is fun
  29. He has a huge heart
  30. He loves me and……I love him too