Thirty-six.

I turned 36 yesterday. Definitively “middle aged.” I’m okay with that. Actually, I’m more than okay with that- I’m thrilled. In my thirties I’ve found a freedom of self that I never experienced before. With each passing year I grow more and more comfortable in my own skin, and feel a much keener sense of what’s really important to me and what’s not. Growing older is a luxury that far too many people are not afforded, so if you ever hear me complain about it, feel free to punch me in my face for a reality check.

I’m not at all where I thought I would be at this age, though. Spoiler alert: Becoming a stay-at-home dad was never my dream. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever even heard of a stay-at-home dad until I was in my mid-twenties. As a teenager I dreamt of a thriving and satisfying professional life. College, marriage, and then grad school took up my early twenties, and after few years of taking a break from school and beginning a career I began setting my eyes on a Ph.D. By 29 I thought I’d finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and was progressing towards that goal. Then we had a baby at 30 and our lives were turned upside down. Fast forward 6 years– my life looks completely different from how I’d always imagined it.

I’m from small town Georgia, where it seemed expected expressions of masculinity were limited to hunting, fishing, and athletics. I failed in each of those, by the way. I preferred ambling through the woods to tracking and killing anything. As a child I did enjoy fishing trips with my grandfather, but my mind tends to wander, so I lacked both the patience and desire to be any type of fisherman. I played sports, but not well. As a child and teenager, my coordination level was on par with a drunken toddler. I grew large feet -fast- and didn’t gain any ease of using them or my lanky upper body until college. I gravitated towards the arts; I learned to play the piano and how to hold a paint brush, which must’ve been a complete enigma to my dad, a naturally gifted athlete who seemed to have complete command over all his limbs at all times. All that to say: no one’s ever accused me of brandishing any form of hyper-inflated masculinity or bravado. Still, domestic chores and child-rearing were completely foreign to me, and never things I thought would one day occupy the majority of my day-to-day life.

While it was never my plan to become a stay-at-home dad, it was my decision. A decision that my wife wholeheartedly supported when we found ourselves with an 8 month old baby 1,400 miles away from our nearest relative. When we left Georgia for my wife to begin her family medicine residency in Colorado, we had no idea the adventures that lay in store for us. That move proved to be one of the best decisions of our lives. Not knowing a soul in Colorado, we decided that it would be best for me to not look for work at first, but rather to take a few months at least and stay home with our baby so he didn’t have to live in daycare. Residency schedules are really as bad as portrayed on T.V., if not worse, so it was a huge relief for my wife to know that our son would have his dad with him while she worked during the day…and night…and the next day…and night…

What was originally a temporary arrangement turned out to be the best option for our family’s needs, so I stuck with it. The learning curve was steep. So steep. And it was hard- so very hard- that first year. Learning how to care for a baby while my wife had this absolutely insane intern year schedule was hard enough, but after the newness of our situation wore off I was forced to face the complete dismantling of the identity I’d built and embrace a new one: stay-at-home dad. I fancied myself progressive enough and unbound by stereotypical gender roles to not struggle with my loss of identity, but those struggles were real for me. God’s great gift to me in that first year was a support system with new friends, one of whom was also a stay-at-home dad. Our sons were born only 3 months apart, and they bonded just as quickly as we did. Navigating completely new territory with a couple in a similar situation made my journey much easier.

Babies kept coming, and residency finally ended. And in the mean time, I fell in love with what I’m doing. When people ask me about it I always say it is the unexpected blessing of my life. I’m now in my 6th year of being at home with my kids. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve failed…a lot.

We have 3 wild boys. Life is loud. It is chaotic, messy, and without reprieve. There are days that I wish I were the one getting up to go into the office. There are days that I wish I could accomplish something. Anything. Days I wish I weren’t so lonely. Days I wish there were more dads in my situation to whom I could relate. Days when I shoulder my wife’s unyielding guilt of feeling she isn’t around the kids enough. I don’t view my life through rose-tinted glasses. It’s not easy, but it is wondrous to me.

So, here’s to 36. It’s nothing that I imagined it would be, and simultaneously more than I ever hoped it could be. I don’t know how much longer this phase of life will last, but I have no plans to end it anytime soon. Maybe I’ll go back for that Ph.D. one day. For now, even as I feel myself getting dumber by the day, I’m content with where I am in life, and especially who I have in life.

WEBOliver1yr-22

4 thoughts on “Thirty-six.”

  1. You have revealed yet another talent, Ben. This was just wonderful. You have a gift to be sure, and it reaches way beyond your art. Blessed wife, blessed children, blessed man.

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  2. Love love love this!!!! Who knew we had so much in common… well except the Dad part. I can’t imagine how lonely it might be to be a stay at home dad. There are tons of stay at home moms, and I still feel alone most days. However, I agree that this life is at the very least a training ground for my self centered flesh and at most, the best thing that has ever happened to this small town Georgia girl who had dreams of PhD and counseling families or teaching college kids about a life that I had never lived. Thanks for sharing. Sorry I wrote a book.

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    1. Wow, Janna- the similarities are striking, indeed! I’ve wondered before how similarly each of our 3-boy homes operates. My perspective has shifted so much over these years; mostly, I no longer feel I have anything to prove, and can be open- flaws and all. Thanks for sharing!

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