By Jeremy G. Schneider, MFT
I danced my heart out last night. Dancing is like therapy for me, expressing pent up feelings, revealing my true self, being the truest me I know how to be. Last night was our annual holiday party and we spent two hours dancing. But the dancing comes at a cost. A cost that only hit me when I was walking down the steps after getting off the train at 11:00pm last night.
This was the first time I have gone out, on my own – without my wife – in probably about a year. I did play basketball for three nights last spring but that is about it. My wife probably goes out a few times a month. But it’s easier for her to go out. One, she spends much more time with our three-year old twins than I do – she is home with them everyday while I am away at work. Two, after we get them ready for sleep her day is over; I put them to bed every night. It is supposed to be my special time with them, though it can be challenging. So if she isn’t home when they go to bed, it doesn’t really change much for them, but if I don’t come home at night, it changes their routine. It’s bad enough I am away all day, if I don’t come home at night and don’t put them to bed what kind of message does that send them? As a result, I have been coming home every night for months and months and months.
I’m good at seeing my physical health as vital to the health of my children and to my role as a father. If I am physically well, I can better take care of them and am less likely to bring home a bug that would get them sick. I can see that I have to fight the fight against depression which dominated my life for so many years, but has only been a memory for the past seven years or so; if I am depressed then I can’t be the kind of father that I want to be. I can even see that my wife and I need special time together – even if it means leaving our children for a night or two – because our marriage is the core of our family; if our relationship is not well, our entire family suffers. But when it comes to seeing the importance of time for myself, of having fun, of doing the things I love and enjoy, it is a different story. For instance, I have made exercise a priority in my life, but I will not take time away from my children to do it. I have placed my practice as a priority in my life but I see clients at lunchtime and I write on the train so I don’t take time away from my children. I haven’t made having fun, doing things I really enjoy as a priority and thus, they don’t happen. Somehow, I’ve never been able to convince myself that it is ok to miss time with my children to do something fun. I’ve never been able to convince myself that I can place my own pleasure, enjoyment over being the father my children need. Of course, I understand on some level that if I am not a whole person, if I am not taking time for myself to have fun, I won’t really be a good role model for my children. I am so driven to prevent them from dealing with all I dealt with in my childhood that I have swung too far in the other direction.
The thing is, I desperately needed to dance, to release my emotions in a positive, healthy and enjoyable manner, to express myself in public. Being the kind of Dad I want to be has been more challenging, more exhausting and more draining than I ever imagined. I really do need some time for myself, to let go. Yesterday morning I had told my wife that if there wasn’t dancing I would probably be home in time to put them to bed myself. But if there was dancing, I wasn’t coming home until the music stopped. There was and I didn’t.
For some reason, my focus had been all about whether or not I would be home in time to put my children to bed. This is a responsibility and a pleasure I take seriously. I am their Daddy and I get to put them to bed every night – not many fathers are anywhere near as lucky. My wife is incredibly understanding and supportive about my desire to build a strong relationship with each of my children, to spend as much special time with them, to be the primary caretaker for them whenever I can. When I am not able to fulfill this role, to be the kind of father I expect from myself, I feel very badly about it. But in focusing on whether or not I would be able to put them to bed, I forgot about something even more important, the real reason why going out at night is so hard for me.
Yesterday morning, like most mornings, I crept out of the house while my entire family was still asleep. I didn’t think much of it because it happens almost everyday now. At 5:00pm, the time I usually go to catch my train to be home in time for dinner, I started getting a little anxious, but pushed it away and went to the party. At 6:30pm, I called my wife to let her know I wouldn’t be home in time to put them to bed. From 7:00 – 9:00pm, I danced and danced and danced. I caught the 10:07 train home. At 11:00pm, I was walking down the stairs after getting off the train going through the same motions I do everyday until I remembered what time it was and then it hit me. I wasn’t going to see my children tonight because they were already asleep. A whole day of not seeing my children and I stopped walking for a moment. Somehow in my worry about whether or not I would be able to fulfill my responsibilities as a father, I lost the fact that my children wouldn’t see their Daddy, and just as bad, I wouldn’t see them. It feels like a high price to pay in some ways and I found myself torn about going out and having fun.
Fortunately, this morning my kids woke up earlier than they have in months and I got to see them. I walked into their room and my son, Lucas, screamed out in excitement, “Daddy!” and Dorit started getting out of bed to give me a hug. I had missed them so much! And they seemed so happy to see me, it felt so good. Maybe my being away doesn’t hurt them or disrupt their routine too much. Maybe it allows us to miss each other, to realize how much we love each other.
Maybe, just maybe, there is room on the dance floor for me after all.