When Just Being A Person Is Harder Than Being A Parent

The older you get, the more emotions, situations, and past traumas get piled into your brain. There have been enough issues and experiences to affect you in so many ways that they creep back into your head when you least expect it.

There’s grief. Darkness, my old friend, is there to remind me of the pain that comes with friends lost and the sting of a life that moves forward without them. Whether it was two years ago or twenty, the losses pile up and the older we get, the more they accumulate. Sometimes, grief will smack me upside the head when it is least expected. Before I know it, I’m spending days or weeks coming to terms with things I never realized I still had to come to terms with.

I grieve other things too. Whether it’s lost friendships, dreams, or relationships, there’s loss all around. I grieve unrealistic expectations or hopes for futures that will never come true. We all do. I’m not special. This isn’t a statement that should shock people. Many reading this are going through it right now. Nod your head. Say mmm-hmm. I hear you.

Add to this the exhaustion or shame or guilt or a million other feelings that often worm their way into my downtime. I’m a complex creature in a complex world yearning for simplicity. Even when things are going great, my mind can make me even more apprehensive. Is my brain playing tricks on me or does it just know the truth that I’ve been deluding myself of? There’s a slew of agonizing ways to decipher all of this.

Then, as I’m doing that deciphering and handling things that plague me in my quietest moments, another voice comes along.

Ugh! Can you do my laundry? I’m out of pants!

How are you out of pants? I literally just did your laundry.

I don’t like any of the pants that are clean. Can you buy me more clothes?

What? I just bought you clothes.

I don’t like any of those clothes.

Why did you have me buy them?!

I don’t know. Is it almost dinner?

I’m a dad. In fact, I’m a single dad, a girl dad, a special needs dad, an “autism dad”, and a laundry list (pun intended) of other dad phrases. I have two kids. When they’re here, those two kids never stop.

My daughter doesn’t know that sometimes her mundane musings about lost Lululemon yoga pants pull me from a dark place of self-reflection. She doesn’t realize that the song I’ve been playing on repeat through the kitchen speaker is because I can’t let go of an emotion that’s been kicking me in the lululemons since yesterday. She doesn’t see it when my mind is wandering into dark histories.

And that’s a testament to me.


Kids should know that their parents are human and deal with issues, but they shouldn’t sense it every single time. I don’t want to walk around my house sulking and thinking out loud. I don’t want her to grow up one day and say, “My dad always seemed sad and lost.”

The truth is, I’m not always sad and lost. I do, however, feel that way sometimes and, when I do, it’s an easy emotion to pour out to the planet. You see people like that every day. They walk through the supermarket, pushing a cart with every ounce of effort they have, and anguish pinned to their sleeves. They wind up in YouTube videos screaming at retail workers while wearing their brand of misery like a cheap suit.

Being a dad means sucking it up sometimes. It’s a big part of being an adult. You give your kids the best of you, even when you feel your worst.

For my son, it’s a different story. Lucas is non-verbal with autism. He doesn’t come to me about laundry. He’s cool as hell when it comes to clothes. I can put him in a burlap sack and he’d go to school with his little arms and legs poking through the holes.

What he does do, however, is demand my time. Typing on a computer? No problem, he’ll just come over and lift my hands off the keyboard to lead me away. Drinking coffee? All good. He can just take my wrist, forcing me to spill it on myself, and walk me to the Pirate Booty he wants. 3AM? Room trashed. Midday TV session? He’s already taken his pants off so he can run around with his business waving in the wind. When it comes to my boy, life happens when it happens and there’s no sense of “dad’s not feeling it right now” to stop him. Nothing will pull you out of a deep thought quicker than a mini emergency in the den.

So I go. I put my thoughts on hold and I go. He needs food or help, it happens. I can’t ask him to give me a minute while I reason out a feeling of guilt I have over a random interaction from 2003. He reminds me that there’s nothing more important than right now. He pulls me out of it.

Aye, there’s the rub. It’s why these kids make my life so much more manageable while being such demanding parts of it. They are a responsibility that never quits. When I am at my lowest, I’m expected to be my best. My desire to put them first puts my sad emotions on the back burner. When I do, I refocus.

And I often come out of it much happier than I went in.

Life collapsing around me? That’s cool. My daughter wants to watch the next episode of Smallville we’ve been binging on Hulu. So, I do that instead.

Feeling existential dread for undefined reasons that make me feel like my brain is broken for even pondering it? My son wants me to rub his temples while he watches TV and he won’t let go of my hand until I do it. So, I do.

Being a dad is tough, but just being a person is often tougher. Without them, I’d be stuck in this mode for an indefinite amount of time. Will my brain ever be free of the issues that poke it during my quiet times? No. Probably not. But I’m a dad. The kids remind me that life is happening around me and, when I’m busy beating myself up, there’s always something else healthier and much more deserving of my attention.