I’m not going to go so far as to call Tommy a mistake or completely unplanned. MJ and I were considering a third but we decided to table the discussion for a few months so we could take stock of where we were and how things were going. I thought that was the smart, conservative, common sense play — especially because, well, I wasn’t exactly sure a third kid was what I wanted.
Two weeks and a couple of pink lines later, the decision had been made for me.
I was more than a little anxious at the thought of a third child. For starters, we lived in a rented duplex we had already outgrown with two kids. Second, I was unhappy in my job and looking to make a move. But lastly, I had always planned on stopping at two kids. Two seemed manageable with man-to-man defense as opposed to being outnumbered and having to resort to zone. Not to mention all the studies that show parents of three kids are the most unhappy and stressed. I just thought it would be…a lot.
But all of that evaporated the second I held Tommy.
He was so chill and alert — eyes open from the start. And somehow I was 100% certain beyond all measure of a doubt that we hadn’t been complete until that very moment. I don’t know how all this stuff works or why it happens this way, as mysteries of the universe owe us no explanation. But I do know I had been worried for no reason because five seconds after holding him, I realized I hadn’t known what I had been missing until right then.
I was right about it being a lot, though. A lot of love. A lot of cuteness. A lot of Tommy’s fundamental awesomeness and his big personality that cracks me up every single day. A lot of brotherly devotion among all three of my boys. And a lot of dope-slapping myself for ever doubting it could be any other way.
And when Tommy arrived, so too did my resolve to improve our lot.
I got a new job the exact day he was born, that allowed me to work in public relations in Boston and join a fantastic group of people where I’m truly happy. From there, I worked my butt off to save enough money to buy a new house in a picturesque town with a wonderful school system where all my kids will thrive. We went from bursting at the seams and paying someone else’s rent to each kid having his own bedroom and even a little yard in which to play.
In a way, it was Tommy who inspired me and gave me the push to be the best version of myself I could be.
So to Tommy, I say #ThanksBaby. Thanks for making me realize I don’t always know what I’m talking about and surprises can be fantastic instead of frightening. As someone who LOVES to be right more than just about anything, it’s been the pleasure of my life to have been so wrong.
Sunday is Father’s Day and I’ve partnered with Pampers on their #ThanksBaby campaign. In addition to this post and some great stuff from me and other dads on social media, we’re also hosting a Twitter chat on June 17 at 8 pm EST, where you could win a VISA gift card worth $250.
Also, please check out and share this amazing video from Pampers honoring dads.
Disclosure: I have partnered with Life of Dad and Pampers for this campaign, but as always, all opinions are my own.
It was expected because she was old and in declining health, but unexpected in that she died after being hit by a car. In full view of the kids. The end result of a still mischievous but half blind/deaf dog taking advantage of a door that didn’t quite latch.
I was on the train home from Boston when I got the call, and I immediately broke down in tears. Which is fitting, perhaps, since sadness is what led me to her in the first place.
It was 2007. I was a newlywed living on Cape Cod and working as a journalist. An investigative piece I was working on led to the revelation of some pretty severe canine abuse, and I was so disturbed by what I saw that I began volunteering at the local dog shelter.
But my disgust at the mistreatment of those dogs wasn’t the only reason I was there.
Despite having a job I liked and marrying the woman of my dreams, things had turned fairly nightmarish in a hurry. MJ was in the middle of a downward spiral we’d later find out was bipolar disease. Her manic periods had given way to crippling bouts of depression, and she had no love for herself never mind any to give to me. She was sad all the time and talked constantly of running away and never coming back. I would tell her how much I loved her, but that just seemed to make her feel guilty and she shut down.
But the dogs at the shelter were always happy to see me and pummel me with affection. That’s literally what happened the first time I saw Haley — she ran around the counter, jumped up, and hit me right in the balls.
And then she captured my heart.
Haley was brought to the shelter by a wife whose husband thought a dog would save their marriage. It didn’t. As a result, poor Haley was put on a kennel run and largely ignored for 14 hours a day. And because she loved people but was around them so little, she craved attention and closeness. She also thought any time you left the room you were never coming back, so when you did she was so happy she could barely contain herself.
She had endless affection and devotion to give, and I had a limitless need for love and companionship. The only problem? Convincing MJ.
You see, she was fairly open to the idea of a dog but she had conditions:
No dogs over 50 lbs
No ridiculously excitable dogs
No dogs with long hair
Haley was 0 for 3. But I knew in my heart she was the one, so I made one of the only unilateral, executive decisions I’ve ever made in my marriage — I signed up to temporarily foster her. My wife was FURIOUS when I came with a 75-pound ball of excitable, long-haired, slobbery love. But that fury soon gave way to having her heart melted by our sweet girl, and then “temporary” home turned to “permanent” in a matter of days.
I bought Haley the most expensive dog bed I could find, and then let it go completely unused because she cuddled right next to me on the bed every night. We went everywhere together and walked the Cape Cod Canal, hiked local trails, and went for runs. She was a retriever in name only because she never fetched a damn thing in her life, but she was a slobbering pile of unadulterated love and I loved her right back.
She was a total beta, but if she heard a noise or thought an intruder was present, watch the hell out — her growl was deep and fierce and scared off at least one lurker I can remember. But I didn’t want an attack dog, because we wanted a pup who’d be great with kids — and Haley delivered.
Haley was so gentle with kids, even when they climbed on her, pulled her ears, and stepped on her. She really bonded with Will and she was his “sister” for 5.5 years before Sam came along. When we’d practice sharing, Will would have to share with Haley and I’ll never forget how cute the two of them would be, staring out the window every day that I got home from work.
With Sam it was a little different. The two of them got along well enough, but it was always a tempered and grudging respect. Neither of them fully embraced the other, and there was much jockeying for position in the household hierarchy.
But Tommy? I’m not sure what it was about Tommy, but Haley loved him immediately — and vice versa. Tommy’s favorite thing to do is crawl/walk over to Haley and place his cheek gently on her head. I don’t blame him, Haley’s ear are wonderfully soft velvet. When she slept at the foot of the bed, my toes would search for those ears and I’d immediately sleep more soundly and with much comfort.
Comfort. That’s going to be my one biggest regret — that I couldn’t comfort her at the end and pay her back for the massive amount of comfort she brought to me in the nearly 10-year long span we were together.
I knew she was at the end of the road. Her health was terrible, she had tumors everywhere, she could barely stand, she couldn’t navigate stairs, she had lost control of her bladder, and the sound she made while breathing was terrible. We were in the midst of making arrangements to put her down when this happened, I just…well, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Even last night, as my shovel dug a hole through roots and rocks in my parents’ yard where she loved to play, I couldn’t let go. I carried her from the car, wrapped her in her favorite soft blanket, and cried. I sat there for 30 minutes next to her grave, in the dark and the rain, with her head cradled in my arms, because not being able to feel the comfort of those velvety ears seems unimaginable to me. So I kept taking a few more minutes. Just a little more time. One more scratch behind the ear.
We might have given her a good life, but as corny as it sounds, the rescue rescued me. The dog who lavished us with love, slobbered sentiment all over us, and made our home a better place.
What started with her hitting me right in the nuts ended with the gut punch of loss. But in between are countless moments of comfort and peace dogs seem to bestow upon us so effortlessly, yet we take them for granted time and time again. For nearly 10 years she filled our lives with life and love and tons of slobber, and her only goal in life was to be near her people. Actual people live much longer lives and never approach a more noble and meaningful existence.
I preferred Haley’s company to that of most people, and I’ll miss her as I would a friend. I’ll miss her frenzied and joyful leaps when I walked in the door, even if I was only gone 30 seconds. I’ll miss her ninja-like maneuvering for food, even at the end when she could barely move. I’ll miss the feel of her fur pressed against my face when I needed comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else. I’ll miss her gentleness with the kids. And I’ll never forget her constant vigilance when MJ was pregnant — resting her head on her belly, and knowing when she was going into labor even before MJ did.
We gave Haley a soft bed, lots of food, and a warm home. She gave us a decade of life, love, and unlimited slobbery kisses. We got the better end of that deal.
Dog owners, give your pups an extra squeeze today. And if you’re thinking about getting a rescue, just realize you’ll probably be the one who ends up getting saved, not the other way around.
“Life has been cloudy and grey
Take the bad memories and put them away
For the sun has come out , we have waited so long
All of the hard days are gone”
I’m not a religious man and I don’t pray. But after five miscarriages, even the most ardent atheist will get a little desperate and start to wonder if there are outside forces working against you. And more importantly, what you can do to turn the odds in your favor.
Eleven months ago, MJ and I found ourselves looking at a positive pregnancy test. It was our eighth in seven years. Unfortunately, as anyone who has been through multiple pregnancy losses can tell you, that Hallmark moment of blissful celebration disappears. It is replaced with anxiety and VERY reserved optimism.
We found out just before our ninth wedding anniversary, so I decided to change things up a bit. I booked a hotel room in Saratoga, NY, bought tickets to one of our favorite bands (Hair of the Dog), and asked a couple of our best friends if they wanted to come celebrate with us. And it was great. We went out to dinner, told them the good news, and enjoyed a night of uninterrupted sleep sans children before the concert on Saturday night.
Then, a few hours before the show, I had an idea.
I jumped online and snagged the email address for the band. I knew it was a longshot, but I fired off an email to Rick, the band’s lead singer, and told him about our situation. I requested my favorite song and the one I sang to my wife’s belly when we lost our Alexandra at 16 weeks, and I asked that the band dedicate it to MJ. To my wife, the strongest person I know and the only woman I’ve ever loved this much.
Amazingly, Rick and the band got my email in time and came through for us. They called us out by name, said they were moved by our story, and dedicated the song to us right then and there. It was pretty unbelievable.
“We’re all safe and warm here my friends
The hard days are gone they won’t come again
So raise up your voices and give us a song
All of the hard days are gone”
The belly of a dive bar might be the furthest thing from a church sanctuary at first blush, but perhaps it’s not so different than most people think.
MJ and I surrounded ourselves with good friends and positivity, and we felt that embrace through song. Not just any song, but a song that bridges our past turmoil and reluctant goodbyes with hope for the future. Our sacrament may have involved shots and we traded godliness for Guinness, but the booze-soaked confines of the Parting Glass pub gave us a barroom blessing neither of us will soon forget.
And here we are, 11 months later, with a healthy baby boy in Tommy. Is a song dedication from an Eastern NY Irish band in a wonderfully old pub the reason? Probably not. Just like it’s extraordinarily unlikely it was “God’s will” we avoided a sixth loss.
But in that respect, I gained an understanding of why people voluntarily give themselves up to the thought of a higher power or larger force.
It’s comforting in a way to believe someone can help you, rather than being the random recipient of horrible luck over and over again. It’s why I still have a lucky Patriots jersey and stand in the same place in my parents’ house during big games. It has no impact on the outcome, but it makes me feel better. And sometimes that’s enough.
“All of the hard days are gone
It’s all beer and whiskey and songs from now on
Laugh at the darkness and dance until dawn
All of the hard days are gone”
Imagine you’re wrestling an alligator with your bare hands while also trying to catch a monkey who is just out of reach and throwing feces at you. Then you’re asked to simultaneously tame a lion.
I’ve only been a father of three for six weeks, but this is the most apt comparison I can think of when describing what it’s like to raise a trio of children.
The jungle metaphor is overplayed, for sure, but it has persevered through the years for a reason — there’s truth at the heart of it. Granted, the “animals” involved are pretty damn terrific and the danger they pose is dwarfed by the cuteness they exude, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is hard.
Two was difficult. Three is HARD.
Two meant a divide and conquer mentality. Three means being outnumbered and out-manned at all times. Two meant we could still play man-to-man. Three means zone and the dreaded Prevent defense. And even though Tommy can’t talk, it seems he’s been able to telepathically communicate certain commandments to his older brothers, which have been mutually agreed upon.
There shall be no time of day during which all three children sleep simultaneously
No more than two brothers can be in a good mood at the same time
One of the three must always complain of hunger or thirst at all times
Someone must always be crying out for attention
None shall allow either parent to defecate alone behind closed doors
But lest you think this is some sort of unbearable task or prison sentence, allow me to disabuse you of that notion posthaste.
This is awesome.
I love being a dad. Now multiply that love by three and you have my current level of elation. And gratitude, since I never forget this road we traveled was not easy and seldom smooth. So while MJ and I are exhausted zombies who wake up at all hours of the night, can barely keep our eyes open during the day, and have forgotten what it’s like to poop without a captive audience, we’re also two very lucky and happy people.
Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, but it’s so easy to embark on journeys you know are worthwhile.
We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, but it didn’t matter. Now, at the young age of six weeks, Tommy makes us feel like he’s been here all along and both MJ and I can’t imagine life any other way. Three boys bring a certain amount of chaos to our lives, but what’s life without some commotion?
Screaming jags eventually cease and give way to the rhythmic rising and falling of tiny chests. What was just the bane of your existence mere minutes ago becomes the source of all your peace in an instant. Bedtime kisses between brothers, however fleeting the moment, live on for time eternal.