I am a Seven-Year-Old Father
This article is an excerpt from Letters to the Tribe, a mental health awareness initiative launched by Scott Drosselmeier to break the silence and stigmatization surrounding mental illness. It has been republished with permission from the author.
I’m a good father. At least I try to be, but then again, nah…
Scratch that. I’m an excellent father…
Parenting, and how I interact with my son is always at the forefront of my thoughts. Always. I’m very conscious of how I interact with him.
Do I complain to my brother on the phone about the woes of modern parenting? Yes. Often, at times.
Do I drop the ball with my son at the end of a long Monday? Yeah. Definitely.
But when I do, I immediately try to catch myself. I say to him, ”I’m trying my best. I’m learning how to be a father, the same way that you’re learning how to be a son; a person. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m trying my best, and will always speak with you honestly. Sorry for not being nice to you.”
The depression and anxiety I’ve dealt with my whole life now serves me well as a father, and it benefits my son greatly.
As a child I was almost always on my guard; almost always in fight-or-flight mode. For a young boy, it was devastating. For a father, it is a useful, useful skill. I’ve learned to turn fight-or-flight into love and warmth. It’s not that I walk on eggshells around my son the way I did at my son’s age while growing up in my childhood home — it is more that I’m walking on eggshells around the seven-year-old version of myself.
My son thinks he’s an only child, but he’s not. He may not know it, but he has a 47-year-old brother within his father. By raising my son, I’m healing the damaged parts of myself; uniting my fractured self.
Often I ask my son if he feels safe and loved. He looks at me as though I’m insane. That’s the exact response I’m looking for. To him, the thought of not feeling safe, and the feeling of not being loved is so foreign, it is unfathomable.
The suicide attempts, the financial ruins, the stunted careers, the loss of friends, the violent war that depression and anxiety has waged on my health, and the thousands of dollars I’ve spent on therapy — it is all worth it when my son wakes up in the morning, singing, peeing with the door open, free to be what he is: a child.
In the days to come, my son can enter through the doors of manhood carrying very little weight, baggage and pain. I have paid the entry fee tenfold. Never do I forget that when I am with him.
Read our interview with Scott Drosselmeier