I wasn’t given a choice whether my child was born or not. I came kicking and screaming into the world of daddyhood. I’d known my baby’s mother for a total of five joyful, playful, and what I believed were intimate weeks – when she began to think she was pregnant. She did a home pregnancy test and found we were. A week later she was driving away from Seattle, going back to Michigan in the van I bought for us (her?) to travel around the country. She got sick, and instead I flew her home. I waited four days to hear from her and then I called. Grudgingly and with annoyance, she told me, “We’re finished. Don’t move to Michigan. I’m not moving to Seattle, and I expect you to support this child of ours.”
Almost everyone told me to forget about this woman and this kid I’d never know. But one close friend went against the barrage of voices that were “supporting me” and insisted I take a hard look at my priorities. When I whined about the latest insulting, demoralizing comment or action my baby’s mother leveled at me, my friend reminded me I had been through tougher times, “so bear down, get a grip and go for life!” I hung in and made myself a presence in my child’s life, and am grateful I did. None of it was easy. I had to change not only my lifestyle but also what I consider to be life’s rewards. This has been worth every painful step of the way.
I met this woman late at night when she sold me a cookie at a concert. I could blame my lust for peanut butter chocolate cookies or the child‑woman with the sweet disarming voice. I could wail in anger, curse my luck, complain, bitch, scream or cry because I fathered a child with a person who never seemed to consider the effect her actions have on me, or on my relationship with my son, our child. However, I see her as one of the great challenges of my life. As great warriors bow to their opponents, inwardly I bow to her for reminding me of all the places in me I still need to reconcile. Also, I never forget she is a devoted, loving mother with a gift for nurturing our child and does so in a positive, fun, and structured manner.
In the years preceding Levi’s birth, I had a few wake-up calls from the universe cluing me in to what is important about life. In 1989, my one and only blood brother died of a heart attack ten minutes after I laughingly teased him while we worked together at a Rolling Stones concert in Dallas, Texas.
Six months later, I was hit by a car. My leg was broken in 14 places. Not long after, the woman I was seeing left me to mend by myself. She decided she liked her best friend’s lover more than she liked me. Then, half a year later, my leg fully and miraculously healed and grief around my brother resolving, I met a bright-eyed, adventurous woman. We got pregnant. She aborted me.
It’s only now, in retrospect, I know how rich these years have been and how necessary these events were to deepening my perspective on life. I learned that whether or not I’m aware of the reasons, there is an inherent lesson in everything – as long as I don’t close my heart or mind, some of the secrets of the good life will begin to live in me. I point my finger a lot less and sometimes I remember how lucky I am to be alive.
My brother had the same birthday as my child’s mother. Could my playful, sick-humored, dead brother come back as my little boy? I loved my brother a great deal, but I was often unwittingly a bastard to him. As a father, maybe I could learn some of the hard lessons of unconditional love that I missed as a brother. The powerful feelings I have for my brother initially kept me from disappearing from my baby’s life. I had a lot of anger, self-pity and excuses to leave this child fatherless.
My family told me, “Forget this child. One day you’ll have a ‘real’ family, a wife or partner who loves you and respects your role as a father. You won’t have to tear up your life to be connected with this kid. Someday you will create a child and bring it up in love. That’s what a real family is, Craig.”
I had a lot of support to drop this kid. They talked like this before he was born, before they met him, before they saw the love in my eyes or felt the magic of Levi’s presence.
His mom told me, “You’d better not show up until two weeks after the child is born or you’ll be sorry.” For part of those two long weeks I was in LA, where riots were happening. Unending suffering without release or insight, the rioting in the streets and in my body were inseparable.
I stood outside the door of my sleeping child. He was three weeks old. I remember thinking I could turn back and try to forget about him. I told myself that as long as I didn’t see his face, I’d remain safe, secure in my ability to disappear if I had to. Disappearing was still an option. That changed the moment I decided to enter the room.
The moment I took a step toward Levi, I made a decision about how I was going to live my life. The priorities of a lifetime changed in that instant. For the first time, “I” was not my first concern. Levi was and still is. Having a child was one thing, but deciding to own up to the responsibilities was another. I didn’t know I had joined the Parents Club and become an adult. What used to be fun, such as free weekends or uninterrupted hours of listening to music, had been traded for silly-word sing-along songs (I became an expert), or rich, quiet times of driving down the road holding hands. With Levi, I experience something so much deeper than just fun. I share my child’s life. It is a religious experience of joyful sorrow, sorrowful joy, and deep belly laughs.
Levi fell headfirst off his training-wheeled bicycle the other day. When he finally lifted his head from my shoulder to feel his bloody wound, he disappeared into my arms for the next hour and a half, weeping relentlessly. I held him soft and hard, loving him for his honest tears, faithful trust of my arms, and patience with my corny humor. I loved him for me and I loved him for him and I can’t tell where my love begins or ends. I was grateful to be present for his first major risk-taking wound, but it also hurt me. And I laughed hard with pride and gratefulness when he asked me after his nap and a hesitant return to his bicycle, “Daddy, would you take off my training wheels and help me learn to ride my bicycle?”
Early in Levi’s life, his mom and I briefly tried to raise him together under one roof. It didn’t work. To remain connected to him, my home moves to wherever he is. I said good-bye to friends and put my belongings in storage. My existence has been fractured, my living situation unstable, my romantic life a weak chuckle, and yet these last five years have been the greatest gift of my 39 years.
Some people travel to exotic places to meet their teacher who gives them a mantra, a holy word that reminds them of the sacredness of every moment. I now live an hour from my spiritual teacher, who howls when he sees me. I hear the holy word, “Daddy!” and I am reminded of the sacred.
Craig Brooke-Weiss has been a New York City street vendor, an unofficial rock-n-roll t-shirt merchant, a K-8 teacher-in-training, and currently, a loving father and husband. He co-founded Fatherlove, a non-profit that works to include fathers and other important men in children’s lives. His most important adventure has been as “Daddy” and “Pops” to Levi, who at 27 is on the road, making adventures of his own.