YOU'RE DOING WHAT?
That's the question we get asked most often. We are taking four months off of work (and daycare) and traveling. We have rented a car, we have booked a house, and the rest is up to us. More on the trip in a second. First, some background.
I have always loved to travel. Ever since my first overseas trip to Greece in 2004 as part of a study abroad program, it has been an important part of my life. Going new places, seeing new things, and meeting new people always reminds me that there is much more to this world than what exists within the confines of our daily existence. Getting out of my comfort zone and putting myself in a position of vulnerability through travel has always been, to me, one of the best ways to truly learn not only about others but about myself. Travel forces me to react and reflect, to listen more and speak less, to experience and to learn. It serves as a reminder that we are not as important as we sometimes think we are, nor do we really know ourselves as well as we may believe.
One of my lifelong dreams has been to drop everything, leave the safe confines of the "real world" and travel. Just go. Go for six months, go for a year, it didn't matter. The idea of freeing myself from the setting of the expected and going out to learn, see, and experience has always held a place of fascination for me. To date, I had never had the courage to act on this dream and make it a reality. Until...
About two years ago, I was given the gift of a lifetime by becoming a dad. Out of my comfort zone? Check. Position of vulnerability? Double check. In the best, and worst ways, there has not been a single event in my life more seismic to my understanding of myself, my place in the world, and who exactly I wanted to be than the birth of my son.
For anyone who has experienced it, welcoming a child into your life turns everything on its head, rendering you a bystander in what can seem like a train fully propelling itself off the tracks. For most moms and dads in the US, there is no such thing as maternity or paternity leave. We could spend a whole lot of time talking about that, but for brevity's sake lets just agree that it makes no sense. I am fortunate to work at an amazing company that offers new dads 10 days time off for a new child. While having the additional time was amazing, and my situation at work allowed for flexibility, It was still a flash in the pan feeling to welcome my new son, have the few days honeymoon of night nurses at the hospital, come home, tell the dog we still loved her, and then go back to work. For me, it was almost like it was some alternate reality, one in which I did not have time to immerse myself in, get comfortable with, or process. The greatest tragedy of the lack of time off for new parents, in my opinion, is the lost time as a family, getting to be together, getting to know one another, getting to experience each day together and learn how to live, love and care for one another.
Add to the mountain of cluelessness and confusion which I now found myself atop a spouse who would soon be diagnosed with postpartum depression, and you have all the makings of a potentially catastrophic situation. Postpartum depression is serious and is rarely talked about, and when it is talked about, it seems as though it is downplayed and couched in easy to repeat phrases like "baby blues" or "hormones gone crazy". Kiera and I both went into having William with as realistic expectations of what life would be like after he arrived, knowing that it wouldn't be all rainbows and unicorns, but even tempered expectations could not have prepared us for postpartum depression.
For me, the first months of our new reality were about survival. Day to day survival. Six months in, and I felt overwhelmed, scared, and concerned for if or when things would ever become "normal". It was clear that we were all struggling to survive, and something needed to happen.
To be truthful, the last 18+ months have been the most challenging of my life. What kind of dad do I want to be? Who do I want to be? What is really important to me? What is not important to me? How do I survive this? How do I help my wife survive and overcome this? What is important to us as a family? How do we want to raise our child? What kind of experiences do we want to give him?
This trip is an attempt to find the answers to these and many other questions. This trip is my way of making up for the time we did not have together at the beginning. This trip is me finally living for the moment and acting on a dream, not settling for the safe and known. It has always been a dream to travel the world, to take the time to really go and experience, to be present and to be open to new places, people, and things. I want to be a dad who teaches my son to embrace differences, take on challenges, face down fears, take risks, and try new things. What is important to me is being able to be present with my son, to be able to see him experience new things for the first time, to teach him the little I know about the world and to learn so much more about it along with him, to be there for him when he fails and to celebrate with him when he succeeds. What is less important to me is keeping myself in the security of a "normal life" and living with the thought of missing out on this time together. How I overcome, and how I help my wife overcome her battle with postpartum depression is by living out our dreams together and building memories together as a family.
I decided to share this journey with the larger world through the lens of a dad and his son because I believe that the voice of a new dad is not one we often hear from. This trip is the manifestation of my experiences to date as a new dad, and is the outcome of a long and trying journey to get to where we are today as a family. While the pictures and stories will be about a travel experience with my son (and Kiera, she's also here too!), they are also in many ways about my journey as a person and as a dad. Maybe dads are too ingrained in the belief that we have to "be tough" and "deal with it". Or maybe, like many other trying circumstances faced by many other people, many dads feel like they are the only ones going through something. I don't subscribe to that. We need to share, we need to communicate, and we need to help each other be better people, and most importantly, better dads.