Holding Levi's Hand
by Craig Scott Brooke-Weiss, Director FatherLove
I came kicking and screaming into the world of daddyhood. At the time my baby's mother suspected that she might be pregnant, I had known her for a total of five joyful, playful, and what I had thought were intimate weeks. She did a home pregnancy test in the bathroom and found out that she was pregnant. A week later, she was driving away from Seattle, going back to Michigan in the van I bought for us 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 much annoyance, she told me, " We are finished. Donít move to Michigan. I am not moving to Seattle, and I expect you to support this child of ours. "
Almost everyone I knew told me to forget about this woman and this child that they assumed Iíd never know.
One man thought otherwise. Fighting for this child that hadn't yet been born, this close friend of mine went against the barrage of voices who were "supporting me" and insisted I take a hard look at my priorities. When I whined about the latest insulting, demoralizing comment or action the babyís mother leveled at me, my friend reminded me that I had been through a lot tougher times before. He told me to " bear down, get a grip, and do what needs to be done! "
I did just that. I hung in against all odds and forged a presence in my child's life. I am so grateful that I did. None of it was easy. I had to change not only my lifestyle but what I consider to be lifeís rewards. This has been worth every brutally painful step of the way.
I met this woman late at night when she sold me an Oryana peanut butter chocolate chip cookie at a Grateful Dead concert. I could curse my craving for peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I could berate myself for my lust for 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 considered the effect her actions have on me, or on the relationship between my son and myself.
Sure, I have been angry. Sure, I have been self-righteous. And I have wished on more than one fantasy-filled occasion that for about two blood-soaked minutes, my babyís mother would painfully pay for the way she treated me.
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 that she is a devoted, loving mother who has a gift for nurturing our child and does so in a positive, fun, and structured manner.
In the years preceding Leviís birth, I had a few wake-up calls from the universe that clued me into some essential things about life. In 1989, my one and only blood brother died of a heart attack ten minutes after I laughingly and mockingly teased him while we worked together at a Rolling Stones concert in Dallas, Texas. Six months later, I got hit by a car and broke one of my legs in 14 places. Not long after my leg was crushed, the woman I was seeing left me. She decided she liked her best friendís boyfriend more than she liked her best friend or me. Then, half a year later, my leg fully and miraculously healed, grief around my brother resolved, I met a bright-eyed, adventurous woman. We got pregnant. Rather than aborting the child, she aborted me.
Itís only now, in retrospect, that I know how rich these years have been and how useful and necessary these events were to deepen my perspective on life. Since then, I learned that whether or not Iím aware of the reasons, there is an inherent lesson in everythingóthat as long as I donít close my heart or mind, some of the secrets of the good life will begin to live in me, become me. I now point my finger a lot less, and sometimes I remember how lucky I am just to be alive.
My brother had the same birthday as my childís mother. Could my playful, sick-humored, dead brother reincarnate as my little boy? I loved my brother a great deal, but I was often unwittingly a bastard to him. As his father, maybe I could learn some of the hard lessons of unconditional love that I missed as his brother. The powerful feelings I have for my brother initially kept me from disappearing from my babyís life. I had a lot of anger, self-pity and " great " excuses to leave this child fatherless. My family told me, "Forget this child. One day you will have a Ďrealí family, a wife or partner who loves you and respects your role as a father. You wonít have to tear up your life to be connected with this kid. Someday, Craig, you will create a child brought up in love. Thatís what a real family is, Craig!"
I had a lot of support to forget this unnamed, unborn child. Most of my family and most of my friends talked like this before he was born, before they met him, before they saw the love in my eyes or felt the magic of my son Levi's presence.
Leviís mom told me, " You had better not show up until at least two weeks after my child is born or else you will be VERY sorry. "
For part of those two long weeks I was in L.A., where reactions to Rodney King being assaulted, erupted in riots. 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 that I could still turn back and try to forget about him. I told myself that as long as I didnít see his face, I would 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. In that moment, priorities of a lifetime changed. 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 of being a father was another. I didnít know I had joined the Parents Club, beginning the process of becoming a healthy adult. What used to be my fun, carefree life of play, having almost unlimited, uninterrupted hours of music and enjoyable self indulgence, had been traded for silly-word singalong songs (I became an expert) and rich, quiet times of driving down the road holding hands. With Levi, I experience something so much deeper than just fun. I invest myself in my childís life. It is a religious experience of joyful sorrow, sorrowful joy and busting-belly-in-your-face good times.
Levi fell off his training-wheeled bicycle headfirst the other day. When he finally lifted his head from my shoulder to feel his bloody wound, he disappeared into my arms, weeping relentlessly for the next hour and a half. I held him soft and hard, loving him for his honest tears, for his faithful trust of my arms, and for his patience with my corny humor. I loved him for me and I loved him for him and I canít tell where my love begins or ends. I was grateful to be present for his first major risk-taking wound. 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 Leviís life, his mom and I briefly tried to raise him together under one roof. It didnít work. To remain connected to him, my home moves to wherever he is. When his mom and he left the Northwest, I said good-bye to friends. I put my belongings in storage indefinitely. My life has been fractured, my living situation unstable, my romantic life a weak chuckle, and yet these last four years as a father have been the most exciting, challenging and rewarding in a life that was always lived full out.
Some people travel to exotic places to meet their teacher who gives them a mantra, a holy word that reminds them of the sanctity 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.