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The Daddy Diaries: Pre-Dawn Pilgrimage

A South City stay-at-home dad goes for a walk to sort out his thoughts.

This is my favorite time of day: it's early, everything is quiet, and while my wife and son sleep, I gently slip out the front door for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Light just begins to touch the horizon as several stars still gleam overhead. 

It's tempting when I first wake to immediately turn on the computer and check email or look at the latest headlines, but I try to resist this. There's so much on my mind these days that I just need an hour unplugged from the grid-- some space to clear my head and be reminded that I'm connected to something bigger than the Internet.

By the time I walk past the West Orange library, I feel my heart rate increasing and my body is getting warmer. The streets are wet from the rain last night and I can see my breath in the crisp morning air. My thoughts and my feet continue to move.

I read a report last week about a city-sponsored Easter Egg hunt in Colorado Springs that has been cancelled due to over-aggressive parents. It seems that last year a few adults, determined for their child to go home with an egg, jumped the rope and got an early start on the hunt. When other parents noticed this, they too jumped in and quickly the field became a melee of adults frantically vying for candy-filled plastic. All the eggs were gathered in minutes and the whole event was over before it began.

I find this kind of funny and kind of sad. I'm sure these were all well-intentioned adults who love their kids but, somehow in the moment, just lost perspective of their role as a parent. As a new dad I can see how easy it would be to lose sight of the big picture. The desire to provide and to see our kids happy can sometimes sabotage our best intentions. Would I have jumped the rope too?

I cut across the field at Baden High School. There are no lights here so the stars shine just a little brighter and I pause to take in the canopy of space. Somehow it's strangely comforting to know I'm just a speck in a huge universe.

Though being a stay-at-home dad has become increasingly more fun, there are still days when trying to meet the needs of a teething, crying, smelly, hungry, cranky infant leaves me rather frazzled and unhinged. And combined with the other pressures of life, it can all be a bit overwhelming. Sometimes, at the end of a hard day, I find myself playing mind-numbing games of Angry Birds with a half empty box of Girl Scout cookies at my side. Ugh—I need to walk both for the exercise and to find a better way to cope with the stress.

As I continue on the quiet streets, I try turn my anxious thoughts and frustrations into prayers. I need wisdom on how to be a dad. My parents were divorced when I was five, and by the time I was eight, my own father was completely out of my life. It's not that I feel sorry for myself, but I do feel like I'm navigating this whole fatherhood journey without much of a map.

As I turn at the corner at St. Veronica's, I see the sun just beginning to peek over Mt. Diablo. The stars are all but gone now and in a few minutes I'll be back at my house. I don't have it all figured out yet, but I do feel a little better. Perhaps the best thing I can do for my family is just find a little solitude each morning so that when my wife and son wake I can be there for them in a healthier way.

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