Lessons from a New Dad

Let me preface this piece by saying that fatherhood is one of the greatest joys of my life. It has stretched and challenged me in some of the most difficult and soul-searching ways, it has shown me new depths of love I didn't know I was capable of giving and receiving, and it has revealed in me just how desperately I need Jesus in order to survive and be "successful"  in this privilege of raising 2, almost 3, humans in such a away that they love God, themselves, and others well.

Now that I've giving you the punch line, let me dig into the real, oftentimes, unspoken truth of being a dad. This is not intended to generalize my experience as something that every guy has experienced or is experiencing...My hope is simply to provide a real insight into my struggle to all the toll that haas taken on relationships with God, my wife, and I'll probably find out later down the line, my kids.

Quick background...My wife and I have been married 12 years and have been together for 17. We were high school sweethearts and got married at the ripe age of 23. For the first 3+ of years of marriage we didn't want kids. We love our life of independence, advancing our careers, financial freedom, etc. My wife planted the seed of wanting a family about a year before we "pulled the goalie." From there we figured it would be a pretty quick turnaround basked on all the people around us getting preggo just by giving each other a high five. Not the case for us. 4 years into our infertility after all the cycles of grief, intense jealousy at the people around us having kids effortlessly we opted to pursue adoption (which was something we were planning on anyways, we had just hoped to have a baby through birth first). Long story short, 2 weeks after being paired with our birth mom for adoption, I knocked up my wife!

So, we have two girls under the age of 2 1/2 (6 months apart) and now another surprise little lady joining us early July! God is good! He really is and if you want the details of our journey, because some serious miracles happened, I am an open book.

I give you this background because it plays a big role in how my intro to fatherhood started. It was a stressful, anxiety invoking whirlwind! Going through the messy yet beautiful open adoption process, adjusting to life with a newborn only to have to re-adjust 6 months later with a lady #2...All the while lacking sleep, relearning how to connect with my life intentionally, both of us running businesses and managing schedules...Needless to say it was a lot. My insecurities, anxieties, and fears went into overdrive. How am I going to provide? How do I avoid projecting my junk on my daughters? How do I find time to handle all these new responsibilities while still investing in my relationship with God, my wife and my community? Here's what suffered...Everything. I didn't prioritize well. God got was left over if that, my wife got even less of me sometimes simply because we were both exhausted depleted of drive to intentionally connect, and let's not get into our friend relationships.

My problem is I can suck it up and push through a while before I implode. Not healthy. But while I was pushing through I was carrying this weird guilt...Like I was failing at having the capacity to do it all and still have heart and energy left over. Survival mode was the enemy's way of driving a massive wedge in between me and what God was trying to teach me in this season of life. Then my pastor, Phil Wood, spoke some rad wisdom one Sunday morning that extended me so much grace. He said, "Sometimes surviving is thriving." Simple words, right? But they struck a chord...All this time I had been allowing myself to believe the lies that I'm not enough, I'm doing it wrong, I'm going to screw up my family because I'm not attacking this crazy season with joy and laughter all the time. Grace exists big time in that survival mode, you just have to be open to recieving it. And it wasn't as if those four words solved it all and I suddenly had the recipe for how balance all these responsibilities, but it definitely provided a healthier new perspective. Essentially,  it is that saying, "progress not perfection."

My progress was being able to stop and witness how my daughters viewed me. Their simple, perfect, innocent eyes saw through my layers of hurt, fear, and insecurities and straight to their "dadda." They saw the giver of hugs and kisses, the ultimate goofball, the other that sings to them and tickles their necks and tummies, the one that instructs and disciplines, the other that jumps in the middle of the night to lay them back down in bed and whisper soft words to them. I think children are gifted with these innocent eyes as a way for God to begin to reveal himself to them through their parents (assuming their parents are loves and followers of Jesus of course). We, as adults, unfortunately have our eyes tainted by the realities of this world that cause us to sometimes lose that sense of wonder in who God is, to sometimes see Him as the disciplinarian, bully, or distant and apathetic enigma. Although my perspective of God has improved since becoming a dad and I have a slightly better understanding of a small degree of the intensity of love He has for his children based on my love for mine, I know I am nowhere close to scratching that surface of His depths.

So, why am I telling you all this? Why are you reading all this? Maybe my verbal vomit connected with you in some way with the season you are currently in. Maybe you are about to become a dad and this is a little insight into what could lie ahead and how to better prepare yourself for that upcoming season. Maybe you think I am crazy and need to my sh** together before I ruin my daughter's lives. I think those are all fair and accurate evaluations. I have soo much work to do, but I think my words of wisdom or take away from all of this is that I am not afraid to admit that fact and I am in face doing the work. My wife and I are back in counseling exactly because this is such new territory for us as a couple that we don't really have the tools to navigate it well so as to keep our marriage thriving. I have seen some of the ugliest parts of me surface since becoming a dad because has revealed in me so many of my past woulds or shortcomings that I am most of ashamed of. You simply cannot expect, without likely enduring great pain and hardship, that you will have all the answers right off the bat to how to do this parenting thing. Don't be too "manly to admit you have no idea what you are doing and you need help, please!" Far too many marriages have ended and children have suffered the fallout of a broken home because the man has been too prideful to seek help. Don't let that be you, it simply isn't worth it.

So let me finish with Happy Father's Day to you men out there that are dads. If you aren't yet a dad but are dreaming of becoming one or experiencing difficulty or pain on the journey to becoming one, stay hopeful and trust in your Heavenly Father that knows you and your desires to their very depths. And if you are a dad but feel like you are drowning and want to give up...You aren't alone and it is worth you reaching out for help, even if it means calling me and venting before I refer you to a professional...Do it! Cheers!

Photos by Aaron Young Photography

Photos by Aaron Young Photography

Steve Cowell
Instagram: stevecowell_photo

I am a husband to my high school sweetheart Amber, I’m a dad to two gorgeous girls (soon to be three), I’ve got a big, goofy great dane mix named Jethro and I love my city of CostaMazing (Costa Mesa, CA).  I graduated from Biola University in 2004 with a degree in Journalism/PR and didn't use it one bit until I changed careers 5 years ago.  I'm passionate about photography having spent 8+ years in sales jobs that sucked the life out of me. I'm on a journey of still trying to figure out what it looks like to love Jesus, my wife, and my family well...stumbling a lot along the way.