Here's what scares me about fatherhood, and now motivates me to devote more time and energy to a desk job than to theatre:
Providing for someone else.
Friend Patrick (dear, in-our-wedding, kisses-hello friend Patrick) has long reminded me that you CAN have it all, and even if you CAN'T, you can certainly manage to have a family and continue to be an actor/ writer/ what-you-will. He is absolutely right and - just for the record - this here post is not an argument otherwise. Have cake. Eat it, too, by God.
I could at this very moment in an alternate timeline be (with a little good fortune) recently returned from a regional production of Richard III, rehearsing two excellent NYC Fringe shows, with a staged reading scheduled for those dark days, a paying gig planned out-of-town for October, and my second sci-fi masterpiece recently wrapped. That sounds wonderful to me. In this timeline, I would most likely still be working for Bi-Jingo! and being paid well for running management training sessions. Maybe I'd also be temping, or have found some proofreading work. Maybe I'd be a stay-at-home dad. Maybe I'd have finished writing a play or novel.
Jeebus! I'm missing out!
What I could not be doing is relaxing (somewhat) about emergency room visits. I also couldn't be planning to serve food AND drink for her first birthday party, nor planning actual vacation time. Perhaps eventually, I could be planning to pay for her college, the way my parents did for me, BFA and all. But also: perhaps not.
I know people who have made it work. Their existence used to torment me. Less so, now. (I won't go all-out in my altruism; Envy and I have had some long, meaningful talks. Or at least long, meaningful awkward silences.) I've found the key to keeping perspective in these things is to honor your own journey as uniquely yours, uniquely valuable. That makes it quite literally incomparable to others'. Sprinkle with gratitude, and it's the best you can do. Better yet, there's some hidden help in that valuable perspective: Objective self-evaluation.
It is not, nor has it ever been, my strong suit. Maybe it's because historically I've been rewarded for acting from my emotions, maybe it is because I feel like a successful deceit is just that - a success! Whatever the cause, turning my sense of objectivity on myself is an ability for which I lack significant motivation, direction, and whatever else it requires. So it rather surprised me when I had the realization that the way I was living was not going to support the way I wanted to parent. I mean, that's just some rigid, objective fact, right there, that is.
Fatherhood and artist-hood are in no way mutually exclusive identities. Personally, I am finding thus far in practice what I always assumed would be so in anticipation - that my creative energy defines and fuels me as a father. All this running about the stage, falling down and building weird shapes out of people has served as great rehearsal. Directly, in the case of my one-year-old; more conceptually, I imagine, down the line a ways. I have faith that the fatherhood bit is also feeding my artistry. I'll put it to you this way: If and when I play a father on stage in a drama, watch. Out.
The tricky bit is in being objective about one's priorities. Had I felt I could be just as effective a provider by sticking with what I did on stage, perhaps the objective judgment wouldn't be necessary at all. In fact, maybe all I lack is daring. That's more likely than not. An impulsive dude I am not, and risk is something I enjoy best when I'm provided a well-indexed list of potential disastrous results.
The thing is, the risk isn't mine. It's my daughter's.
Some recent experiences have really driven this point home. A few months ago my mom was - shall we say - encouraged to retire by the board of the church she's served since the 90s. A couple of weeks back, my dad was let out of his contract with the school where he's taught for 21 years. They are both 68 years old, neither of them in a position to comfortably retire.
My mom started attending seminary in her late 40s, which is something I admire her for. My dad left a lucrative position as the CFO of the NRA (and: subsequently adopted a somewhat more liberal political position) when he started disagreeing with how they operated, and moved into teaching because he found it rewarding, for which I am of him quite proud. You could also argue that these choices led them to where they find themselves today.
My parents are not irresponsible or careless people. They are not selfish, and they are not naïve. They are wonderful parents, who absolutely and unequivocally put their children first, not only supporting our lives but our ethics, identity and outlook. I love them. And now they're in a screwed-up position that they do not deserve. It remains to be seen, but they may need help soon. Help I'm not overly prepared to provide.
And they may be fine! I don't know. But what a terrible possibility, to have to choose between providing for your child or providing for your parents. It's this kind of life event that directs many people through their life choices. I suppose it's the kind of choice some people make every day, but it's a first for me.
I don't advocate making choices of any kind from a place of fear, so in my life choices in particular I have tried to incorporate a sense of hope or daring, as may be particularly applicable to the given choice. Heck: The ambition of becoming a father (let alone a uniquely good one) is of itself a risk-taking. And to those of you who see marriage, family and a desk job as a default or easy path through life, I politely retort:
HA! HA HA HA HA HA HA! HA! HA!
What I can't allow to burn up in the flames of inspired parenting is this idea of providing for someone. Being a provider is not all about fiscal solvency, but neither do I think it can be accomplished without it. There's a balance to be found, unique to each individual. It reminds me of one of my favorite teachers' claims about theatre history. The late Dr. Kenneth Campbell never tired of reminding us that theatre as a culture only thrived and thereby evolved in times of wealth and prosperity.
That's not to say theatre from impoverished places and/or times can't be amazing - it very often is. But thriving is another matter.
I want my daughter to thrive. Had I booked a commercial or two in my 20s, perhaps that could go hand-in-hand with playing Sir William Brandon this past summer. I want my daughter to grow up appreciating the magic of collaboratively creating a story, then living a conversation about it in real time with real people. And so she shall. And I'll be paying for the theatre camp.
We do have to keep something for ourselves. If I drive myself to personal ruin by denying my own creative impulses, what kind of father can I expect to be? I learned from my father that no matter what else - money, life, art - what we need most from a dad is for him to really be there. So, on my uniquely valuable journey, there will come more board-treading, more rehearsal, more kvetching about process. And I'll be able to trust in that time, whenever it comes, because the rest will be provided for.