The Dad Thing

Ryan Heller
Toes edge the invisible line between here and there. Page after page only now at the end of one chapter and the beginning of an unwritten story. At the precipice of unknown sentences, this great adventure has kept me on my feet. The only way to dive into what I’m trying to say is to dive into what I’m trying to say. So here it is.

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My twin babies will be born in a matter of days. We’re uprooting our home in the midst of their arrival. Another house remodel in Pennsylvania. An office remodel in Fort Lauderdale. Undoubtedly all blessings, overwhelming nonetheless.

To know with certainty my entire life is about to change while sitting idly by a phone awaiting the call. The only word is limbo. Mounting anxiety looms because, much like the oncoming of a hurricane, all I can do is prepare and wait. Well I’ve prepared. Now for the wait. The calm before the storm. The surreal experience of continuing with day-to-day routine; sitting at the office, watching television, eating dinner – all the while hearing winds slowly pick up outside. Whistling through palm fronds and fence boards, clouds fold to grey sheets, a slight chill in the air meets a lingering buzz of intensity.

In a matter of seconds, minutes, days, these two lives will collide with mine. They will look to me and Chris for everything and we will look to each other for everything. Our routine will never exist again, replaced by new modes of operation. The quiet dinner home alone will be something very different. Hell, the home will be entirely different. Two weeks after Connor and Olivia are born, we will dismantle our little nest and create home elsewhere. This year-and-a-half long journey with surrogacy will be over and our life will begin as parents, our family will grow and our hearts will expand.

But the waiting.
The knowing.
It’s the hardest part.

And the thing about surrogacy is it’s constant waiting. Counting of days, of dollars, of new people in and out of your life. Doctors, nurses, egg donors, surrogates, agencies, escrow agents, lawyers. Meeting countless couples currently going through, or who have gone through, the same journey. All the while we try to maintain a level head and open mind as things out of our control fall apart. As dollars are spent faster than we can count, as obstacles are bound to happen, as constant opinions are given, continuous heavy decisions made.

Through all of this you wait.

You wait for the right agency, wait for the right egg donor, wait for a surrogate to appear who everyone feels comfortable with, wait for psychological and physical testing on all, wait for doctor appointments, for fertilization of eggs, to find out if they actually worked, how many survive till day five for transfer, wait for the transfer, to see if the transfer worked and if she is pregnant, wait anxiously to make sure we’re in a safe zone to avoid miscarriage, wait to find out if both embryos take and we’ll have the twins we hoped for. Then we’re finally at a space of waiting like any normal soon-to-be parents – ultrasound appointments, finding out the gender, waiting as week-by-week goes by. That is to say all goes smoothly. Our first embryo transfer failed, we did not have enough fertilized eggs to try again, so we had to start the process all over. An unexpected financial, emotional and mental strain.

But we reminded each other how badly we want these babies. No matter what, we had to keep moving – and we did. We waited another two months for a new egg donor, then continued with the process again. Our surrogate was an incredible woman who stayed strong with us the entire time, enduring countless injections and emotional, physical and mental obstacles along the way. But together we faced those challenges and felt overwhelming joy when we learned she was pregnant.

Where any other couple experiences the development of pregnancy together in real time, we get updates from afar. Mostly life remains the same all the while knowing our future children are growing in someone else’s womb hundreds of miles away with no tangible proof at our fingertips. We don’t experience the kicks, the tummy growth or baby movement, the random food cravings or doctor appointments. We wait for updates over the phone and celebrate mini-milestones like hearing the fetus size because it’s all we have. I say this not as a complaint, but as an example of how foreign the pregnancy can be. How our life remains relatively normal as we wait for this massive change to hit. Waiting for the big call that we need to haul ass to Daytona Beach for the birth of our twins. Then two days later come home and – bam – we’re parents.

It’s all very strange, very exciting and very frustrating. It’s one of those things no one could understand unless they’ve been through it. The emotional rollercoaster of surrogacy simply leads up to the emotional rollercoaster of being parents just like anyone else. But it’s an over yearlong marathon to the finish line and the hustle is serious.

Thankfully the end is in sight; or rather the beginning is near. At any moment we will receive a call that Connor and Olivia are ready for their arrival into this world, the waiting game is almost over. For certain we know a C-Section is scheduled for May 24th, but they could very well come on their own time before then. Nine days. Nine days to the final countdown. Home stretch.

And then life begins again.

Life truly began hours after writing the above. Connor and Olivia were born less than 20 hours later.

May 16, 2017 –
Olivia / 6:37 am.
Connor / 6:39 am.

Those two decided it was their time to enter the world via an emergency C-section. We received a call at 5:30am from the agency asking if we were ready to be parents. Up to that point, dozens of people asked, are you ready? Our answer was generally the same: I think so. We had already gone through so many hurdles just to get pregnant, it was hard to imagine being any more prepared.

I had no idea the magnitude of change in store. Almost eight months later, we are in a new home with teething babies who crawl, eat real food and remind us daily how unbelievably lucky we are. How insignificant the surrogacy journey was in comparison to the wealth of fatherhood. It’s corny and cliché, I’m very aware, but it is also true. Nothing could have prepared us for becoming dads – no book, no YouTube video, no pep talks or preplanning. In hindsight, the best advice we were ever given, which wasn’t really intended to be advice, was someone saying, “You’ll figure it out.” Apparently the magic secret to being a parent is to figure it out as you go along.

But, holy shit, I’m so thankful it all happened when it did. We wanted to be parents for years, talked about it, dreamed of it, but for some reason it wasn’t in the cards. We thought we needed a certain amount of money saved, we needed to be in a better place career wise, had to be in the right home, had to develop a stronger sense of self to provide a more stable foundation –

But these babies came when we were ready, whether we believed it or not.

I also know had I not worked hard to straighten my life out, to maintain sobriety from drugs and alcohol, to focus more on things that serve my highest self, I would be a fraction of the parent I am today. If Chris and I had not worked collectively on our relationship, as well as ourselves individually, things would be very different.

In eight months I’ve been shit on, peed on, thrown up on. I’ve done an unthinkable amount of laundry, changed an ungodly number of diapers. I’ve learned a new level of stress while discovering an unimaginable level of love. I’ve seen my family in a new light as they’ve embraced these twins with an unshakable love, bonding with my children in a way that warms my heart. I’ve watched my son fall out his stroller face first onto a cement floor, heard my daughters head smack the tile when she fell from our bed. I’ve seen these two babies laugh uncontrollably, love unconditionally and discover the very beginning of what it means to be human. I’ve seen these under 6 pound newborns grow to almost 20 pounds, from being completely dependent on us to crawling and holding their own bottle. I’ve felt myself change – truly felt my mind, body and spirit evolve in a way it never has. I’ve seen clothes that were far too big become far too small, newborn diapers rotate to number 3 diapers. Our dogs have repeatedly raided diaper cans, destroyed expensive kid toys and lick those baby cheeks as if they were their own puppies. I’ve seen my boyfriend, who became my husband, become co-father of our twins and that feeling alone is indescribable. Together we have faced this new life with the same determination we’ve faced everything else – an honest reflection on what the fuck is going on – the great times, the hard times and the stuff in between. We love hard and fight rough, but we try to keep it honest and do the best we can for each other – and now for our family.

In eight months everything has changed while still so much remains familiar, like watching the same movie twenty years later with a totally new perspective. For whatever reason the movie American Beauty comes to mind. When I first saw that film I related to the teenagers and their angst, rebelling against crazy parents and suburban life. I recently watched the movie again and, while I still find the Annette Benning and Kevin Spacey characters to be insane, I suddenly have a deeper understanding for their journey. Each character in a place where they lost themselves, neglecting their own needs and ultimately drifting apart. Being stuck in the monotony of what is expected from society and loosing sight of passion, of freedom, of self exploration. Realizing there is more to life than the manufactured illusion in plain view, becoming restless, reckless and hungry for more. It was a new comprehension of a film I thought made clear sense years before.

Things are changing.

And as things change, I am left to figure out who I am in the midst of it all – as a father, as a husband, as a son, as an individual today. There’s no guide for unraveling new versions of yourself, let alone how this newly uncovered person functions as a human in society. Suddenly there are new responsibilities without the luxury of letting someone else do the work for me. These two amazing little humans are in my life, two little people who I feel I’ve known in so many lives before. I’m not scared of fucking them up or being a terrible father, I genuinely believe no matter what happens I will provide a good foundation.

But I’m scared of myself.

I’m scared of that little itch inside me that craves reckless freedom, who wants to take a sloppy, bloody bite of darkness time to time. I battle with demons that so easily rule my thoughts and it’s exhausting to keep them at bay. Realizing that two hours have passed while I obsess over crazy shit, now with the added weight of babies being part of the picture, knowing I no longer want to worry about the other shoe falling. About what some added danger might feel like, or how to satisfy an insatiable hunger for ego-fueled desire.

There are these children now.
I am thirty-four now.
I’m a husband now.

Not that any of those things should dictate my behavior or really mean anything, because ultimately I have to want the change. I have to whole-heartedly want to be my very best self and work to fulfill that potential.

There is a metaphor about filling your bank account with positive, esteemable acts; so when the thirst for chaos arrives, you can withdraw support from an account filled with goodness and love, rather than an empty well. I’ve been given an opportunity to walk a path of honor, to lead by example and live as my best self. I know where I came from, the wilderness endured to discover a clearing in the woods. I know so surely the dark explorer rests anxiously inside me, wanting to wreak havoc on a well-deserved life of love.

I’m tired of fighting.

And really, the fight has always been with myself. Despite all the finger pointing and need for blame, the truth is I’ve always been the asshole standing in my own way. Because I narrate my life, choose my perspective.

I look back at the childhood chapter, the high school chapter, the college chapter, the addiction and recovery chapter, the love and marriage chapter. All these pages that compose my novel revolve around the same character, offer the same stumbling blocks with different circumstances. Sometimes a renewed outlook, a spiritual shift from time to time. But the bones of this story have always been the same because that is my journey. One of my core struggles in this life – to love myself, to find balance, to be human in a game of pinball –

Now with children.

And they give me so much strength simply by existing. They show me that life is a constant series of changes and all I can do is try my best, lead with integrity and find acceptance. Or something like that. To be honest I’m not entirely sure – and that confession in itself is me trying my best – to be honest and accept that I’m figuring shit out just like everyone else.

People say now that I’m a dad, it’s not about me anymore. But I am beginning to think it’s just the opposite. I’m beginning to think now that I’m a dad it has to be more about me than ever, so I can ensure I’m the best version of myself for them. If I don’t put myself first, take the time to find my peace – whatever the hell that means – then I will never be the father I want for my children. I’ve learned that in order to operate at my highest frequency, I have to be selfish. I have to take time to do things that bring joy to an otherwise strange mind. And most of that time requires me to first actually figure out what brings me joy, because for so long I searched in all the wrong places. And what helps lift my spirit today can be very different than what worked a week ago because, guess what, things change.

Those wide-eyes and moldable brains absorb whatever energy, action, emotion, word or intention I release. If I put them before myself, if I abandon my path to care solely for them, I’ll be shit dad. I have years of experience to prove this not-so-mystified truth, with a track record of putting people on pedestals and equating exterior things to happiness – when none of that has brought me the same level of wholeness as truly taking care of myself.

I want to be the best dad I can be, but more importantly, I want to be the best human I can be. And all the books, the workshops and seminars out there can’t help me if I’m not willing to take action and make change. If I’m not willing to allow myself the space to breathe.

And breathe again.
But that could all change tomorrow.
Who knows?


Thanks for reading