Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Fatherhood Roller Coaster – An inspiring Awesome Dad story by Carlos Alegre

My name is Carlos Alegre Jr. from Cambridge, Ontario. My journey through fatherhood began 10 years ago when we found out my wife (then girlfriend) was pregnant. Though I always knew I would be a father of many, I was terrified for many reasons:

  • We were not married yet so how would our family, friends, and colleagues react? Unfortunately, I am very much concerned with what people think, a "condition" from which I am slowly recovering.
  • How would this impact my career? We were both ambitious with expectations to do big things with our careers, living and working in downtown Toronto striving and thriving within our respective companies.
  • How would this change my relationship with my wife? We had our share of ups and downs that we worked through and I knew I was 100% committed to her but the added pressure of having a child made me worry.
  • Holy sh….ugar! I am going to be a dad! Though I would be 27 by the time he was born, I was not sure if I would be prepared or mature enough to handle parenting.

These and many other thoughts ran through my mind. The one thing I knew for sure was that, no matter what, I was going to do what was necessary to make it work and I always had a sense that down the road, everything would work out.

So, 9 nerve-racking, exciting, grueling, emotional months later, we were blessed with our brilliant baby boy! None of my fears, anxieties, or hesitations went away, like some people claim happens. I was, however, overcome with a sense that I was meant to be a father and that I could do it… I mean, I had no choice now, right?

Well, I made many mistakes and learned many lessons as a parent of one child:
  • I was the worst hover dad, literally; I panicked every time someone carried him so I would follow them around.
  • I trusted no one holding him, carrying him, taking care of him, etc.
  • I started to recognize how brilliant little children are and sadly, how little credit they are often given for their capabilities. My boy blew my mind!
  • I learned for certain that I wanted more, many more, children. So we did just that!

For the next litter, we were blessed with beautiful, charismatic twin girls. Such a shock but such an amazing blessing. The day they were born, the greatest joy in my life was seeing our son beaming with love and pride for his two new baby sisters.

Many more lessons were learned with the arrival of twins:
  • I let anyone carry, hold, take care of them for even a brief moment of relief (talk about a 180).
  • For outings, we packed a quarter of the things we “needed” compared to when it was just our boy.
  • On difficult nights (and there were many with the baby twins), I started to resent the twins. I learned to trust that things would get easier and to not allow those feelings affect how I treated them and interacted with them.
  • Being a dad to daughters is not as scary as it seems (though, ask me again when they hit puberty…).
  • It is okay to need and ask for help.

That last lesson brought us back to my hometown of Cambridge, Ontario where we could be closer to both of our families. We are so fortunate to have such loving and supportive families. We also moved back for more space for the kids but our jobs were still in Toronto and my wife just completed her maternity leave so we were both commuting parents with 3 young children. We were seeing them only for half an hour before bed time 5 days of the week… definitely not cool. We needed to do something about it… Our solution? I needed to find a job closer to home and, hey, why not get pregnant again so my wife can go back on maternity leave to stay with the kids another year? Deal! So that’s what we did.

So, 20 months after having twin girls, another baby girl was born. Another beautiful, brilliant child that was sweet and sassy! And, as they grow older, it’s almost like having triplets.

So many more lessons were learned:
  • I learned to let go of the need to be in complete control of the children (at least just a little, anyway).
  • After 3 children, things aren’t really that much more chaotic with each additional child.
  • We packed half of the stuff for outings as we did after having the twins (remember, that’s an eighth of what we packed for our son alone!!).
  • No one child is the same. We learned that it’s okay to adjust or modify your parenting style according to the child’s personality, which is particularly challenging in an effort to maintain fairness, equality, and consistency.

By this time, life certainly started to get quite a bit more challenging. I was working 60+ hour work weeks while my amazing wife was home with 3 active baby girls and trekking our boy across the city to and from school, not to mention a relatively large home to maintain. Needless to say my relationship with my wife and children was getting strained, very much as a result of how much I was working and how little I was able to contribute at home. And things were likely to get worse as my wife’s maternity leave drew to a close. That’s when she bravely decided (and, yes, it was a very brave decision) to be a stay at home mom and not return to work. We took a little bit of a hit financially but it was definitely a savings versus sending four children to child care everyday.

With things getting even more strained in our relationship, since I was working even more to offset the drop to a single income, my wife needed an outlet, which presented itself in the form of a home-based business. It was perfect for us to allow her to get out and socialize with adults, flexibility to work her own schedule, and earn a little extra cash to ease our financial strain to get me home a bit more. Her decision paid off and gave me enough assurance to allow me to start my own engineering business from home. This decision was a little risky, but we were willing to put in the effort necessary to manage the risk so as to allow us to have a more balanced and fulfilling life. This decision also made sure I was home more, a lot more.

Now, with nearly all our children in school full-time (only 1 left), we felt as though we would soon have a bit more freedom. Well, as I just mentioned, I was home a lot more. Plus, we are a cable-free, nearly TV-less family... not to mention that it was a really cold winter in 2013/14... We were reminded that when you plant seeds, things grow! As you might have guessed, my wife got pregnant again!! We were certainly extremely blessed to be so fertile… I mean, we’re 5 for 4!! Fertile and efficient!

As it normally goes, 9 months later, we were blessed with another strong-willed, decisive, beautiful baby girl. That makes 1 boy followed by 4 girls… Big brother has his work cut out for him.

What was left to learn at this point? Many, many lessons and many more to come:
  • I learned not to intervene in every little argument the kids were having. Let them figure it out and learn to communicate for themselves… though I might need to setup an octagon somewhere in the house…
  • Trust your children’s capabilities and capacity to increase those capabilities. Let them cook, clean, help around the house, especially while they still think it’s fun. It might not be perfect, but it’ll get better every time.
  • Something I’m still trying to figure out, make things fun… I unfortunately slipped back into control freak dad for a while where any sounds of loud laughter and boisterousness made me feel chaos and lack of control, leading me to lash out on the children. I’m very hard on myself, and as a result, am hard on them too. I’m not perfect and need to remind myself that neither are they.
  • Don’t steal their dreams, no matter how silly or improbable they may seem. We encourage our children to know that they can accomplish and achieve whatever they dream of and that they are all born with and destined for greatness. This, in turn, has allowed me to dream again and recognize that “it is never to late to be what you might have been.” ~George Eliot

That is as brief of a snapshot that I can offer of my journey through fatherhood thus far. I am still a work-in-progress and know that I can be much better than I am today. That being said, I have learned to accept who I am and where I am today, embrace the journey, engage in every lesson, and most importantly that failures/mistakes are not bad as long as you learn from them and grow.

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