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90% of being a successful parent is showing up

Woody Allen says that 90% of success in life is showing up. That is definitely true for being a good father. Your wife gives birth, but the ball is on your side of the court, half the time, after that.

I was terrified when I brought my young son home from the hospital. I looked at the little six pound, six ounce boy and almost panicked when I realized he was going to live with me. She didn’t know how to feed him, change him, or make him stop crying. I was afraid to hug him. I was the best rookie dad. He wasn’t sure he could fill a father’s shoes.

I was a full-time college student, financially strapped, married, and in my twenties when my son was born. He had no money, and there was only one way to get it. I worked five part-time jobs during the day and night to pay rent and feed my wife and son. Sometimes he had dinner, and sometimes he didn’t. I was so close to the edge, and I still had seven months to go before I graduated.

While I had no choice about showing up in person, showing up emotionally was a choice. My anxiety level was through the roof just thinking about being responsible for such a small and defenseless human being.

I guess it’s obvious, my son was not planned. While a baby is born, whether planned or not, intention plays a useful role in mapping a baby’s life. My financial instability worried me every minute of every day, and I feared being poor even more than I feared being a father.

My marriage to a young French woman I met while studying in London was a disaster. I had made a complete mess of my life. My wife and I got divorced right after I graduated from college. She returned to France, but I refused to allow her to take my son with her. I was American by birth, and as a result, I was given sole custody of a one-year-old boy.

I was a shaky parent at first. I had just started my career after college and needed more sleep than I was getting. I remember trying to get my son to sleep through the night. I thought a small amount of oatmeal mixed with his bottle might stick to his ribs and help him sleep longer. I used a hot needle to make a larger opening in the nipple and gave my son the mixture. It worked. He had discovered that at least part of being a father was being innovative.

When I think about raising that baby forty-four years later, the beginning seems like a hazy dream. I went to work, curled up and made a living. I found a wonderful woman to take care of my son during the day and when I was traveling on business. Life as a single father was good. I spent almost all my free time with my son. I didn’t have much of a social life for a decade, but I felt something in my heart that directed all my energies towards him.

At some point during this journey, I fell in love with my son and have adored him ever since. I raised him as a single father for most of his childhood. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Raising my son was the greatest achievement of my life.

I did a good job? When I look at the man he is today, I’m sure I did. I have a seven-year-old grandson, and for the first time in my family’s history, there are three generations of Solin men living at the same time. We all share a sense of unconditional love for one another. When my grandson wraps his arms around my neck, kisses me on the cheek and says, “I love you Grandpa Kenny,” I feel the same joy I felt with my son.

Since I was the only father of my child, coming forward wasn’t really an option for me. But it’s not really an option for any parent. Of course, there are circumstances in which it is much more difficult to become emotionally involved, but in the end, a son needs emotional nurturing from his father as much as he needs food. And a woman cannot be expected to raise a child without much-needed male influence from her father.

If you are a new dad, congratulations. I hope you find it in your heart to appear. I promise you will never regret it. I’d love to hear from the new dads and I’m open to sharing what I’ve learned, so feel free to write me and tell me your story.

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