Buuuttttt… faith is a funny little thing. It requires that which, at times, can become the most powerful of all human faculties; BELIEF. That power of belief has started and ended wars, created and dismantled religions, and challenged the boundaries of scientific progress for centuries. For Monet and I, we just wanted to believe that we could be parents to the children of our own creation, being the kind of parents that we were both fortunate enough to grow up having. I just…wasn’t feeling it yet. I didn’t feel like a father. All of the answers to the world’s questions and its litany of mysterious didn’t appear before me in a flash of light. I wasn’t imbued with the powers and knowledge of the fathers of my ancestors and their eons of paternal instinct. I just had a massive headache.
And that headache lasted for roughly 48 hours.
Existential dread, for the uninitiated, is a feeling of angst or anxiety stemming from the philosophy of existentialism. This is to say, that life has no real meaning aside from what people bring to it. In my case, I was filled with the type of despondency that French Philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre captured in his play No Exit. In it, the play’s main characters found themselves in the afterlife, trapped in a room due to confluence of the poor choices they made while alive. I could easily relate. For a full 48 hours, I replayed every poor decision that I could recall over my 34 years of life. I poured over every lie, every failure, every opportunity not taken. I was an absolute mess.
To be completely honest, I’m still not quite sure how I came out of it, either. I recall distinctly calling my mother and trying to talk to her about it, only to be interrupted by suggestions of what I had to do for Monet and what she had to eat and what needed to be picked up from the store or what she should not be doing. There wasn’t really time to discuss how I felt the implosion of the world careening down upon my head or how I felt the full weight of 20 years of (questionable?) decision making staring intently into my soul. My wife needed baby aspirin and orange juice; my existential crisis would have to wait.
I knew that continuing to house this feeling wouldn’t help, just as I knew that giving in to the dread would only make matters worse. So I pulled a Jack Shephard (yes, that Jack from LOST). I opened the flood gates and allowed all of the fear and anguish and pain and regret and dread in. Then, I metaphorically closed the door and, for five very long seconds, I looked each of them squarely in the face. Did I have all or any of the answers? Would I be able to live up to the standard that my father set? Would I disappoint my children? Will I love them and be emotionally available like they need me to be? Can I afford to give them what they want and, more importantly, need? Will they love me? Will I love them back? I acknowledged each fear, I took ownership of every past failings, I accepted (again) every loss. At the count of zero, I casted everyone of those thoughts down and kicked them all out.
Are the fears gone?
Did I suddenly have answers and rebuttals to all of life’s questions that endlessly stalked me for my 48 hours of self-pitying?
But what I gained was the realization that my darkest fears could not and did not devour me, even when I allowed them in. I thought about the very things that I consciously spent energy trying not to think about, and I survived. I still don’t have any answers for what’s coming. Oddly enough, however, I somehow found peace in a quote from former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “…there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know.”
I found an equilateral balance in his words. It helped me realize that for all the threat and worry and condemnation, there will always be unknown unknowns. But stressing and focusing on these figments of possibility can prevent me from addressing the real threat to my family, both what is known and pursuing the answers to the unknown. The rest would have to take care of itself, but at least we’ll be equipped to face them as a family. That much, I do know.