Heavy Dad to Happy Dad : My First Year of Fatherhood

I was heavy when June was born.  Actually, let me rephrase that - I was the heaviest I have ever been in my life.  I had spent 9 months gaining weight with my wife and while she had a beautiful baby to show for it, I just had a gut, extra rolls and tighter pants.

Physically, I was at an all time low when June was born.  It also didn't help that I severely sprained (maybe even broke) my ankle the day before she was born.  I was hobbling around on one leg while my wife was on two weeks of bedrest and we had a newborn to take care of.  We were a hot mess.  Also, our heat went out the day after we got home from the hospital and it was 7 degrees outside and had just snowed.  So, we were more like a hot mess with a side order of freezing-hot mess.

I was also the heaviest I have ever been emotionally.  I was carrying such weight in my heart over things that had happened in the past that I was struggling to let go of.  In addition, we had employees quit without notice just a few days before June was born, which added the stress of how things would work with a business in need of daily workings and a newborn baby.  On top of all that there was a big argument with some of the people closest to us the day after June was born.  I would have rather had two sprained ankles than deal with some of the emotional baggage and stress that I was carrying/handed in early February 2015.  Even as I write and think about it a year later, it still feels heavy.  My heart begins to ache because I believe that I, as well as others, missed some opportunities that will never be able to be had again. And even while I rejoice at all the amazing and wonderful things I enjoyed those first weeks and months of June's life, there is a small part of my heart that understands what was missed.  When we miss moments in life because of mistakes, frustration, pain, sin, busyness and pride, there is nothing we can do to go back and re-live it.  We simply have to live with that ache. And hopefully allow the grace of God to cover it so we don't dwell and fixate on the hurt. I know that if I wanted to I could wear that small part of pain like a badge of honor, but I believe in a joyful God, full of hope, and pain will never define who I am -- joy will.

As I look back at the first year of June's life, here is the first huge lesson I learned as I walked from heavy dad to happy dad - pain will come, opportunities will be missed, frustration is inevitable, but suffering and focusing on that suffering is always optional.  The joy of the Lord will be my strength and I will stand firm on that truth!  I am not defined by the pain in my life - past or present.  I am defined by the waterfalls of grace washing me clean again and again and again!

I'd like to end the story there and say that I learned that lesson in the first weeks of fatherhood and I was good to go, but that isn't the whole story.  In the early weeks, I was physically exhausted because of the extra pounds and lack of sleep, and emotionally exhausted because of my inability to let things go, move on and trust the God that I tell people to trust all the time. Brooke also had some major injuries and infections from labor. She was on bedrest, had just had a baby, was emotional, had no voice and was sad.  I wish I could say that the first two months of June's life were the best of my life, but I don't think I can.  We were absolutely loving our little June and could not get enough of her.  We would put her down for a nap and then spend the next two hours looking at photos of her on our phones.  We were happy she was finally here, madly in love with her, but still carrying around unnecessary weight in so many ways.

During the first month of June's life, I would pick her up from the pack-n- play right beside our bed and dress her, always ending with a little photoshoot.  I loved every second of those moments.  Brooke would coach me from her bed rest position telling me what pants matched which onesies best and what bow to use.  Those were such a seemingly small moments that we shared as a family, but I truly believe that it was those little moments, and so many others like it, that would serve as the catalyst to launch our family from where we were to where we wanted to be.  The photoshoots don't happen every morning anymore, but almost everyday we still gather in the bed after June wakes up and spend time as a family before our day begins.

As June grew and we found the balance of being married parents, business owners and actual functioning human beings we started to open up to each other.  True change will never come without true honesty and Brooke and I, even while happily married, needed to talk about things that had happened, were happening and that we hoped to happen.  It was like the weight of what I was carrying for years had shut down parts of my heart and Brooke was noticing.  We talked, cried, laughed, cried, talked more, dug deeper, opened up more and pushed through the fear that comes when you are getting close to the root of a problem.

And little by little that fear dissipated, so we dug deeper, we opened up more and the most amazing thing started to happen - we hurt less.  Frustrations about what had happened in our past were replaced with joy of what was happening right in front of us - our beautiful baby girl!  Our hearts and heads are only capable of holding onto so many things and we were tired of giving space to things unworthy of that precious space. So, we focused on what God was doing in our lives every moment of the day. We rejoiced when Brooke could finally walk from the bed to the bathroom on her own! We rejoiced when she put on her first pair of actual pants instead of pajamas!  We celebrated with equal joy our favorite songs and business sales goals, our favorite TV shows and bible verses. We flooded our lives with all the things that made our hearts sing and started to tear away the things that brought frustration and pain.

Like a good Chip and Joanna Gaines demo montage we were tearing down the walls of our heart and if Fixer Upper has taught me anything, everything is better with less walls! (Except maybe prisons.)  Brooke began to say things like, "T.J. is back!" The emotional weight was being trimmed to size and my heart was starting to feel like the before and after photos of a P90X infomercial! We started focusing on all the things we wanted to do and opened our hearts and arms up to God and said, "You tell us where to go, what to do and we will listen."

We can try to determine our lives and hold all the pieces as tightly as we can in hopes that it will help somehow, but it's only when we let go and give them to the Creator that our lives really start to take the true shape they were designed to be.

So, Brooke and I starting asking two question over and over again, "What do you want us to do Jesus?" and "Does it bring us joy?"

We weren't asking these questions out loud on social media or in front of anyone. We were asking them in the private and secret place of our hearts.  We were really ready for change and wanted to push through whatever we needed to in order to make it happen.  We were done talking about the change and we were ready to take the steps to make it happen.  We learned that we hold onto way to many things emotionally, and physically, that bring us ZERO joy!  What the crap is that?  So, we retired from our good paying jobs that weighed us down. We got rid of 70% of the stuff in our house. We leaned into what God was telling us more and more and the walls were crashing down, which lead to even more freedom to say YES to God!

And this was the second lesson I learned as I went from heavy dad to happy dad - more Jesus outweighs everything.  Take away all that I have - the followers, the blog readers, the t-shirt sales, the great hair and just give me more of the never-ending, amazing love of Jesus!  He pushed us this year to let go, move on and focus on what true joy is, and we learned that. I LEARNED THAT. And continue to every single day as a husband and father.  Will I ever fully grasp that concept?  Not until I meet Jesus face to face. But I will do my very best to try to learn it more and more every day.  When I feel myself being sucked back into the self-centered world of focusing on my hurt and my pain, I will cry out to God to help me and pull me closer to Him!

The third and final major lesson I learned on my walk from heavy dad to happy dad started on Thanksgiving day.  I woke up and as I looked at myself in our bedroom mirror, I pulled my shirt away from my body, a new tick I had developed as my waist size increased.  At this point, I had lost a little weight since June was born but not as much as I needed to.  I was still closer to my largest size than my smallest size as an adult. I was constantly performing my new tick by grabbing my t-shirt right around my torso and pulling it away from my body - just a little tug alleviated that discomfort.  I was doing it over and over again.

It was on Thanksgiving 2015 that I finally had enough.  I knew I would spend most of that evening diving into the carb, pie and sugar pool, which would lead to more shirt tugs and discomfort. I honestly just wanted to feel better about the way I felt and looked physically, so when June went down for her first nap I told Brooke I was going to work out. I had tried a few times after June's birth to get back in shape but they only lasted a week or two and then fizzled out.

I went to the Daily Burn app on our Apple TV and selected the OTM Airfroce workout from the Black Fire program.  For the next 32 minutes I struggled as I worked out.  The great thing about the Black Fire program is that it works on a point system and out of a possible 20 points that day, I got 14.  Thinking back I know that my form was garbage and I probably should have only awarded myself 7 points, maybe.  I am proud to say that I I just did the same workout this week and scored a perfect 20 out of 20 with really good form!

The extra weight we carry physically can end up controlling our lives just as much as any emotional weight and it's just as challenging to shed that weight.  But, if my body is a temple for a great God I need to start taking care of it.  I need to honor the gift I've been given and not let it be a distraction to what He calls me to do.  After Thanksgiving I really started to take my physical health seriously.  I started working out almost every day and said goodbye to some of my bad eating habits ... AND GUESS WHAT HAPPENED!??!?  Life got better.  Brooke started saying, "T.J. is back!" even more often!  It became easier to pick up June, play with her, throw her in the air, and roll around with her on the floor.  As the weight came off my confidence came back and I can say that I am so much happier now than I was as a heavy dad a year ago.

Maybe all the ways you want to feel about yourself are only 3, 6 or 9 months away.  Can you try it for 9 months to reap the benefits for the rest of your life?  As I watched June grow, I realized that being out of shape and overweight wasn't worth all the opportunities I was going to miss out on. This was my baby girl and she would be crawling around before I knew it, then walking, then running and I want to be there to chase, capture, climb, swim and jump with her.  I don't want to be a dad sitting on the sideline of my daughters life out of shape and out of breath.  I want to be right by her side as she dives off her first diving board, runs her first race and climbs her first tree.  I looked at myself in the mirror on Thanksgiving day and felt great about where I was emotionally and spiritually, but terrible about the form staring back at me.  Enough was enough and I was ready to change, so I took step after step to do it. (Actually more like squat after squat.)

I am not a heavy dad anymore.  I am a happy dad.  A large part of that was losing the emotional weight I was carrying around in my heart and part of it was losing the physical weight from my gut.  I don't think my first year of fatherhood would have been as amazing as it has been without both. Jesus said, "I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full."  I want that full life.  I want it emotionally, physically and spiritually.  I don't want to walk through life with blinders to my health in any aspect.  I want to work on all of them all the time until perfection comes in heaven. I want to be healthy spiritually to guide my family.  I want to be healthy physically to lead them as long as humanly possible.

I believe that we are all capable of learning lessons as long as we give ourselves grace, time, patience and large doses of honesty.  My first year of fatherhood contained a lot of that but as I look to celebrate the first year of my daughters life I am thankful for every hard conversation, frustrated moment, tear, prayer, cry, and time I was able to push through.  I am so thankful for a loving wife who never let me give up on myself and for a great God who extends hands of grace, heavy doses of honesty and lots of unbearable love to sustain me even while the change seems unbearable.

Maybe you are reading this and think that you need to work on some emotional issues, physical issues or spiritual issues.  Maybe you've been putting them off for too long and life is flying by as you watch with bitterness and frustration.  I encourage you to take those first steps today to move past the weight that is holding you down.  Pick up that phone and start the conversation with that person.  Pick up the weight and start lifting it over your head.  Both are important and maybe you need to hold a phone in one hand and a weight in the other.  That's what I needed this year -- and it was a 6lb 10oz baby girl that showed me.

June - someday I hope to share this post with you.  But, until you are old enough to understand I want you to know that I hope to never lose sight of what I learned this year.  I hope to seek joy, say yes to Jesus, stay in shape and lean into what God has for me - a full and abundant life!