She’s always there to greet me when I get home, usually running out of the garage in stocking feet celebrating the best part of both of our days. She is always calling my name, kissing my cheek, sneaking into bed in the middle of the night to take her half of my pillow.

She’s my little girl, my princess and I don’t have the energy or inclination to argue the gender politics of it. She just is. I look at her and it’s all I can think of- she is nothing short of a treasure to me. She makes me soft where I am hard, hard when I have gotten soft. She lightens me, elevates me. My daughter, but also, my wish- all the wishes I never knew I had. 

I don’t love her more than I love my sons. She’s not my favorite, my preferred or better in any way. And she’s far from perfect. But she’s, well, she’s just different.

It had been a long week. Five or six projects coming at the same time, unexpected and ill-afforded travel, I haven’t been sleeping well. All she wanted was time with me, for me to take her to the community center to go swimming and climb the rock wall. Just us, her and her daddy. How could I say no? 

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept and had been up worrying. It didn’t matter that my work day was hectic or that accidents meant it took me almost two hours to get home. All that mattered was that I was there and I would keep my promise. 

I was quiet, she asked if I was tired. It didn’t matter that my head was elsewhere. I promised I would go. And so I did.

“Look at me daddy!” She shouted to me just a step from the top of the rock wall- the highest she’s ever climbed. The ice began to crack, like the smile on my face.

“I’m going to splash you!” She said in the pool and her million watt smile was like sunlight in the darkest parts of my brain, my heart, my mood.

“I love you daddy,” she says as we towel off. And suddenly I realize the other stuff was gone. I tell her five more minutes and she runs back into the pool, giggling, laughing, screaming, looking back over her shoulder at me as I pull out my phone and start to write this.

It won’t always be like this. Some day she’ll move on. I won’t be daddy, but dad. She won’t want me, won’t greet me at my car, won’t shout for me to look or watch. There will be other men in her life, other people she can’t wait to see. 

But not today. Not right now. Not this minute.

No, right now she’s my princess and I’m her daddy.

Right now, she’s my little girl.

I remember the feeling. It was just after my oldest son was born and the family had gone home, leaving my wife and I alone with Jack. I remember the feeling of being overwhelmed and under-rested. I remember every day being a blur, a Vaseline covered lens that made it hard to know which way was up and which way was down.

I remember how lonely it felt.

For the longest time, it was the two of us. It was my wife and I against the world. She was the center of mine. I was the center of hers. And there was Jack, this new person in our life. Her center shifted. For her, I realize now, it had been a gradual shift. As our son grew inside her, they became connected. Somewhere, in some instinctual place she knew him. She loved him. She fell in love with him.

For me, it was a sudden shift, a hard turn away from the life I knew to another one, one I didn’t understand — a life in which I was no longer, and perhaps never again would be, her number one priority.

The adjustment was hard for me. There were the logistical shifts and pressures on schedules and responsibilities, for sure. But it was more than that. I felt like an outsider in my own family. I felt abandoned, pushed aside. My ego had a hard time dealing with it. It felt like my wife was looking at Jack while I was looking at her.

Don’t misunderstand me. I loved that little boy right away. I cried the moment the nurses handed him to me. I stayed up all night with him to let my wife rest. For months, I paced our tiny living room floor in the middle of the night, rocking him back to sleep, comforting him when he needed it. I committed immediately to being his father. But the adjustment to being a family, rather than just a couple, was harder. It took more time.

My wife, always decisive, couldn’t understand why I felt left out. In her mind, the calculation was simple. Jack was the most important thing. She was right, of course, but I couldn’t help but think there was something wrong with me.

I remembered that feeling yesterday while having an IM conversation with a friend who recently had her first baby. She loves her son. She is focused on him. But, she admitted, she wasn’t sure about her relationship. She admitted that there are times when she’s not sure she’s willing to put in the work on the relationship, not if it comes at the cost of attention that might be spent on her baby.

“Is that normal?” she asked.

“I think so,” I wrote back. “As a mother, your priorities change. The hard part as the dad is accepting that you are never going to be number one in her life anymore. It takes time. Relationships involving kids aren’t always about love, they are about commitment. Not conviction. Conviction is passion. Commitment is about weathering through because you know it’s the right thing to do and having the faith to say someday it will be better and the wisdom to know that, when the child is young, that day is more than likely not today.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since. I’ve been thinking about how my marriage has changed since that day nearly 12 years ago when Jack was born. Two more kids. A lot more struggle. A lot more laughs. We’ve grown and changed as individuals, as parents, together. There were lots of times we could have given up, but we didn’t. Our commitment was stronger than any jealousy or ill will, it has been stronger than any other option.

This weekend, I’m home alone with the kids. My wife is on a girl’s trip, which means I get some time with my kids. I looked at them this morning as they tucked into breakfast, as the smiled and laughed, as they pulled together to get out the door for my son’s early basketball game and I thought back to those first early days as a dad. I thought back to the struggle and the jealousy. I thought back to the feeling of being cast aside and I smiled.

I may have felt like an outsider back then, but now that was a long time ago. That was ego standing in the way of the greatest thing to ever happened to me. I love my kids more than anything else in the world and I stand a little taller knowing that they love me just as much or more. I love my wife and the mother of my children and am grateful they are the same person. I feel closer to these four people than I ever imagined I could. So I smiled when I thought back to that feeling because I knew it was necessary. I knew I had to grow up, to go through that transition to be the person I have become. I hardly recognize the person that I was.

Relationships, family, parenthood, we tend to think of them as binary, as either good or bad, strong or rocky, a joy or a pain. The truth is that they are all of these things simultaneously. Your relationship to your family is quantum, it is everything at once, shifting slightly or greatly moment-to-moment. And the longer you do it, the more you come to rely on those shifts, to count on those swings and to appreciate them for what they are: the best parts of life.

We loaded up into the van and headed out to the game. The kids asked me to put on some music. My daughter said she loved me. Dylan said he was proud of me. Jack told me I was cheesy and I loved every single second of it. Later today they may argue about something stupid. I may get frustrated when they can’t decide on what they want for dinner. They may push back when I tell them to go to bed.  I’ll love every second of that too.

And when my wife comes home tomorrow, I’ll give her a kiss and she’ll ask me how everything went and I’ll tell her, “it was awesome, but I’m glad you’re home.”

This article originally appeared on Manofthehouse.com in 2011.

Bert

Bert Kreischer lets out a prolonged grunt. It’s more like a growl and it’s obviously satisfying. He’s been on a plane. The night before he was doing stand-up in LA, but now, he’s standing in a five-star, three-room Detroit hotel room. He’s tired, feeling the need to stretch. He grunts like a man unleashed, a man who has a lot on his plate, a man who doesn’t take a lot of time to sit still.

He is in Detroit for his wildly successful Travel Channelshow, Bert the Conqueror. (more…)

STEVEN RINELLA: THE FATHER WITHIN

Steven Rinella: The Father Within

Steven Rinella knows how to apologize. My phone dings in my pocket. It’s the ding of an e-mail. They don’t normally come this late, 9:30 on a Wednesday night. It’s out of place, incongruous. I check it and there it is, an e-mail from Rinella. It’s a good apology. To the point. A little self-effacing. He apologizes for missing our interview. He doesn’t make excuses. He just missed it. He recommends another time, offers to call me when it’s good for me. Only here’s the thing – we never actually firmed up a time to talk. He’s apologizing for missing an interview I had recommended, but he had not confirmed.

On his TV show, The Wild Within on Travel Channel, Rinella extols the virtues of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. He is carnivore incarnate, a sort of wandering philosopher, armed to the teeth and in search of meat to fill the chest freezer he keeps in the Brooklyn brownstone he shares with his wife and son. Through eight episodes in its premier season, the show follows Rinella around the world in search of wild protein. He scoffs when you compare The Wild Within to other television survival shows, looks down on them in a way. He calls them pre-produced obstacle courses engineered weeks in advance for an athletic host in the name of confronting big bad Mother Nature. He can’t understand the things those other guys do; things no self-respecting outdoorsman would ever try. He also can’t seem to understand why the wild is painted as an evil villain. For a kid born and raised in Western Michigan, Rinella has never thought of being in the woods, on a mountain, in the jungle or anywhere else in the outdoors as being something so horrific as to merit escape.

So, if The Wild Within isn’t a survival show, what is it? In the promos that ran incessantly on Travel leading up to the show’s premier, Rinella likens it to a throwback to a time when a man was only as good as the food he could provide, when hunting and survival were matters of every day living. The implication is that other shows – hunting, survival or otherwise – make being outside something to be feared, hunting for food akin to that scene in Indiana Jones and Temple of Doom when the girl was presented with monkey brain and snake embryos for dinner. Shock value. Strange, foreign and other worldly. Rinella doesn’t see it that way. MORE