All Work and No Play Makes WriterDad a Dull Boy

I am a bad dad.

At least I felt that way yesterday. Maybe it was the fact that it was a busy day at work and I came home beat. Maybe it was the fact that I got my complete producers’ notes for the Wedding Comedy and they weren’t pretty. Maybe it was the fact that I seemed to go from office to home to holding the Peanut without much of a break. Maybe was the fact that sometimes I’m just a crabby bastard. But today, I felt like I was ready to chuck this whole fatherhood shtick and join the Army. Of course, given the rapidly relaxing standards of today’s military, I might still end up having to deal with infants — and armed ones, at that — so that might not be much of a solution after all. I realized that I was stuck. Trapped, if you will. And I was unhappy about that. And I got to wrestle with my unhappiness while wrestling with an overtired infant.

I got over it eventually, and then I felt really, really guilty about the whole sad, ugly incident. Because for a short while there, I wasn’t looking at my daughter fussing in my arms; I was looking at the thing that was keeping me from writing. And that made me really mad. And then, later on, the fact that I was mad about that made me mad at myself.

A few days ago I joked that the Missus was starting to resemble Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence; it dawned on me yesterday that maybe I was just projecting and I was talking about myself. Coincidentally, I recently read an interview with Stephen King in which he states:

“I kind of play the dad business by ear. I found out that it wasn’t like ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ Those were my ideas of fatherhood, and the way it was supposed to work. It was like ‘Honey, I’m home!’ And the kids would all sit around the table and eat their peas, and they would have interesting little adventures. And I wasn’t prepared for the realities of fatherhood… So I ended up writing a lot of books about fatherhood to try and understand it better. Because in some ways that’s what fiction writers do. We write to try and figure out how we feel about certain things. ‘The Shining,’ for instance, with the homicidal father, I had feelings of anger about my kids that I never expected. I had never been led to believe by sitcom TV, or movies like ‘A Wonderful Life’ that it was ever possible to think, ‘Won’t this darned kid ever go to bed and let me write?’ And Jack Torrence came out of that experience. An attempt to understand that experience.”

Well, at least I’m in good company.

It’s funny — I thought I knew what I was in for when I volunteered for this whole parenthood thing: no sleep, no money, no time for anything other than baby. Got it, got it, got it. But I had no idea of what it would REALLY feel like; it’s like the difference between reading a Bukowski novel and thinking that you know what it’s like to be drunk, versus picking up a couple of six-packs of Milwaukee’s Best and tying one on yourself. And in my case, the hangover’s going to last for the next eighteen years or so — more, if the Peanut doesn’t move out of the house. And with my luck she’ll still scream her head off when she’s hungry.

I know it’ll get easier eventually. Sometimes I just worry that I won’t make it to the “eventually” part without ending up with a police record. The Missus assures me that everything I’m feeling is perfectly normal; I’ll remind her of this the next time I fall into a really bad mood.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll read THE SHINING again.

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8 Comments on “All Work and No Play Makes WriterDad a Dull Boy”

  1. William Says:

    Listen to me. Just listen. There’s not a lot I can speak of with authority but this I can. I was living under the darkest cloud when I was going through what you’re going through. I’m writing this and I can’t believe it was only two months ago. I’m in a different place right now because my boy is. He’s maturing and not as fussy and smiling and laughing, not something he was doing two months ago. Then he was screaming and not sleeping and sapping every ounce of life I had in me. I was in that dark, dark place where you are and when I tell you the mind can go there, it can. This is more than most people want to hear about fatherhood but the feelings are there. Read some of my earlier entries on my site back in April when my son was born. There’s not a lot because I was caught up in the moment but also because I was ashamed I was having these feelings and didn’t want to “put it out there.”

    Reroute it all and allow yourself to go through this shit. Resign yourself to the fact that there will be a ton of other things you’ll feel guilty for when it comes to raising your daughter. It comes with the job. Start thinking about what you have even though it seems to be distracting you from your writing. And remember this one thing, the industry doesn’t give a shit if you write another screenplay but your daughter will look to you for love and guidance for the rest of her life or until, I don’t know, she gets her first boyfriend.

    All I’m saying is this, have your Jack Torrance moment. You’re entitled. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be human. Most guys can’t even admit to it so you’re already ahead of the game.

    King was on to something. There’s a reason The Shining resonates with us all.

  2. WhatACard Says:

    Go ahead and have your shining moment. It’ll pass. You know, unless you end up moving into a haunted hotel. Which I’d recommend against. I’m having a Shining moment of my own, thanks to totally annoying potty training. I’m vying for mother of the year…by the way, I’ve tagged you, which you can feel free to ignore if so desired!

  3. writerdad303 Says:

    William — thanks so much for that comment, man! It made me feel a lot better. You’re absolutely right: be a good dad first, a good writer second. And yeah, I’ll have to go back and reread your posts, now that I actually get it… I appreciate your support.

    WhatACard — thanks to you, too. I’ll steer clear of the haunted hotels for the time being. 🙂 Good luck with the potty training, which I’m already dreading. And of course I’ll respond to that tag — later today!

  4. kzwriter Says:

    I stand in agreement with William and WhatACard. It seems like you’ll never get through this stage – but you do. And then you move on to a new stage.

    It’s interesting, b/c my kids are 5 and 7, and I find the same thing happening (especially during summer vacation). Of course it doesn’t help that I try to write in one of my most used rooms in the house… makes it easy for my son to want me to help him play his gameboy or my daughter to get her a glass of water when I’ve just hit a writing groove.

    Then the old “Cat’s in the Cradle” song plays back in my head, and I think – what do I want them to remember about me? That Daddy was always at the computer, or that Daddy would always make time for them?

    Ah, guilt. Wonderful thing, isn’t it?

    Good arguments for moving my writing space to a dark corner of the attic.

  5. William Says:

    To add, I’m far from out of the woods. The boy was sleeping so well for weeks and now he wants more and more food so he’s getting fidgety in the middle of the night again.

    “Linda, darling. Light of my life….”

  6. writerdad303 Says:

    kzwriter — I was raised Catholic; I know ALL about guilt. 🙂 Good luck with finding your own time/space!

    William — well, on the bright side, at least you know you can survive your new nighttime interruptions… just go back and reread your advice to me if it gets bad again. 🙂

  7. Robb Says:

    As a struggling screenwriter and a father of 2 boys myself (ages 8 and 3), I’m damned impressed that you would hit this topic as hard and directly as you have. Hang in there – it gets a little easier but it never goes away. Life becomes an ever-evolving strategy of getting bits of time to write here and there.

    I’m still wrestling with the same dilemma. If you find a solution, tell me immediately.

  8. writerdad303 Says:

    Robb — thanks for the kind words. I had no idea that I was breaking some sort of guy code by voicing my frustration so explicitly, but in retrospect I’m glad I did; I have to say, I feel awfully relieved to discover that I’m not alone. And if I find a solution, I’ll be sure to tell you… and then I’ll make my millions selling it to all the other overwhelmed fathers out there. 🙂

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