Playing with Kids

When I had my first kid in 1998 it was tough. I was very comfortable having life be all about me and my fun times. At the time I was going to photography school in Santa Barbara, CA. I spent my days attending photo classes and making photographs in my darkroom. I had really nice stereo headphones and I’d dance around in the darkroom doing what I love to do. It was heaven. Sam and I spent our Saturdays at the farmers market browsing the exotic lettuces and shopping on State Street in Santa Barbara (she’d shop, I’d photograph). We had it good, we knew it, and we loved every day. After we’d been married for three years we decided it was a good time to start having kids. So in September1998 Bailey was born one month later in October 1998 I graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography and moved back to my hometown of Boise, Idaho.

It was the perfect storm for a self-centered artist-wanna-be like me. That winter was one of the coldest that I can remember. Whether it was cold or not is not important because it was the coldest winter I can remember. We lived in a tiny 2 bedroom house oozing with charm. It had big time charm and small time insulation. We didn’t have anything on the windows and the cold air passed through the wavy-glass windows like they were open. Our bed was right next to the exterior wall and I could put my hand on the wall to see how cold it was outside. Lucky for us I had purchased an expensive down comforter for a class assignment to photograph of a bed with the intention to return it right after the shoot. I never got around to returning it (probably by the grace of God) and we were so glad.  Sam and I were like two ferrets curled up close every night. We put Bailey in two pairs of pajamas each night.

I was depressed. I was broke because I had no idea how to get people to use my freshly acquired photographic skills. I had my first baby and a new baby’s demands were upon me. It was cold. I was cold the entire winter. One Sunday that winter I was asked to speak in church. I told everyone in the congregation my story and that I felt like I had been thrust out of the garden of Eden to the lone and dreary wilderness. No one felt sorry for me. It was hard to make friends after that.

At Thanksgiving that year I have a distinct memory of my sorrowful self holding Bailey on my lap while I was watching a football game on TV. It was torture to sit there with a baby and bounce her and change her diapers and try to determine if she was hungry. I remember looking enviously at my brothers and brothers in law while they lounged on the sofas sipping soda and laughing. I was in nearly in tears feeling sorry for myself.

To make things even worse, my large nose was cold the entire winter.

That winter passed and Bailey grew. We had a bunch more kids. My business became successful and we were happy but it took years for me to break the habit of self-centeredness with my kids. I assumed that every parent loved to play with their kids. Maybe other parents love it, but I didn’t. I didn’t mind bursts of tickles and reading a book here and there. But playing on the floor with their toys and taking them to the playground was painfully boring to me. It was sad. It took a long time for me to become a family man and learn how to enjoy my family. I had to learn how to do it.

Sam worked with me. One night on a cruise ship in 2002 off the coast of Mexico Sam told me her feelings about my behavior. She told me in detail what she wanted. She wanted to have a strong family culture of love, mutual respect and family unity. She asked if I’d help her by becoming more interested in the kids and the family unit. She cried on my shoulder while I stared at the ceiling that night. Her idea and her words had a profound impact on me. That was the first time I realized that it could be different, that I could be different. It still took years for me to understand what she was talking about. I’m naturally a selfish person and to break myself out of my hard coating was tough. Sam persevered and now I think she has what she wanted. It took 8 years.

I love the family life now. It’s so rewarding. Sometimes when I look at my kids I’m overwhelmed with feelings of love, humility and the deepest sense of responsibility. It’s powerful. That’s why having kids and a family is a divine plan. It teaches a person to become something beyond themselves and forces you to become much more than you are.

Now I think about little Bailey and Jack and my heart is filled with regret for the days that I lost with them. It’s almost unbearable for me. I was there in body, but not soul. It’s so sad.

I took this photograph one afternoon when Bailey was begging someone to take her out to the swing set at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandpa relented for the third time that day. He understood what I didn’t at the time. Thanks Grandpa.


  1. I married a woman who had a 9-year-old son, and enjoyed that from the start. But when we had two more in 1997 and 1999 I struggled mightily to adjust. I just wasn’t a natural with babies. I didn’t particularly enjoy those years. I always wanted to be a dad, and I wanted to be a good one, but I found it elusive in those early years.

    A key, key difference between you and me is that your wife was (a) patient, and (b) clear about what she wanted from you. Mine was impatient and unpleasant. We were a poor match. It only made parenting more miserable and difficult for me.

    After we divorced, with the environment of bitterness and strife gone, I was able to regroup and try again as a dad. And that’s when I began to turn the corner. My two sons are 11 and 13 now, and I think I’m a pretty good dad. I still have my rough edges but overall my relationships with my sons are good and getting better.

    But I would much rather have turned that corner with the support of a good wife.

  2. @ Jim

    I’m definitely blessed to have a wife that possesses patience and long suffering. Without it we’d have some real trouble. I appreciate your comment it was really nice.

    Being a father is such a big responsibility.

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