OTHER FATHER

★ ★ ★ ★

ART V. EVERYDAY LIFE

By James Prenatt

There’s a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in which the main character, a father of two, breaks down in the family’s bathtub. He’s covered in tears and dirt. His wife has had enough and his kids are even more upset. His son slams the door repeatedly, screaming, “Cry baby! Cry baby!” The film is one of few movies both written and directed by Stephen Spielberg and it’s considered to be one of his most intimate works, a story about artistic obsession and its impact on a family man’s personal life.

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. This isn’t to say I’ve been writing  every day since I was a child or that I had early success. Before college I had other goals, other hobbies, but as I got older it became clear I would have to condense my varying goals. After I started taking writing classes it went from being a faint dream in the back of my mind to an obsession. I made the habit of writing daily along with my homework. It was my escape and my reality, something that would work out no matter what.

A marriage, college graduation, two kids, a few small publications, more rejections from agents, publishers, and graduate schools than I can count and nearly ten years later it feels as though it hasn’t worked and never will work out. That’s the nature of pursuing your dreams. Sometimes they just stay dreams. Every day at my current job I think the same thing: I am not meant to be here. I’m better than this. I should be doing something else.

Until I’m with my family. That’s where I feel most like myself except for that one missing part that is personal satisfaction. Some days I’m so numb and worn out from life that I feel I should just live in the moment knowing that today I won’t get much work done. I need to be patient. I need to accept that things don’t happen overnight. All the great writers I can think of were once in the same position I am now.

Stephen King at one time lived in a trailer park with his two kids and couldn’t afford his own typewriter. If it wasn’t for his wife fishing an old draft of Carrie out of the trash, it may have never seen the light of day and the greatest horror writer of our lifetimes wouldn’t be the same man we know now. J.K. Rowling at my age was a single mother, as poor as one could be in England without being homeless.

But I am not them. Who am I kidding? Am I in their same category, writers who never thought they’d make it but kept going and eventually found careers? Or am I just that man building a seemingly meaningless mound of dirt, too focused on the art in front of him to take care of his family?

It’s one thing to let obsessions consume you when you’re in college and your schedule doesn’t revolve around a forty-, sometimes fifty-hour work week, which for a parent is pretty much 24/7 because it’s not like we can just sit down in front of the TV when we get home. Sometimes obsession feels like a burden, an addiction even. My shoulders are heavy and my mind is weary until I feel a sense of progress, whether it be a new publication or just getting in a thousand words a day.

Sometimes I do just come home and sit, bury my hands into my head and remain silent for a while, feeling as though I have nothing left. As though this useless mound of dirt I have spent so much time building is crumbling down, become more meaningless by the hour, and if I don’t get it together soon I’ll feel the same way in ten, twenty, forty years or so. I’ll feel like a failure.

But then I hear my children laugh. I muster the energy to play with my stepson and I get to feel like a little kid for a while. At least I have time for that. It could be so much worse. What a luxury to have, the time to even dream about doing something other than what I do now. As for that mound of dirt, well, it’s more than that. It’s my hard work and extra time spent in front of my laptop, doing something not for the promise of success or money, but because it’s something I love to do.

When I’m having a particularly hard time I think of the day my daughter was born. I remember smiling at her, saying, wasn’t it silly of me to be so worried about something other than her? But if it’s not one thing, it’s another. I’m either thinking about my family, work, writing and money. Money is a constant. Sometimes I try to accept that these sorts of things don’t go away. That at the end of the day so long as bills are paid, no one’s terribly sick, and we’re all reasonably happy that it’ll work itself out. We’ve made it this far, we’ll make it again. In the end, my family will always be my most important obsession.

James Prenatt lives in Baltimore, MD with his beloved wife and stepson, who tells lovely stories about bunnies and crabs. He writes fiction and poetry along with contributing to blogs such as Everything for Dads and Parent.co. He likes punk rock, good movies, and bad coffee.

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