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When My Kid Got in the Way of My Dream, I Gave Up My Dreams

All parents have to make some sacrifices for their kids. Mine was my ambition to make it big as a stand-up comedian.

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Pat is opening for Sebastian Maniscalco at Carnegie Hall, and Chip is recording his second album in what’s sure to be a sold-out venue. As I scroll through my Facebook feed, it seems like all the new comics I met when I first started doing stand-up comedy are not only still doing it, but also having some real success at it. There are posts about landing Comedy Central gigs, Conan and Fallon clips, and even a picture of one asshole comic posing with Dave Chappelle and a caption that reads, “always great to share the stage with one of the greats #comedygrind #cantstopwontstop.”

As for me? I’m sitting eye-level with the toilet on the cold tile floor of my bathroom waiting for my 2-year-old daughter, Emma, to go “pee pee.” She swore she “really, really had to go,” but that was a full 15 minutes ago. Right now, she seems content to just sit there, swinging her legs and singing the four words she knows from “True Colors” over and over. It’s all part of Emma’s new assortment of tactics and tricks to push her regular bedtime (8:00 p.m.) back further and further until we’re looking at 9:30 or 10 before she’s actually asleep.

By the time I get her settled, Pat will probably have already finished his set and be peeking out from some backstage vantage point, drink in hand, thinking, “Jesus, look at all those people out there.”

I’m not jealous of these comics whom I’ve known for years. I mean, I am. But not in the way you’d think. It’s not like I’m sleeping on a futon in a friend’s New York City apartment going, “That should be me. Why are these assholes getting these gigs and not me? When’s it gonna be my turn?”

I made a conscious choice not to pursue that life. Sure, right now, staring at a toilet, it seems like it would be a lot more fun to be performing for thousands of people in a historic theatre than waiting on a cold bathroom floor for a toddler to urinate. But I try not to sweat it. I know I’m here for a reason and I’m happy that I have that reason. But then I log in to Facebook, and the thoughts come creeping back.

Social media has that effect on people. Sometimes I think its main purpose is to convince your friends, family, and former lovers your life is so much better than theirs.

There was a time when I seriously thought about moving to LA or New York and giving a comedy career a shot. But any thoughts I had of “trying to make it” as a comedian stopped shortly after I met my wife. I spent a lot of time with struggling full-time comedians, I saw what the day-to-day looked like, and I knew my relationship simply wouldn’t survive that ride. It just wouldn’t.

Despite giving up on any latent dreams, I haven’t given up on someday making a living at comedy. Instead of the vehicle of stand-up, however, I’m choosing the slightly — very, very slightly ‚ more practical engine of writing. After all, I can write right from the comforts of my own home. I can be a physically present husband and father, and still chase after my pot of gold, which these days looks like never having to go a soul-crushing corporate office job, and to work on my own schedule, doing what I love — while also being a good dad. It took me a while to get to this point. When my kids came along, I thought this life-long obsession with creating funny stories and essays and prank emails (I once contacted the Westboro Baptist Church folks about protesting my gay hamster’s funeral) would gradually fade away.

It hasn’t. Although, it has forced me to rethink my priorities.

Being a great dad is the hardest and most important job in my life – and it always will be. I take the responsibility very seriously. I never want to be the dad who pushes his children away because he’s too busy with his own shit, because I know I have a very limited amount time where I’m my kids’ whole world. It’s why I spend the time when I should be catching up on sleep writing about parenting, about comedy, about my funny life, often until well past midnight.

With two kids, a full-time job, an ambitious backlog of freelance commitments, and the occasional stand-up gig, I feel like a waiter who’s carrying too many plates across a long, dark, cramped restaurant. Maybe, maybe, I’ll make it to my destination unscathed, but it’s just as likely I’ll lose my balance and the whole thing will come tumbling down, creating a mess that I’ll have to clean up before I start moving forward again.

What choice do I have? If I ignore this strange force that’s been driving me since I was a teenager, I know I’ll eventually find myself in the grips of an embarrassing mid-life crisis. That’s why I try to take advantage of every small window of personal time I have. If I can string together enough of those tiny windows of time where I get to work on writing my comedic masterpiece, maybe, just maybe, I’ll create something successful enough for me to leave the 9-to-5 slog of corporate drudgery behind.

But now’s not the time for daydreaming. With both kids finally asleep, I’ve got to use this window to wrap up a humorous, introspective piece on dad/life balance before tomorrow’s deadline – and hopefully get more than five hours of sleep.