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I started packing school lunches for Violet and Henry this year.
It wasn’t something I pondered much. There was no like, “Hmmm, it might just be easier for me to let them buy at the cafeteria,” or anything like that. I just woke up one morning in the week or so before school started and I knew what I was going to do. I was going to pack lunches. Boom. Done.
I could save money, I figured. Then I did the math. Bread/bologna/peanut butter/Fluff/granola bars/juice pouches/all that kind of stuff versus the close to 3 bucks each it would cost them to buy their lunch for the 2 or 3 days that I’m responsible for (their mom and I are divorced; we gladly split the kids’ lunch costs together).
The damn math just made it all the more unsettling, really. There was no big money gap between the 2 options that I could come up with. Basically, I’d end up saving maybe 6 or 7 bucks a month. But only if I stayed away from buying too much turkey lunch meat, which Henry, my kindergartner, really digs.
It makes me want to throw up in my own mouth, man. That’s what this money problem does to a dad. At times it makes me want to scream and fight the wind and punch the bathroom mirror just because of the fact that I have to even think this way, you know?
Maybe you don’t know. I hope you don’t know. You don’t deserve to know, I know that much. Loving a child, or in my case — 3 of them, it lifts you up like nothing else in this world. No matter who you are or what path you might be on in this life, having a child of your own allows you this insanely rare opportunity to do everything right from the get-go. Or as right as you can get it. And that’s such an unusual phenomenon. We don’t often get the chance, in our 20s or 30s or 40s, to start completely from scratch. To set out on the most important journey of our lives with a shining blank slate.
Having a child of your own allows you this insanely rare opportunity to do everything right from the get-go.
But becoming a mom or dad allows us to do just that. And I have tried to remind myself of that a lot since Violet was born 7 years ago. It hasn’t been that easy though, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’m not a rich man. And between you and me, hell, I’m not even freakin’ close.
So I’m struggling with this voice up in my head, with this dagger in my heart that pokes me in my chest. I’m always staring at this demon who says,”You know dude, you living out on this flimsy branch, dangling out over real financial disaster, it’s pathetic.”
I sigh. I get so frustrated. But he ain’t done. He’s never done, you see.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself, man! You ought to look at these kids you created and be ashamed that you don’t have the loot to do it all right.”
And right about there is when I have to drop him in his tracks. Because right about there is the line in the sand for a guy like me. I’m so proud of my kids. I love them as much as any dad has ever loved his kids. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve weathered the divorce storm and settled in new homes and tried our best to hold each other up even when we had no idea that that’s exactly what we were doing. So if I allow that guilt that comes with embarrassing bank account stats and mounting bills and question upon question about when or where it will ever end, if I permit that voice to destroy me, I know one thing is for certain.
The love will suffer. Our lives would suffer. My kids might suffer. I’ve been close to that flame, man. I have felt its burning and whiffed its char at the edge of my mind. And I cannot let that happen. I cannot let the fact that I don’t always have the money that so many others have ever creep into our living room (just the one, we like it that way). Or our bedrooms (2 for 4 of us). Or our bathroom, all chaos and crazy in the morning when we’re all in there brushing our teeth together.
F–k that noise.
“Rich” is a loaded word. It doesn’t always mean what it’s supposed to.
It’s my cross to bear and what gets me through it is them. Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that kind of cool in a very strange way? Here I am, this dad being consumed by guilt and blue thoughts on a regular basis, always trying to reckon with the bills and the debt, always hearing my phone ring and thinking straight away, That can’t be good now, can it?, and yet it’s them, it’s the kids that I worry about providing enough for who always end up being the ones that help me understand the truth.
And the truth is that I love them with everything I’ve got. And then some.
And the truth is that they love me right back with that same strong stuff.
And so the truth is that no matter how hard times get sometimes, or even all the time, there are still 3 really wonderful reasons for me to keep trying to figure it all out.
Listen, I blame no one. I have lived my own life and no one has ever held a gun to my head. I will find my own way out of my own holes, even if it’s the last thing I do. But I need to remind myself every once in a while that I’m a good father. That I’m a great dad. That any failures on my part thus far to keep the money piling up and rolling in aren’t all that unusual in this life.
Rich people come in all shapes and sizes, in every color, talking every tongue you can imagine. We all know that.
But “rich” is a loaded word. It doesn’t always mean what it’s supposed to. Neither does “well-to-do” or “middle-class” or even “okay” for that matter.
And look. If you ever zoom in real close, you’ll see that some of the “richest” of them all, they’re easy to miss. They blend in so easy. They drive these little used Hondas quietly down the road (CD player broken), bursts of laughter and crying (both at once) flying out the windows, as they head off into the sunset of another tomorrow.
A tomorrow that’s as uncertain as that 2-dollar bill tucked away in your beautiful, messy junk drawer.
Serge is a 44-year-old father of 3 kids: Violet, Henry and Charlie. He writes about both Parenting and Relationships for Babble. Read more from Babble here: