My new book comes out next month.
It was the hardest thing I have ever written and chronicles the six hardest years I have lived so far. I wrote the book from late September until about New Year’s Day. I explored six years of the loneliest, darkest, most broken, desert walk of my life in a four-month period. That time frame made it even tougher. I didn’t have time to decompress from particularly hard chapters, or emotional memories. I didn’t have a deadline on this book, but once I “hit the vein”; I seldom paused for very long.
I don’t sleep a lot, as a rule, so I was up early every morning, writing a few thousand words before work. I would come home from work and write until I was exhausted at night. I don’t mean to diminish childbirth, and what a woman endures, but I feel like I gave birth to this book. I feel like the writing process was uncomfortable, long, arduous, and demanding. It’s never been that way for me before. Every book I’ve ever written has flowed freely and left me happy as I wrote it. This book left me weary.
Six years was hard. Six years without a bed, without a kitchen, or a shower of my own, or my garden. At the start of those six years, I lost the two beautiful Springer Spaniels we had owned. We lost our loving cat, Giacomo. I lost the refuge my daughter would come to need as her world exploded at her mom’s house and she desperately needed to escape the torment of her mother’s husband. While I was trapped in that car, she was trapped in her own nightmare.
I cried myself to sleep more times than I can recall, or care to. I dealt with anger, betrayal, disappointment, shame, loneliness, isolation, fear, and doubt. I second-guessed myself every day. “Was I doing the right thing by staying?” “Was I looking in the right places for a job?” “Was anyone ever going to hire me?” “Was my daughter going to be okay?” “Is she going to give up hope one day, run away, turn to drugs or alcohol, or become so despondent that she ends her life?”
I asked God all of these torturous questions every time they entered my heart. Sometimes I got immediate answers, most times, I did not. Most of the time, I only felt His presence and somehow managed to trust that it would be enough, and that He would work His plan in all this. As a dad, that was barely good enough for me, but not for my daughter. I am her daddy. I needed to give her something concrete and I needed to be her protector. I could not be. Not as I wanted to be and certainly not as she needed me to be. She needed me to get her out of that house, and I kept having to take her back to it. On the nights when it got too unbearable, she would call me in tears, begging me to come and get her. I always did. We would spend a few hours together, but since I had no home, I always had to take her back to that dread. I cannot tell you how that made me feel. Not with all the words I know.
There were many times when I thought it might be best for me to just leave. I could go to Texas, or to North Dakota,…some of the very few places that had jobs back then. I could make money. I could rebuild my life, and then I could come and get her out of there.
I would think of this and always reject the idea out of hand. I know my daughter. No matter what I told her, she would see this as a rejection and an abandonment. Her mother’s husband would have seen it as the end of the protection that my presence in her life offered, and his behavior would have doubtless grown even more violent and abominable. I might have been broke, homeless, and without prospects, but I was still a big, tough, old-school Italian guy from Philadelphia, who would not hesitate to hospitalize this jerk if he went too far. He came close many times, and only the grace of God that kept me from kicking his front door in and stomping him right into a coma. But had I done that, I’d be in jail and she’d be at his mercy.
I could not leave. I mean, I could have, it was always possible. But leaving would have jeopardized my daughter and I could never do that.
When I began writing this book, I had the working title: “A Dad Never Quits”. My friend “K” called me one day, after I had sent her a rough draft. She had a real problem with the title. For her it was personal and I knew why. She had been through a terrible divorce not long after I had endured mine. She has two young daughters and her ex-husband did not live up to his fatherhood, after the divorce. (I’m being kind here) She was serious –as she can be when it hits a nerve with her- and she said, “Craig…not all dads stick it out. A lot of dads quit.” In hindsight, she was taking the title of the book as a literal statement. I explained to her that to me, if a man quits on his family he is not a dad anyway. A real dad will do whatever it takes, regardless of the cost to him. At first, I wasn’t going to change the title. I even released a short, two-chapter galley version with that title. However, as I wrote more, and as the emotions churned, I saw some of her wisdom on this, and I changed the title. This made me sad. Sad because lots of dads do quit. Sad because my own dad quit, before I was even born. I’ve met him once. He and my mother never married. He wants no relationship. I tried to convince him otherwise for a few years but eventually I grew weary of begging for something that no one should ever have to beg for, and I accepted it for what it was. I was twenty-one before I even knew about him, so it’s not like there was a hole. But there was.
A child is born with a dad-shaped vacuum. It’s similar to the “God-shaped vacuum” found within Pascal’s writings. A child needs to have his or her dad around. It’s not popular to say these days. Feminists have emasculated society until men are viewed as unnecessary. But don’t kid yourself. I work at a major University. I see the long-term effects of this dad-vacuum. The lack of manliness among men of this generation is disturbing. It’s not specific to this campus. It’s generational. We’ve had two or three generations now where the dads have vanished, or at least where they’ve been so neutered that they might as well have vanished. It’s bad enough that my friend Rick Burgess had to write a book called “How to Be a Man.” It’s a great book and it makes me wish I had a son so I could employ the things he teaches. Rick is a real man. Real in the godly, biblical sense. He surveyed the landscape and saw the terrible lack of real, manly, strong, unbending, determined men. ( I recommend Rick’s book whole-heartedly.)
I kicked all this around as I thought about my friend’s words to me. I heard the pain in her voice as she reminded me that not all dads refuse to quit. I’ve seen the after-effects in her life. I’ve seen it in lots of kids lives. My daughter has so many friends whose fathers have abandoned them. I don’t know if she ever told her friends that her dad was homeless…I doubt she would volunteer that, but I do know that her friends always seemed to like the fact that at least one of their friends had a real dad, who was really involved in his daughter’s life.
It’s sad to think that men give up on their families. Sad to think that a man would put himself above his own children and go off chasing his own desires. I couldn’t I stayed.
I stayed and endured whatever hell and mankind threw at me because I simply love my daughter. I couldn’t even fathom doing something else.
There are many lessons in this new book. There was a light in all that darkness and I hope it shines bright enough as I tell the story. Hope did spring out of hopelessness. Faith did get me through. God was good in all that darkness. I didn’t intend it to be a fatherhood book. This book was about my fatherhood, and how that kept me in a place that nobody would want to be. But as it turns out, there is a fatherhood lesson. Sadly, there is a subtle challenge within the pages. A challenge not to quit. A challenge to do the hard thing because it’s the right thing.
If a man reads of my hardships and decides that he has no excuse for quitting on his family, then my ordeal was worth it, I guess. I didn’t write the book for that reason, but I’ll accept that as a tertiary product of the six years I endured.
Let’s get back to the times when it’s not a stretch to say “A dad never quits’”