Having kids was never on my checklist. They were expensive. And demanding. Plus, new parents were all so … giddy. I’m not a big fan of giddy, and didn’t want to be like those parents. No, I was good with things the way they were. We were in our thirties and still falling in love, and I didn’t want to mess that up by having a kid. And oh yeah, we didn’t know how to parent. 

But then we moved to Charlotte, bought a house with a big backyard, and got pregnant. Intentionally. We had nothing else to do so we figured what the hell. 

My wife must have read 20 books on parenting while she was pregnant. I read zero. Figured my instinct would kick in and everything would work out. Besides, she had us covered if instinct wasn’t enough. 

Before there were books on parenting, people went on instinct and what they learned from their parents growing up. I was blessed with two fathers. Two men who had no idea what they were doing. Both flawed. But both did the best they could, I reckon. 

One of these men gave me my DNA, and the other raised me until I became too much to handle. 

I didn’t really get to know the DNA father beyond visitation weekends when I’d mostly try to avoid him. We were just so different. He was a craftsman. I was a wonderer. We connected a couple of times during my lost years, but it never worked out between us. We almost reconciled a few years after I got sober, but he was battling his own demons with alcohol. He died sometime after we moved to Charlotte. I didn’t hear about it until he was in the ground. I often think about how we never really got to know each other.

The other father was young. Too young. When they legally switched my last name from the one with a III behind it to what it is now, they also changed my birth certificate. It now says “Age of father at birth: 16.” He married my mom when I was about 6, so by the time he was 24, he was the father of three children: me, my sister (from Mr. DNA), and a daughter from his first marriage. Ten years later we would stop speaking to each other. He was trying to provide for his family and took work promotions that moved us from Jacksonville to Baton Rouge and then Houston—all while I was in high school. As a result, I was disoriented and aimless during a critical stage of my development as a person. He had no idea how to handle me. So we fought. Hard. It was almost cliche. Looking back, I feel bad for him. I believe he was good man, but was lost with me—and after hearing how he “wasn’t my real father” enough times, I guess he just checked out. By the time I left for the Air Force at 18, he was younger than I was when we had our first child. We’re not very close today. I don’t really know him. He definitely doesn’t know me. But from what I can tell on Facebook, we’re still very different. It’s cool. Sometimes that’s the movie. 

So now it’s 2001 and we’re rushing to the hospital because my wife’s water broke. I’m driving fast, but it was like I could see every move in traffic two seconds ahead of time. I felt in total control. In the maternity ward, I held my wife’s hand and helped her breathe. Total control. Then, after hours of pushing, our first daughter emerged. I cut the cord. The midwife bundled her and handed her to my wife who held our daughter on her chest. Then my wife handed our daughter to me and control bolted across the room, crashed through the hospital window, and died the sidewalk below. 

Next to sobriety, fatherhood has been the most important experience of my life. Not because of our daughters—who are both pretty cool—but because of how fatherhood has proven that my heart is capable of way more love than I thought possible. I once heard, “When the mind expands on thought, it never regresses to its former state.” I now know this is true of the heart as well. 

I have been a father for twenty years. And I still have no idea what I’m doing. But what I’ve learned is that none of us do. NONE OF US. Every man you know who is a father is simply just a man doing the best he can. 

We’re all just doing the best we can. 


The Evil that Insurance Companies Do
My Catastrophe of Life: How I've Managed to Live in Sobriety for 30 Years

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.