Okay, I have a confession to make - when I was very young, and by that I mean several months younger than the age of two, I was traumatized by the letter "Z."
Now I know what you're thinking; and it sounds ridiculous, right? But I knew that the letter "Z" was out to get me - and I had proof.
First of all, I was convinced that the letter "Z" was a real, live animal. And I knew this for a fact because I had learned that on Sesame Street. Here is living proof:
You can see my point, can't you? The letter "Z" obviously had a mind of its own; it had an attitude, it was reckless and passive aggressive, and it seemed to bring out the worst in Kermit the Frog. There was no mistake about it in my mind: the letter "Z" was a nasty character, and it was something which I wanted nothing to do with.
And yet, the letter "Z" had somehow followed me home, and it was living in my backyard. I saw it there - every day - lurking just outside the sliding glass door, and watching my every move.
But what was even more unsettling for me was the fact that my parents, who were supposed to love me, would plop me down in my high chair and turn it so that I was facing outside. And there I would sit, staring at my nemesis, who wouldn't move an inch. The letter "Z" was sizing me up, and I knew that it was waiting to see if I would fall asleep in my high chair... and then it would attack. So I kept my eyes open, and I never took naps in that house. Oh sure, that meant that I was cranky toddler, but that wasn't my fault; I was a victim of my circumstances, and my parents needed to pay for their transgressions.
Thankfully, I no longer live in that house. Our family moved, and the letter "Z" did not appear to have followed us. But I remember vividly what that terrifying scene looked like every day, and here is my feeble attempt at an artist's rendition...
You can say what you want, but I'm telling you the truth - that letter "Z" was out there; and somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure that it still is.
Perhaps it's because the media is going through yet another season of what seems like a never-ending parade of Hollywood awards programs, but I was thinking the other day about all of the awards that I will never win. For example, I will never win a Golden Globe. I will never win a People's Choice Award. I will never win an Oscar, or a Tony, or an Emmy, or any award that is named after some person who might not be real. And despite a lifetime of playing music, I will never win a Grammy or any other award that the music industry is giving out these days. This may be my reality, but to be perfectly honest, I am never saddened by this, nor do I generally give this concept a second thought.
That being said, the most-recent awards show made me think about the reasons why we even care about those kinds of awards. I can't name who won Best Actor or Actress from any of the awards shows that have taken place in the last several years, and that's really not an issue for me; I'll never meet any of the people who win those awards anyway. What's more, I'm not sure if I would want to meet most of the people who actually win those awards, seeing as how the evening news and morning talk shows are always spinning stories of their latest transgressions. I think the part that gets me the most is how - after throwing their lives away on one selfish pursuit after another - the world eventually calls them "artists," and everyone waxes poetic about how these artists have suffered for their cause; as if they woke up one day and consciously chose to take the road less travelled in Robert Frost's famous poem. When I was younger, I think I bought into that illusion, too. But the older I get, the less I am impressed by their actions - and perhaps I should explain what I mean by that.
If a man whom you knew personally walked out on his wife and family, in most cases you would probably think he was acting like a selfish pig. But if it was a famous actor from Hollywood or a legendary singer from Nashville, you might think to yourself, "Gee, that's too bad...," as if their fame has excused their adverse behavior for some inexplicable reason. You might even go so far as to feel sorry for said person; after all, it's just so sad that their family doesn't understand how hard an artist's life must be.
But why do we feel this way? Why do we put these people on some sort of undeserved pedestal? Is it because they're artists? The more I think about it, I don't believe that they've chosen the road less travelled - I think they've chosen the easy path; they've chosen the path that's all about them. Perhaps that's why they need so many awards shows; they need the constant reassurance that all of the suffering they cause is for a noble purpose. But I just can't bring myself to see it that way.
Let me briefly tell you a true story about my life, and this is difficult for me because it is always dangerous when you open up your life to public scrutiny; you never know what people are going to think. When I was much younger, I faced one of those situations where it seemed like two roads were diverging before me and I had to pick which path I would travel.
I had just celebrated my 19th birthday, and my rock band was starting to do really well. We weren't great by any means, but we were just coming off a series of really great gigs when my fiancé told me that she was pregnant with our child. I had a lot of options before me: we could get married, we could put the baby up for adoption, etc. (My girlfriend had additional concerns: what if I suddenly became some sort of jerk and told her that it was her problem and left her to face this on her own.) Once the news began to work its way through the grapevine to all our friends and family, I heard a lot of advice from a lot well-meaning people - all of whom listed off suggestions that were much like the choices that I just mentioned.
But I didn't take anyone's advice. Instead, against everyone else's counsel, I married my girlfriend. We had a baby girl, who is now almost ten years older than I was when I made my choice to keep her. But this decision on my part didn't come without cost; my days of playing long-haired lead guitar for a rock band were over. In fact, my entire youth ended almost overnight - it was time to put aside my personal ambitions and accept the responsibilities that lay before me. My wife and I spent many years in abject poverty as we fought side-by-side to build a home together and raise our children as best we could. Despite the difficult times, my wife and I recently celebrated our 28th anniversary, and we raised three great kids along the way.
However, my life might not have been this way; I could have chosen the other path when I was given the opportunity to do so. I could have chosen something selfish that I wanted just for me, and I could have left my girlfriend to deal with it on her own. Some years later, I could have written a heart-wrenching song about the hard choices that I had to make. Perhaps that could have become a hit, and I could have sold that song to untold scores of fans. Maybe I could have written a book about my life and my admirers might have said, "That's so sad - look at everything he gave up to become who he is."
Every year people walk out on their responsibilities in the hopes that the scenario which I just described will happen to them; they hope they'll be successful despite the pain that they cause to others. What is worse, however, is that popular culture applauds such actions. Songs like Bruce Springsteen's Hungry Heart attempt to spin public opinion in support of egocentric behavior by unapologetically suggesting that a deadbeat dad was simply "following his heart."
Yet in my personal situation this delusion would have been far from the truth; I would have been a selfish punk who left his unwed 18-year-old girlfriend to face the world alone with a newborn baby girl. Perhaps I might have become a successful 'artist' and sent generous child support payments to take care of my daughter's every need, but that's just not the same. Children need parents; they need both a father and a mother to be there to love and raise them.
There is no way that I can say this so it won't sound overly-judgmental, but I think it makes someone a coward when they choose their own selfish desires over their family and their responsibilities. When I chose to become a father, I gave up everything that I wanted for myself; I gave up my personal hopes, dreams, and desires for my life. I sacrificed everything so my daughter would grow up with both a mom and dad. My choice was much harder to live with than I ever could have imagined, but my daughter's life was worth the cost.
So in the end, when I finally shrug off this mortal coil, I will not have won any awards for what I have accomplished in my life, and I'll have no golden statuettes to adorn the shelves in my study. I am sure that I will never win father of the year, but my three children will have had better lives because I chose to be their father. I did not choose the easy path for my life - I chose the road less travelled, and I pray that for my family it has made all the difference.