by Jake Patrick
A story of a father and son's journey growing and learning together in today's world.
These were the first words I remember the doctor muttering during the delivery of my son. It was November 13, 2003, and it was the day we scheduled to have our son delivered via cesarean section. It was recommended to deliver on that day since it was estimated that our son was closing in on 11 pounds, and Kris' doctor was worried that "anatomical restructuring" might be necessary if they delivered our child naturally. How did they figure Jake was going to weigh in at that weight? By the size of his head during the last ultra-sound prior to the delivery. Just like his dear old Dad, they thought our son was going to have a big head. Great, the first thing out of the gate that my son would take after me was having a large cranial unit.
"Shit, this isn't working."
It's not every day you hear a doctor say that, but I do give her credit for being honest. It was clear that the cesarean section wasn't going as planned, and either the doctor didn't remember that we were right there with her or simply didn't care that we were there. She was probably pissed that I was in there asking so many stupid questions. It's not like I broke out with "you know, I always wanted to be a OB/GYN surgeon", but I do love to ask questions. Here she is, her hands inside my wife's abdomen searching for a kid with a big head, and some big bald guy is asking stupid questions. That must have made her day.
OK, so my son has a big head, the doctor's freaking out, my wife got struck six times during the administering of the epidural before it took, and I'm sitting there holding my wife's hand and trying to keep her calm while I'm wondering if we were going to have a son or not.
A minute later, the doctor looked over and asked, "would you like to see us deliver the baby"? Without saying a word, I stood up and looked. Thinking that I was going to see the moment all parents wait for during delivery, I stare directly into my wife's abdomen and almost faint. As I'm standing there trying to act like a man, the doctor reaches in and pulls out my son, Jake. Like a tourist on vacation, I start snapping pictures with my digital camera while my wife is lying there wondering what the hell is going on.
As the nurse was weighing and cleaning my son, I'm still snapping pictures while my wife is waiting on me to let her know we have a newborn. Finally, the nurse informs me that my wife is asking for me, and I finally walk over and smile. "Well?" she asked, and I said, "his head isn't THAT big, and he has your dimple." Then I turned around to see the official weigh-in—eight pounds and five ounces—far short of the "anatomical restructuring" number necessary for the c-section. Oh well, I was growing impatient anyway not knowing when Jake would arrive. I was glad that he was finally here.
Shortly thereafter, I walked out into the lobby where my sister-in-law was waiting with a few other friends. I walked over and hugged her and said, "we have a son", and then started crying like I never had.
November 13, 2003 is more than my son's birthday—it is the day I started living my life the way I always dreamed. You see, my childhood wasn't good, and I always promised myself that the day I became a father would be the day I would make a child's life the best it could be. It was also the day I learned what a family really was.
Honestly, there was a time I felt that I would never father a child. I didn't want to bring a kid into this world for many reasons. First and foremost was the experience of my childhood seriously damaged my view of growing up. I know there are kids out there that grew up in situations far worse than mine, but still my personal experience was rather lackluster. You see, as I was told so many times I lost count at a very early age, I was a mistake. I wasn't suppose to be here. As the story goes, my mother and father hooked up one night, and eight weeks later they found out that my mother was pregnant. Both had children from previous marriages/relationships, so the news of my arrival in eight or nine months must of went over like a lead balloon. My father had five daughters from two different women, and my mother had two daughters that were taken from her by the state for whatever reason. Sorry, but I do not know all the details, but as you can see with the basic information provided I wasn't in the plan. Then to add insult to injury in my father's eyes, my mother was carrying twins. Fortunately for my father and unfortunately for me, my brother was stillborn. Years later, he would say to me that God at least took one burden away, and he just wished that He would have completed the job.
My mother was loving but uneducated and unmotivated. She was simple and did little for me. For both of my parents, cigarettes and beer were most important to them. The only difference between the two is that my mother never intentionally tried to hurt me. My father, on the other hand, did everything in his power to destroy me physically, mentally, and emotionally.
To make a long story short, it was those experiences that drove me to become the best father I could ever be. When Jake arrived on that day in November 2003, my life became focused on Jake and his well-being. Nothing else mattered.
Jake was delivered in St. Luke's Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. The room we were in looked like a den inside an old Windsor mansion, and in no way did it smell like a typical hospital. The walls were a warm brown with hunter green trim. The sun was high in the sky and with the drapes and blinds opened the room was lit brightly. I could have sworn that trumpets would soon begin to blare as if they were announcing the birth of a future king. It was if Jake was born to aristocracy.
After getting Kris settled in, they brought Jake in a few minutes later. He was cleaned up and wearing that God-awful hat they slap on baby's head soon after birth. I immediately picked him up and carried him over to Kris, and the look in her eyes is something I'll never forget. As a wave of incredible warmth traveled through my veins I watched with joy as Kris and Jake got to know each other for the first time. I almost wanted to leave the room to let Kris have alone time with Jake because I was so unaccustomed to having a family. Strangely I still didn't feel totally part of the family—even then. I felt at first that I was intruding on their moment.
Then it was my turn. Kris must have sensed that anticipation as she handed him back to me. Again I started to cry as I held him. Do you know that feeling you get when you get a present that you really wanted but never thought you would get? That's how I felt times ten. I sat down on the sofa, and cradled Jake warmly telling him that I loved him. I forgot that other people were in the room, nor did I care that they were there. I have no idea how much time passed before the nurse said "have you ever changed a diaper, sir?"
"No" I answered, and she then offered to show me. As we lied Jake down on the changing cart, the thought of the many stories I had heard about baby boys urinating on their unprepared parents started going through my mind. As the nurse removed the wet diaper to expose Jake's naked body, I reached for the new diaper while waiting for the instructions. It was then when it happened—the fountain of youth erupted, and Jake's aim was spot on. The nurse got hit on her arm, and she simply laughed as I proudly proclaimed that I survived the event unscathed. "Don't worry, sir, it will happen sooner or later" she said. "I'm sure" I replied kindly, but in my confident mind I knew it would never happen. And it never did.
We left the hospital the following morning, but not before experiencing a night of discomfort and intrigue. First, we hosted quite a few visitors, but the winner of the most compelling guest was awarded to our next door neighbors, who too were also pregnant and do any day. No, we didn't plan it that way; we didn't sync up the love making schedules, it just happened that way. While they were visiting, Kristin (not my Kristen or Kris) started feeling a bit strange, and asked Bryan (her husband) to take her home. When we woke up the next morning, we found out that she went into labor, and by the time we got home, they too were proud parents. The planets must have been aligned that weekend. However, the story of the night was the sleeping arrangements. If you recall earlier I bragged about how great the accommodations were, but do to limited space, they moved us to a different, and far less attractive and accommodating room. Kris, of course, had a bed, but the sofa that I envisioned I would sleep on throughout the night was not to be found in this new tiny room. They graced us with a recliner that came off the set of the Brady Bunch. The problem here is that at the time, I was close to 300 pounds, and being around 6'2" tall, let's just say it wasn't the most comfortable sleeping device one could find. Add the fact that Jake wasn't sleeping (and later we would find out he would suffer with a bad case of colic for the first three months of his life) and did his absolute best to keep us all night, the night wasn't going well at all. Finally the nurses took pity on us and asked if we would like them to Jake into the nursery so Kris could get some sleep, and we hesitantly agreed. Kris passed out immediately, but I couldn't fall asleep if my life depended on it.
I remember walking the hallways trying to get myself tired. Of course I would peek in on our little boy, and there he was screaming as loud as he could. "Great", I thought, we gave birth to an eight pound screamer. I knew babies cried, and I had heard of babies that cried excessively, but Jake wouldn't stop crying. I started asking questions of the nurses if he was alright. "He may be colicky" they would say. It turned out to be true, but we also found out that he was seriously hungry.
When we finally got home, we had two dogs and two cats that had no idea that a new member of the family was about to move in. When we walked in, our alpha-dog Scarlett, a Jack Russell Terrier, immediately jumped up on Kris' lap to check out our new loud bundle of joy. She sniffed and bailed out quickly while our other dog, Maggie, a Border Collie, threw her toy at Jake thinking she had a new playmate. Once Maggie realized Jake wasn't going to throw a toy for her to chase, she had very little interest in him. The screaming didn't help, either. Not only did the dogs think there was a problem, but Kris and I knew something was wrong when Jake seemed to be shrinking. The cats were no where to be seen those first few days.
Jake was born Friday morning, and by Sunday, he went from eight pounds five ounces to seven pounds two ounces. Come to find out, he wasn't getting enough breast milk from Kris, so he immediately lost weight. Kris would continue to breast feed, but we had to supplement his feedings with formula from day one. But in the beginning we had no idea. Our little guy was seriously hungry; another trait he took after his father. I was always hungry, too.
When we brought Jake home from the hospital the second time, he gained his weight back, but he continued to cry. Yes, the infamous colic had taken its grip on our little guy. I had taken two weeks off from work, and of course Kris was taking a full 12 weeks off before returning to work. The first two weeks was easier; we would take turns holding Jake while praying he would doze off at some point. He would fall asleep, but not for long. He would sleep 30 to 60 minutes before announcing to the world he was awake. I think the cats lived outside and refused to come back inside during the first three months. Needless to say, Kris and my nerves were shot quickly. Jake, my little buddy, just loved to cry. No matter what we tried, if he was awake, he was crying. Yes, there were times he would be quiet, but for the most part he cried.
When the two weeks ended and I had to return to work, I felt so bad for Kris. Let me sum up our life from week two to week 12. I worked from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, Monday through Friday. I would leave the house at 7:30AM, and when I would come home from work, Kris would hand Jake off like a Quarterback a football to a Running Back, and off to bed she went. She would sleep to about 1:00AM to 2:00AM, and then she would take over while I slept five or six hours; that is, if I could fall asleep. Kris was a trooper; no postpartum depression, but a load of aggravation that was well understood. Friends and family would come over to help, and they would even ask if everyone would be alright. The damn dogs hid, we lost the cats, and Kris and I rarely shared a bed when we slept. Let me tell you, I was not the nicest guy those ten weeks at work.
We did discover that Jake was a sun-lover. I think it was around week four that we put Jake in his bouncy chair in front of one of our windows in the game room, and either the heat simply put him to sleep, or he somehow felt relaxed and passed out from all the crying. Thank God glass stops UV rays because Jake would have a serious tan right now. We would have had to soak him in UV70 sun block. Whatever works, right?
Then the month three doctor's appointment. We took Jake to his pediatrician, and when he walked in to the room, he looked at us and asked if we were alright! Yes, we were that bad; truly exhausted. Jake was doing just fine, and all we could ask of the doctor was when he thought Jake would stop crying. "Any day now" he answered, and thinking "great, another educated answer", we went home. When we got there, we put Jake in his crib, and within five minutes he was asleep. Now you have to understand, we were absolutely paranoid. This was unheard of and we freaked out. We took turns going in, and I would stare at his chest to make sure he was breathing. When it was all said and done, Jake slept for almost six hours! When he woke up, I felt like we were the people in the waiting room waiting for a patient to come out of a coma. Yes, we were that scared. We couldn't wait for Jake to sleep like a normal baby, and when he finally did, we couldn't wait for him to wake up. When he did, we both hugged him for five to ten minutes. We were thankful that he was alive, I kid you not.
Then the time came for Kris to return to work. We had chosen the day care Jake would attend, but dreaded that first day we had to drop him off. Kris had spent the last 12 weeks spending 24 hours a day with Jake, and that first day dropping Jake off returning to work was going to be difficult for her. Of course I went with her.
We walked in, and the ladies that ran the day care were terrific. Surely they dealt with the first day with many other Moms and Dads several times, so they were ready. When Kris handed Jake over to the caregiver, she began to cry like I had never seen her do. Then of course I started crying, but had my sunglasses on to keep my macho image in tact. She spent a few minutes talking and making sure everything was OK, and off to work we went.
When we entered the call center we worked in, people tried to approach Kris to welcome her back to work. Now you have to understand that she is one of the kindest persons you could ever meet, but this was not the day to talk to her. The infamous hand was raised and she made a bee-line for her boss's office. I walked a few yards behind whispering to people to give her a few minutes, and once we made it to the office, she completely broke down. Then of course I broke down. Her boss was very understanding, and let us get ourselves together for about ten minutes. I remember making it a point to tell people to give her space that morning. She was struggling to deal with leaving Jake with strangers, and honestly I was too.
The next two or three weeks, we would spend our lunch hours at the daycare checking in on Jake. Occasionally he would be sleeping, but most of the time he was wide awake. The women that took care of Jake were incredible. They knew of Jake's struggles with sleeping, and did a great job trying to get him to sleep. The colic had for the most part disappeared, but Jake still didn't like to sleep. At about week three of daycare, Kris and I finally felt at ease taking him to daycare. It was during those three weeks that I feel our family was forged.
Chapter 1: Cicero, IL
My earliest recollection of life is being a kid growing up on the southside of Chicago. Our neighborhood was quiet, but rather unimpressive. We lived two blocks away from my school, and the walks to and from school felt like a marathon. We didn't have a car, so transportation was via bus, train or by foot. I walked to and from school, which was no big deal except I was five years old when I started. I don't know—I probably wouldn't let Jake walk by himself to and from school under the same circumstances. But then again, no one ever claimed that my parents were smart or cared enough to think about their son walking by himself. Maybe they hoped something would happen to me; I wouldn't be surprised.
I tried to walk with other kids, but I always felt like I was intruding. You know how it feels when you walk, talk, or hang around people you don't know that well, and the cold-shoulder seems to be applied? That's how I always felt. If another kid didn't talk or acted like I was intruding, I excused myself quickly and fell behind. I soon got used to walking alone.
In school, I often sat quietly and kept to myself. I did, however, talk to girls whenever I had the opportunity. At a very early age I found it easier to befriend a girl instead of a boy. I found it easier to talk to girls. They seemed to like the fact that I was being nice and not being mean to them. I was thrilled that I had someone to talk to!
When it came time to play outside, I spent time watching more than playing. Again, I felt like the odd-kid out. As time passed, I learned how to skip rope with the girls instead of playing dodge-ball or tag with the boys. Of course this was a never-ending source of ridicule, so I stopped doing that. Then the girls got upset because they thought I didn't want to play with them anymore. My way of dealing with the situation? I found something to do by myself, and I discovered the library.
I became an avid reader. By the second grade, I started to read anything and everything about military history especially World War II. I was fascinated by stories of what men in the armed forces did in the European and Pacific theaters. To this day I still read about the military.
Unfortunately, this is also when I began to stop playing altogether which of course led to weight gain. By the time second grade was over, I weighed close to 90 pounds. I was eight years old. It was also the time in my life when I discovered how cruel the human race can really be. Sadly, it wasn't just the kids who were mean. Teachers, too, would let me know in their own way that I was a fat kid. I remember one time when a teacher told me she was going to write a note to my parents to tell them that my butt was always showing. She said it in front of the class. Yes, the kids laughed, and I just sat there and couldn't wait to run away. I was so humiliated that day. It was also the first time that I can remember my father ridiculing me.
That day I went home and told my mother what the teacher said. I remember her telling me not to worry about it, and when my dad came home from work, we sat down for dinner and she told him what was said. "Well look at him, Ann" he said. "He is fat".
That was the first time I realized that my father was ashamed of me. Unfortunately, I would soon find out he was also very angry. One day I came home and I ripped my shirt playing. My mom was not happy, but didn't seem upset. When my father came home, somehow it came up in conversation. I was in my room, and he came in and asked how I ripped my shirt. I said I didn't know, and before the last work left my mouth, he back-handed me across the face. "Don't lie - tell me!" he yelled. I didn't say a word. Soon, the belt was off, and he beat me with it. I'm not talking about one lick across the backside; several smacks to my butt. I cried out but to no avail. Actually, I think that caused him to hit me harder.
To this day I have a fear of belts. I kid you not. It wasn't the last time I felt his belt. He loved to beat me with it. I think he truly enjoyed it.
I was seven or eight years old when my father started to abuse me physically, emotionally, and mentally. Unfortunately, it didn't stop there.
My paternal grandfather, on the other hand, was thrilled that I was in his life. That man loved me! He would come over to spend time with me, and almost every Sunday he would take me to his favorite watering hole to hang with his buddy. This is when I learned how to play card games and poker. As my grandfather drank his Jameson or Seagrams V.O., I would drink 7-up with cherry juice. Of course this did nothing for my weight problem, but oh well.
The only thing that turned out to be a negative about spending time with my grandfather was he too was an alcoholic, and he almost killed the two of us one day returning from the bar one Sunday afternoon. I don't remember the specific details, but on the way home we got into a car accident. I ended up with both legs broken, and broken arm, and a broken collarbone. He hit the windshield, but walked away. I spent the next five to six months in a body cast. Also, the story was told on many holiday get-togethers that when I was barely a year-old he accidentally dropped me. As I fell, the back of my neck his the edge of a counter-top before I landed on the kitchen floor. I cried for a half an hour, but no trip to the doctor or hospital. They thought it was funny. Yeah....real funny.
Regardless, I loved my grandfather. He was born in Ireland, and I spent so much time with him I gained his accent. He had a soft tonality that made his Irish brogue even more pleasant to listen to. To this day I can still hear his voice. He passed away when I was 12 years old.
Lastly, I remember going to Chicago Cubs games after school during first and second grade. Even though I went with other school kids, I spent time sitting by myself watching the game in the stands. The school provided the bus to get us to Wrigley Field, and it cost 50 cents to get in, and one dollar bought a hot dog and soda. I have very fond memories of those games. My favorite player was Billy Williams.
Then a month or so after starting the third grade, I came home from school to find my mother and father waiting for me. "Son, we are moving to Florida".
Realization & Motivation
I remember the morning well. It's the day I decided to live. I woke up as usual, took a shower, and checked my blood sugar. 287. Not good. Opened the medicine cabinet to take the two prescribed pills for diabetes, and the one prescribed pill for high blood pressure. As I popped the pills into my mouth, I swallowed them without drinking any water to help them down. Right then I was compelled to step on the expensive electric scale somehow we inherited a while back from Kris' parents. 301.
That was it.
For the next five minutes, I stood there in the bathroom staring at myself in the mirror. Fear, anger, and embarrassment had finally all come together. But why now?
My son was going to help save my life.
Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, overweight, and bald. Well, nature started the baldness, the razor and I finished it. I was successful shaving off the hair on the top of my head, but could never defeat the enemy better known as food. I ate too much and too often, and it was going to kill me. Food had become its own addiction. When I ate, I ate way too much. When I was bored, I ate. When I was pissed, I ate. Add to the fact that I ate all the wrong foods, and drank all the wrong drinks, including alcoholic drinks.
Alcohol. I watched my mother and father drink every single day. My mother never lost control when she drank, but my father—well, that's another story. He used to brag about being Irish, and how alcohol was invented to prevent Ireland from ruling the world. Basically, my father was a bad alcoholic. When I say bad, I mean really bad.
Before moving to Florida, we lived in Cicero, Illinois, and the neighborhood we lived in had a corner tavern that my mother and father loved to frequent. I remember being five or six years old, and walking into the tavern to see if my mother and/or father were in there. I was five/six years old walking into a bar looking for my parents. Tell me that's not a bit off.
When they would come home after time spent in the bar, it wasn't an odd occurrence for them to start arguing about something. I absolutely hated the screaming. I would bury my head under pillows asking God to make them stop. He didn't answer. Finally, I found a way to make the screams disappear. I had this eight-track tape player, and I would turn it up. That, of course, would piss my father off, so I would put my ear directly on the speaker. The volume wasn't so loud so that my parents would hear it, but it was loud enough to drown out the screams and other lovely things coming out of their mouths. When my ear would hurt or start ringing, I would switch to the other ear. I would close my eyes and allow the music to take me somewhere else. The music also taught me how to dream, and the wonderful dreams I would have. Most of all, music brought peace and serenity to my life. To this day, I listen to music and allow myself to drift off to another place. Music is better than any drug I've ever taken.
Back to alcohol. In my house, alcohol and cigarettes were more important than anything. Countless times my needs were put to the side if it comprimised my parents ability to have beer, liquor, and/or cigarettes. Again, I was told several times that I was a mistake and not worth the time or space I took from them, and the way they acted towards things I wanted or needed sure proved those words. To this day, I struggle when I feel I am not liked or ridiculed. On the outside I may put up a good front and act like I don't care, but on the inside, my heart aches and stomach drops to my feet. Yes, to this day I feel totally inadequate, and it is so hard for me to explain to those that do care about me.
I enjoy drinking beer and liquor. When I started drinking in high school, I soon found out that I was a piss poor drunk. I embarrassed myself more than once, and alcohol has this wonderful way of multiplying my anger exponentially. I did and said things that were out of this world—just like my father. That scared me.
It also made me realize that when I became a parent, my child would never see me intoxicated. Nor would I allow myself to get drunk if my child could see me. Since I reminded myself of my father when I was drunk, there was no way I would ever allow Jake see me out of control, or be in a position to embarrass him. To this day, I drink a beer or two monthly. I may pour myself a glass of scotch on the rocks as a treat after a long day, but that's about it.
Food, however, was different. It took the place of alcohol. It was my crutch. It was my go to when I needed a pick-me-up. And it cost me big time.
So there I was staring into the mirror. Jake was about eight months old, and I realized that if I didn't make a change I would never see him grow up. I would never see him go to college. Perhaps I would die before he even hit his first home run, or caught or threw his first touchdown pass. I wanted to see his first girlfriend. I wanted to see him graduate high school. I wanted to see him marry and start his own family. Most of all, I wanted to be the father I never had, and I had to live to do it.
It was time to bet on science.
Gastric bypass surgery was something in the back of my mind for quite some time. A few people at work had it done and had great results. I figured I needed to lose eighty to one hundred pounds if I was going to get the diabetes and high blood pressure in check. I knew I couldn't do it alone so I reached out to the medical world for help.
First, I had to schedule the appointment which wasn't easy for me. Two ladies I worked with at the cable company (sorry, no free advertising here) just had it done, and recommended a doctor out in Jacksonville Beach. When I went to my appointment, I remember sitting in the waiting room with others who were looking for the magic bullet. You see, that's what I call it now because too many people think all you need to do is have the surgery and poof! Off goes the weight. I'm afraid not.
After the initial consultation, it was off to the psychiatrist. Yes, the local shrink had to make sure I could take the stress of not being able to eat for a month before starting to eat real food again. Yes, I said one month of no food. I was about to going from eating 6,000 to 7,000 calories to zero calories. For the first month, I was allowed only a liquid diet: water, clear liquids, no sugar, no soda, no solid foods.
When I came home from the surgery, I was so weak I couldn't walk from the bedroom to the living room without feeling like I was going to pass out. Two weeks into it, I was back to work. While I was out, there was a promotional opportunity that I had posted for, and just before the surgery I flew up to Baltimore to interview. I felt I had a decent shot to get the job once the interview concluded, but had no idea they were going to move so fast. So against my doctor's orders, I was back to work because I was offered the job.
I had two weeks to get ready to move to Baltimore and start the position. I was far from one hundred percent recovered from the surgery, but I was excited about this new gig. I was finally getting out of my old job and away from another new boss that was life-sucking from the get-go, so I couldn't wait to get there. During the interview, we discussed what my roles would be, and it was exactly what I wanted.
But as in life, every good thing has a bad or challenging thing tied to it. Jake was eight months old and not walking yet. He was still struggling to sleep through the night, and I was about to leave Kris with raising our son and selling our house. Thankfully real estate at that time was hopping being a seller's market. Nevertheless, Kris still had to work 40+ hours, take care of Jake, and have the house ready to show to potential buyers since we decided to sell it without the help of a REALTOR.
What I didn't realize was the heartache I was about to experience. When the day came for me to leave for Baltimore, a hurricane was crossing the state of Florida, and by the time it got to Jacksonville it was down to minor tropical storm. With a packed car, I gave Kris and hug and a kiss, and took Jake into my arms to say goodbye when he looked and smiled at me. Immediately, tears starting streaming down my face.
I wanted to stay right then and there. Come on, a storm was blowing through Jacksonville; I could have used that as an excuse, right?
I should have stayed, but more on that later.