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Pride, Fear, and Self-Admonishment

Let me be the first to say it: I fucked up. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be starting a blog called ‘The Single Dad Nomad’ and I wouldn’t be writing this from inside a ‘bathroom’ that has a toilet I have to manually flush with a bucket.
Living in this bathroom, there’s at least three different ant species: one ubiquitous, larger, black species that’s likely eating my bungalow from the inside-out, a smaller black species that seems to find dirty spots the most attractive, and a red species whose enforcers have an insidious looking set of pincers protruding from their faces. When I turn on the faucet, they burst out of the sink.
I think the geckos eat them, and there’s a lot of geckos in here. The big one is the size of my forearm.
thailand animals
Massive gecko in my bungalow.
The millipedes are longer than my fingers. The mosquitoes can easily fly through the unfettered gaps in the walls. The mirror looks like someone had once or twice set it on fire; I haven’t clearly seen my face in a month. The water never gets hot, the air never gets cold, and a week ago I spent 10 hours painting my bathroom with vomit as I battled a nasty case of Thai-Tummy. My sandals broke the first day I arrived on this island, and I’ve been barefoot now for 5 weeks. So yeah, it sometimes sucks here and the misery can be exhausting, but at least I choose this misery and that makes it a little more bearable. So why am I sitting in the bathroom? Because there’s nowhere more comfortable in this bungalow then on this tile step.

After destroying a few relationships in fantastic fashion, I found myself living in limbo, and pain, with no real direction to go in life. My self-entitled attitude had finally come back to bite me in the ass and my righteous sense of victimhood finally made me a victim, which makes me feel shitty about myself even more for thinking I’m again a victim.

This is what having shitty values does to you. You fuck up, then torch yourself for fucking up, then torch yourself for torching yourself, and so on and so on until you implode and decide to book one-way tickets for you and your daughter to the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.

Thus begins The Single Dad Nomad. I packed up a wheeled-backpack I got at Goodwill for $10 and off we strolled to the train station when I realized I forgot my daughter’s stroller. With no opportunity to return to retrieve it, I lugged my wheeled backpack, and a 3-year-old munchkin who thinks it’s funny to pretend burp in my face, through a 5-hour train ride, a 14-hour flight, a 5-hour flight, a 6-hour bus and a 2-hour boat ride. Things aren’t always peaches, but I’m the one who taught her to burp so that one is on me.

My daughter’s name is Auburn and I’ve hurt her in a way that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forgive myself, I forced away the woman she called ‘Mom.’ This wasn’t her ‘real’ Mom, but to Auburn, it was her Mom–a sweet girl I have known for over seven years and had previously dated–who came into Auburn’s life not long after I first got custody of her at 18-months-old. This girl eventually took on a massive role in Auburn’s life, and I forced her away last winter.

Auburn’s birth-mom and I separated right before Auburn turned 1, she was a breastfeed baby and stayed with her mom when we separated. I left Hong Kong and went back to the States and didn’t get to see Auburn for 6 months. I cried every day for the first 3. Then a little less thereafter, but I still missed her so much all the time. My body would have a physiological reaction to other kids crying, a boost of adrenaline that would overwhelm me with sadness. You can imagine how elated I was to get custody of her at 18-months! But can you imagine how unhappy Auburn was to be losing her mom and primary source of food?

She wouldn’t eat enough formula, so she couldn’t sleep, and her heavy bond with her birth-Mom at that point was a devastating loss for her emotionally, psychologically, and physically. She could only sleep on my chest, the same way she napped as a baby on the weekends when I didn’t have to work. Every single night she would wake up every hour to remind me how much she was hurting by crying relentlessly and screaming for her Mom in a language I couldn’t understand (hint: her birth-Mom had spoke to her in Cantonese for the last six months).

By the end of the first week, I was a zombie. After 3 months, a ghost. She was sleeping 2-3 hours at a time and crying for an hour or 2 in between at night. After 6 months, Auburn didn’t remember why she was hurting anymore, but she was still waking up crying every few hours, every night. The only thing that helped her sleep again was picking her up, pacing, and singing to her and rubbing her back. She was usually inconsolable for at least an hour, but different methods worked at different times. At first it was having to let her sleep in my chest and stomach. After a few months I could slowly roll her on to the bed, but dare not leave it. A few months later, I could creep out of the bed, but not every time. A few months after that, I could get her to sleep by reading her books and often sneak out of the bed without waking her, but she would eventually always wake up and cry. A few months later I could get her to sleep in her own bed, but she would still wake up 2-5 times a night crying. If you want to time travel, don’t sleep for awhile. Because when you wake up, it’s two years later.

Two years from getting custody and my sleep schedule is not the 9-10 hours I was getting in college, but the 4-10 hours I’m likely to get as a parent. Auburn rarely suffers night terrors which are difficult to deal with. She doesn’t always get to bed when she is supposed to, and she grinds her little teeth which worries me. But sometimes she giggles when she’s dreaming and my eyes get watery and I giggle right along with her.

Two years from getting custody and I’m finally starting a blog, alone in a sheet-metal bathroom, next to a sink that literally just drains right out the wall and into the nearest bush. Why? Partly because a part of me has always wanted to share Auburn’s story but I’ve been too afraid to. But mostly because my values were so trashed that I thought it was a better idea to cheat on my now-ex-girlfriend, rather than talk to her honestly about what was upsetting me. My pride became more important than my sense of dignity. I hurt her greatly, and I left my daughter without the female role-model who had been her Mom for the past year.

Now my daughter cries for her, she tells me how she misses her and talks about things she remembers doing with her. I say the only thing I can, ‘I miss her, too.’ I do my best to remind her it’s okay to miss people and that not every family has a Mommy and Daddy all the time and some have neither and some have two of each and some have probably more than that. It’s a truth about society that helps me keep her from thinking she is a victim. God forbid my trashed values wear off on her this young. So, I’m doing what I can now to reevaluate my values and improve my relationship with my daughter. She’s the most important thing to me and I want to raise her to be a strong and open-minded person.

Occasionally traveling outside of the United States is how I see best fit to do that. I’ve traveled with her before, but never solo. Removing myself from the judgment and social pressures of American values isn’t always easy. It forces me to live in a shitty bungalow, to have to dodge ants when I take a piss, watch where I walk so I don’t cut my bare feet on glass, and occasionally projectile vomit because I eat some rancid meat off some nose-picker’s charred BBQ grill.

It’s worth it because I’m getting more time than ever with my daughter. In just over a month we’ve become closer than ever, she misses her ‘Mommy’ less, and as a massive bonus, she’s been sleeping through the night regularly! Curious about how she does that here? Yes, we live in a shitty bungalow, with one bed, so yes, we co-sleep, and no, I don’t care what your opinion is on the subject, co-sleeping with my toddler is awesome. She’s snuggly and I love her to pieces and if she sleeps well then I’m good. And I know where to draw the line, I don’t let her use me as an all-night footrest, not always.

24 thoughts on “A Dad’s Mistakes: Pride, Fear, and Self-Admonishment

  1. She is adorable! Many people have no memory of what happened before age 3.5-4 years, so these are some of her earliest memories that you’re forming now:) What a great adventure to grow with, for both of you! Good job Dad, keep it up!!

    • Thanks! Yes it will be great to talk to her in 10 years and see what she remembers from this stage of her life.. I think it’s probably good for both of us 🙂

  2. Well I balled from the 2nd paragraph on. One: because I had a short time with Auburn and loved her beautiful spririt that quickly made me wanna hug her tightly everytime I could. Two: I can relate to some of your fuck ups. I too had some screwed up values, and wonder everyday if my kids will carry on the same stupid behavior that has led to so much pain. Especially for my oldest, whos dad is in prison for using heroin with my son in the car , and who called my ex dad for 3 years but doesnt see him anymore due to our lovely past of beating the shit out of eachother emotionaly and physicaly. Now I’m married to a good man, like…awesome. and my son has a real dad to look up too. I used to beat myself up for beating myself up over beating myself up. Now…I dont. I just wont! Life is good. I wont think anything different. Its all in how you think. Sorry for rambling. I like reading your stuff and hoping you and Auburn just love life. She will grow up and love her daddy, thats for sure!

    • I hear ya, Becky. That’s rough what you’ve been through but I’m glad you’re seeing the positive in it 🙂 It’s easy to get stuck in that spiral of self-admonishment so what I’ve been trying do is just accept the crap that happens and learn from it. It’s not easy but I think writing like this helps because it’s a way for me to talk to myself as well as others that might be going through the sometimes crappy human experience as well.

  3. LeeAnn Papadoupalos says:

    Seems like you have grown a bit from camp days! Just be her father and love and protect her and rest will fall into place!
    Maybe you can come back to camp and auburn would get cared for by all of us

  4. I have a legitimate question, not a judgment. Why not stick it out and try to make it better when its clear you both have feelings for her? Maybe you tried, I don’t know, it’s just the first question that came to my mind when I was reading this. Either way, your daughter seems like a wonderful little girl and I’m sure you will do right by her. Listen, we all fuck up as parents at times. I hope you two are able to find happiness and stay safe in your travels! You have a kind heart, Nick.

  5. Becky Cottrell says:

    Nicholas, I remember the days that you spent at our house hanging out with Matt and Trevor. You and Sam always fit in as if you were one of our own. I seen then the wonderful person you were and the greatest and determination you had in life. Being an adult is never easy. Everyone has questioned the choices we’ve made, be them good or bad. I’ve always said that life is a book, we all have chapters to write. All we can do is try to make the next chapter better then the last. You have a great sole and love of family. Never look back because we can’t change what is in the past, all we can do is work on today and live for tomorrow. Good luck with all your adventures. Love you Becky.

    • I’ve had a lot of great role models throughout my life, you and Charlie included! It was awesome staying with you guys and spending so much time with your boys as a youngster. I just hope Auburn doesn’t give me half the crap that we all gave you! haha

  6. Your family Loves you and misses you very much. I raised you, we all struggle, but I’m so proud of you. Thats all part of growing up; God knows I’ve made my mistakes but could not be more proud of you. Youre a man any woman could love, and your family loves you. We all make mistakes but I want you to know that I look back on you and see you cycling to church, and it hurts me to hear you say you have no values. You have great values; you just got lost. We all do. You know people mess up as a growing thing. You’ve given us a precious gift and I cannot be couldn’t be more proud of you.

    • Thanks Mom, but I cannot justifiably say I have great values when I have behaved the way I have. I’m working on it and that’s what is important.

  7. Sally beechner says:

    So you screwed up – what you didn’t mention is how you protected her invetro. How her life was challenged daily and how you stood up for her and her life far before you knew her… could say you gave her life. I am tremendously proud of what you do today for our little monkey but I so much more appreciate what you did before she was – stood up, became a man, took responsibility. Love you, nephew!

  8. I love seeing Fathers and daughters traveling together. You are teaching her a lot of things at a young age that will definitely make her a better person in the future. Thanks to her loving dad. Keep going!

    • thesin21bg says:

      Thanks! She teaches me a lot about patience. It’s not always easy being a dad, but being one has helped me become a kinder and more focused person.

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