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Anyone who gets to know me knows that I LOVE tattoos. My entire body is essentially already mapped out in my mind, as to what I plan on getting next. I've been blessed to meet some great artists throughout my life who continue to grow in talent and character. Outside of being home with my wife and children, getting to hang out in a tattoo shop is my second place of zen. The sounds, scents, and conversations within just make me feel at peace. Some of my ink is for fun while other pieces have certain meanings that connect me to some rather important moments in my life. This is the tale of one of my more meaningful tattoos.
The year is 2014 and I have been assigned an incredibly important task. A hero's quest really. My mission, if I chose to accept it was simple: go grocery shopping... on a busy Saturday morning...with both kids. And don't forget that on this day, they are two little argumentative talking heads with no interest whatsoever in going on this trip. Good times my friends. Good times, indeed.
After chugging my room temperature coffee (anyone who is a parent knows the struggle is real), I corralled my two little voice boxes (with volumes set to 11 and stuck on a continuous Disney loop) into a hot, cramped car. We then set forth to navigate through the endless sea of ignored turn signals and expletive hand gestures from fellow mission impossible agents (equipped with their own little voice boxes whose volume had been set to 11 and stuck on a continuous Disney loop) to find our place in the parking lot. Some days, I envision shopping being on par with entering the first level of Hell. Today was one of those days. Breathe in that brimstone. Dante sends his regards.
On this particular day, I was feeling extremely tired and VERY irritable. Emotionally, I felt like I was hanging by a thread. No matter how hard I tried, my focus strayed away from PMA and waded into FTW territory. Not a good scene. Not a good look. Definitely not a good mindset when you need to be a positive role model for two young and impressionable minds.
After steering through aisle after aisle, repeatedly switching between statements of "Don't touch that!", "Put that down!", "No we're not getting that. It has too much sugar.", "Take it up with Mom when we're home.", and "Don't make me count to three." I paid for our new found bounty and the store clerk let my kids pick out stickers to take home with them.
You have to understand that stickers to my kids are like Scooby Snacks to dirty beatniks and talking dogs. My kids would do anything for them. They are the ultimate bargaining chip when a trip to the grocery store is in the works. My daughter got an octopus and my son picked out a fish, a shiny little fish. On the spot he gave it a name and I could tell he loved it. Both were very grateful and thanked the store clerk for the gifts. Another job well done. We came, we saw, we bought the sale items and by the end of it all, I just wanted to go home and crash. But before that could happen we had to get out of the parking lot.
During 2014, I commuted alone to work which permitted a certain level of road rage that I could to keep to myself. In most cases, I had music playing loud enough that when I was yelling in frustration at another driver they couldn't tell the difference between road rage and screaming along to the music. But on this day I had passengers. And in a moment of weakness I forgot that.
I was trying to exit the parking lot when another vehicle cut me off and almost smashed into my front bumper as it left the grocery store. I snapped. I snapped HARD. Like Bruce Banner turning into the HULK type of snapped. I completely forgot about where I was and who I had with me.
I honked my horn and in a single breath I let loose a long string of expletives that would make truckers, sailors, and draft sergeants cringe. I could feel my face turning red and my knuckles turning pale white, as my grip of the steering wheel increased ten fold. As I slowly regained my composure and my breathing came back to normal, all I could see in my rear view mirror was my seven year old daughter and my three year old son crying and looking at me completely stunned at what just transpired. Needless to say, I wasn't in any position to win a Father of the Year award.
I tried to explain to them both that I wasn't angry at them and that I shouldn't have reacted the way I did.
After apologizing to them both for my terrible behavior, we headed home, sharing an awkward silence until my son said to me, "Daddy I want to give you my fish."
I swallowed the lump in my throat and asked him why.
He responded with, "Because it makes me happy and I want you to be happy too."
I AM NATHAN'S FEELINGS OF REGRET AND DISAPPOINTMENT. HIS SPIRIT ANIMAL, AN ASS.
True to his word, the moment we returned home and I got all the groceries into the kitchen, my son peeled off his shiny new fish sticker and placed it on my right hand. He gave me a hug and walked away, telling me now I could be happy too. I stood there in silence. I choked back tears staring at the tiny little sticker and finally thanked him for the hug and gift. After putting away everything, I sat down and did nothing else but cuddle up to my kids. In that moment I made a promise to myself to never forget that day. Never forget the value of keeping a positive mental attitude, and most importantly, never forget how important it is to have people in your life who can keep you grounded and calm. This year I got my hand tattooed with a fish to immortalize how my kids remind me daily to keep my PMA, and how I never want my own flesh and blood to see me act as foolishly as I did back then.
Day in and and day out, life can be difficult and it isn't always easy. But it's not really worth holding onto negative thoughts and feelings. It's definitely not worth losing your mind over something you really have no control over. Like bad drivers, terrible school days, or fleeting moments where things just don't go how you wanted. Some days all you can do is take slow, calculated, deep breaths; visualize your happiest place, remember those who love and look up to you, and think of how a little empathy or kindness can change your whole day.