This is going to be a bit of an odd blog for me because it’s going to be a bit personal. At the same time, I feel after talking with several others in similar situations, that it’s a relevant and worth sharing. I’ll preface this with a bit of background info to fill in the gaps. I’m 31, father of two little boys, married to my high school sweetheart for nine years by the time this is posted. Happily married, love my children, working a full-time IT job that’s 9-5:30 and then I work for Wampler about 20-25 hours a week. Most know my background about the kidney stuff, but a quick rundown that’s completely oversimplified: On my 5th kidney, 3rd kidney transplant, 24 years total of dialysis (4 hours, every other day connected to a machine unable to move my left arm, sitting in a chair). All started out when I was 16 months old, and even now with the kidney transplant I require infusions every two weeks to maintain the health and well-being of the longest lasting kidney I’ve ever had, but it’s working, and it’s the closest semblance to “normal” I’ve ever achieved. That’s the quick and dirty.
Now that you’re caught up, we can discuss what I’ve found to be a recurrent theme amongst many people my age and older. I’m talking about the balance of adult responsibilities and trying to find time to fit in my hobby. Before becoming a father, I was told: “enjoy your free time; you won’t have much once you have kids.” I never realized how true this was. Not that it’s saying it’s a terrible thing in the least bit to have children (I believe quite the opposite), but it was a shock for me and quite an adjustment the first few months after having our first little dude. I had to forgo quite a few of the personal things I enjoyed doing recreationally to help provide for our family, assist my wife as she had to give up a lot of her free time as well, and help fall into the role of Dad. I eventually got into the groove of things, and we’ve since had another little boy, and the two have brought us more joy, headaches and overall unconditional love than I could have imagined before having kids. This is my best recollection of the events and thoughts that went through my mind during those times.
During those first 6-10 months after having each child, I seriously considered selling all my gear. Not a fleeting thought, but a point where I felt I literally wouldn’t be able to play and that it was pointless to own the great gear that I had if it was never going to get played. Between trying to be a good dad and husband, I went for weeks and at one point over a month without touching a guitar. At the time I was playing regularly at church, along with jamming with my buddies at least once a week, maybe more with the hopes of just doing some cover gigs locally for fun. After our first boy was born, my meager skills I had spent 13 years (at the time) developing seemed to be fading into distant memories, because when I did pick up a guitar, it felt alien. My hands wouldn’t work right; I couldn’t remember specific notes in songs or parts I had played hundreds of times. It was depressing, in a nutshell. The old saying “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it” definitely applied to me. I think it stung so much for me because playing guitar was one of my primary stress relievers, even if it was playing my electric unplugged in a spare bedroom for 3 minutes. The moments I would get, I was so tired that I mostly just sat there and vegetated, maybe hitting a few notes, but more so taking solace in holding the instrument I so dearly love. For the first two years of his life, my first son suffered from chronic reflux, and woke up every 1-2 hours, every single night. There were many days I didn’t quite understand how I had made it to work without hurting myself or others because of being so sleepy during my commute in. Coffee went from being something I enjoyed drinking, to a life-sustaining fuel required to function. During those times guitar became an afterthought, a faraway pipe dream of a forgotten time.
In the weeks after our first son was born, pretty much immediately my days of getting together with the guys to jam were cut to a minimum, then to nothing. Not because of any reason particularly, my priorities just had to shift to my family. In all honesty that’s when I was feeling the most down because at that very moment when I hadn’t touched my guitar for several weeks, I felt like I had lost part of myself somehow. “My” identity felt like it no longer existed, and it was more part of the collective of trying to survive this new uncharted voyage we just set out on. The one thing I did learn though is that the balance is NEVER going to be 50/50. There’s always going to be a sacrifice to be made; it’s just part of life. I noticed I dove into work to keep my mind occupied, and I was lucky enough to find a second job in the music industry. To the people who say that working for Wampler isn’t work, then they have no idea what it’s like to work in the music industry. It’s a constant thing that needs attention, from social media posting on all outlets, content creation, blogs, videos, writing manuals, picking out colors and names and doing the research to be sure nothing is trademarked or copyrighted. The flip side of my son not sleeping meant I was able to get a lot of work done during all hours of the day and night. Jason is 5 hours ahead of me, so he was often awake and was my sounding board as a new father, and for that, I’m forever grateful. He and Brian helped me so much during that first couple of years that it’s impossible to put into words. I highly recommend talking to someone close to you, because if nothing else expressing your inner thoughts helps you cope with changes and good and tough times. I relied heavily on them more than I relized now that I look back. I’d often text Jason at 3am (8am his time) while holding our son that finally fell asleep after screaming for a few hours with a belly ache, saying “I’m about to lose my mind, I REALLY wish I could play guitar right now to decompress.” Whether he was being honest or just trying to make me feel better, he told me it was normal and that it would get better. And he was right.
[On a side note: Have you ever had the urge to play guitar SO BADLY that it almost makes your muscles hurt? It’s like this insatiable desire to play, where nothing can quell that urge until you get to (at best) hold a guitar in your hands and strum a chord or play a few notes. It’s like a core sensory urge, like craving food when you’re hungry or water when you’re thirsty? Am I the only one? Sorry, getting off track.]
Just like everything, time passes, they got older and luckily took a liking to guitar-oriented stuff. Our second son started sleeping through the night after a few months and was more comfortable for us because we felt like veterans at that point, but the moments of wanting to play guitar and not being able to be still there. Between working my regular 40 hours a week, and doing the Wampler stuff (more on that in a bit) on the side, my wife working and all that, I felt guilty not spending my time off with my sons. I would pick it up for a couple of minutes, then set it back down and be with my family. My priorities had shifted entirely, but I didn’t have that feeling of being down or feeling regret for not being able to play. I finally “balanced” what worked for me that made me feel right in my mind. Granted it’s not the same for everyone, but that worked for me. Life happened, my chops took a major hit, but were found a new “normal.”
Our boys are now five and two now. Our oldest is in kindergarten, and has played soccer and baseball, and wants to try basketball starting in a few weeks. Our youngest is two…if you have ever had a two-year-old, then you know what I mean. You can’t take your eyes off them, because they’re so sweet and cute and all that awesome stuff, but they’re mischievous as hell too for lack of a better word. Even though they’re out of the diaper stages, they still require (and deserve) time. So, when I get home from work, the boys follow me into our room where I change and fire up my amp. 9/10 times I get about six chords in or half of a lead run in before they’re tackling each out on our bed, or attempting to dive off something, trying to emulate some wrestling moves our oldest has picked up at school. So, I attempt to break them up and go back to playing. Inevitably (usually 2-3 minutes later) one of them is going to hurt each other, or they’ll go back in the other room and start going nuts around my wife, which I try to avoid since she has them during her days off (Nurse, x3 12-hour shifts a week). Someone will bump their noggin, or the other won’t do a certain thing the other wants them to do, and it ends up being some crying or messing with each other. I shut down, and we go in the other room. That’s it. There were my couple minutes. On the weekend we're always going, so I may pick it up for a couple of minutes if we’re home and don’t have anything planned, but you can bet if the weather is decent we’re off doing stuff because I couldn’t before (see first paragraph, the whole dialysis thing). But it’s gotten better, and it gets better.
I’m thankful that on occasion, one or both of our boys choose to come in there with me and do something associated with it. The latest trend is for our 5-year-old to want to strum my MIM strat (wine red with a maple neck, my original first electric guitar), and our 2-year-old to strum his toy guitar while I’m playing. I freaking love it. Yes, it’s a bit of a cluster because of course our youngest wants whatever his big brother has. So I have to separate them so they don’t slam each other or hit the guitars together, or sit between them so I can keep an eye on both of them. But for a few brief, fleeting seconds it’s incredibly fun and the proudest Dad moment you can imagine. Or sometimes, our 5-year-old will want to turn up whatever my loudest pedal is (gain and volume) and just strum, saying he’s writing a song. Or our 2-year-old will want to strum as hard as possible and just yell “LOUD!” with a big cheesy grin on his face. I cherish those moments more than I can put into words.
What’s my point with all of this? Being a parent is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. It’s a daily struggle to try to be a good husband and father, but still, incorporate guitar into my life. I’m very fortunate to have a wife that supports me in my pursuit of gear (that’s a whole other topic for another day), but it’s an internal struggle for me personally where I think “I REALLY want to play guitar, but she’s had the kids all day.” Or there’s loads of laundry that need to be done, or my wife needs help getting dinner sorted, or trying to get our oldest boy’s homework done before it gets too late. In general, my self-guilt leads me to omit time to play, and do what needs to be done. I want to spend time with my boys and maintain my relationship with my wife, and try to help her keep the house in relatively organized chaos instead of looking like a warzone (again, if you have had young ones, you get what I mean). Guitar has taken a backseat to life, but in the end, it’s still there riding with me, no matter what. On occasion I get a few minutes at the house to myself, I dime everything and let it wail. Our dog goes to the other side of the house, the pictures and windows rattle, but it feels like the air moving from the speakers is literally blowing the stress out of my body. It’s rejuvenating and provides a moment of zen. I should mention that there are days where I have a truly “Eff it!” attitude where the dishes and all that crap can wait. If the kids aren’t tearing the house apart and are just playing, then I’ll go and play for a bit. To be completely honest, after about 20-30 minutes of playing I get it out of my system (see the side note above) and then go and do whatever chore our household thing needs to be done. But it’s there when I need it.
Admittedly, I’m just starting out this journey. Based on stories Brian and Jason have told me about the teenage years, I fear a bit for my mental state when it’s all said and done. My only hopes are that when they’re older, that I’ve provided a good foundation and example for them to learn from, and hopefully I didn’t mess them up too bad. I hope they find the love of the instrument that I did, and that it provides as much joy and comfort as it shows me in my best and worst times. I know my story is very different from many people, but it’s my best recollection of what I recall and the thoughts that went through my head as I was going through them. No, I don’t play music professionally, and I never will. It’s my love, my vice and my therapy all rolled into one. I have a feeling you know exactly what I mean. I’m not bringing religion into it at all, but for lack of a better term, it’s almost a spiritual feeling, like all is right with the world when all the stars align and your tone and playing hit all the right spots. The stress melts away with every note.
I don’t know why I wrote this, to be honest. Maybe it’s hope that someone will identify with it when they’re going through rough times or those transition years and realize that it does get better. The boys will only be young but for so long, and eventually, they won’t want anything to do with me. When they’re gone out on their own, it’ll be my wife and my guitar that I’ll lean on as I miss the times when they were little and the world was realistically simpler than I thought it was.