Story by Mike Exline
I was 13 years old when I got my first job as a dishwasher. Since then, I’ve worked countless different jobs. But being a dad is the best job I’ve ever had, hands down. As far back as I can remember, I always knew I wanted to be a dad. I remember imagining what my kids would look like, sound like. To see it now is truly amazing. I look at Jude and Nolan and I see it all. I see me. I see Jessica, my wife. They’re both so perfect in every way; they’re my world.
The last 3 years have really changed who I am as a person. I see things a lot differently since my boys got here. I guess you could say I’ve grown up.
My son, Jude, recently asked his mom, ‘What’s the purpose of life?’ It’s a difficult question he heard on his favorite show, Blippi. I told him, ‘For me, the purpose of life is to make other people’s lives better.’ The day Jude was born was the best day of my life. It was also a pretty big day for Jude also. My wife and I were in the labor room (aka war zone) and things were, well, a little intense.
There’s a curtain. My wife and I on one side, Jude and the hospital staff on the other. I’m reassuring my wife that she’s doing a great job. And just as I think she might literally break my hand, I hear it. Jude’s first cry. The nurses quickly rush him past us and over to the hot tray to get him warm. But he’s still crying. I see a nurse motion for me to come over. I kiss my wife and sprint across the room. I lean over him and whisper in his ear, ‘Hey buddy.’ Jude stops crying, reaches up, grabs my right index finger, opens his right eye, and we look at each other for the very first time.
If you spent an entire day at our house, I think you’d quickly learn that comedy and music are a big part of our lives. I mean, Jude is named after a Beatles song after all. Another big part of our lives is making videos together. From the day our sons were born, we’ve been documenting their lives. Every first word and first step, the camera was rolling.
The best part of this whole experience is sharing. That people are getting to see how awesome he really is. They’re even starting to watch Jude and Nolan’s other videos as well. I like to picture Jude and Nolan in 30 years, looking back at this time, knowing without a doubt that their mom and I truly loved them. That’s why these videos are so important. But there’s also the unseen moments, too. Those incredible dad moments. A few months ago was one of them. Jude starts pre-school next month. We’ve always tried our best to push him to be social. To say hi to people and not be afraid to try and make friends. So, when the boys and I walked down to a park near our house to find it completely empty, Jude looked a little disappointed (I think having Nolan with me also makes it more difficult to give Jude full attention). Thirty minutes later, it was a packed house full of kindergarten-aged kids. Instantly, without any hesitation, I see Jude walk up to a crowd of 7 and 8-year-olds. ‘Hi, what’s your name?,’ Jude asks. One of the girls bends down and tells him her name. ‘I’m Jude.’ The girls ran off to play together. Leaving Jude behind, arms crossed and confused. For the next thirty minutes, I saw him running around that playground looking for a friend. He’d run up to one kid, get shut down, and keep on moving. After a half hour of rejection, I see him through the crowd, arms crossed with a dirty face and his head was down.
He was defeated.
I wave him over to me and Nolan. ‘You ok buddy?,’ I asked him. He walks up to me, goes in for hug, and starts crying on my shoulder. Meanwhile Nolan’s off trying to eat some mulch (eh…I think I got it all out). I pull Jude as tight as I can and console him.
After a few seconds, I wiped away his tears and had him look at me. ‘Listen to me,’ I said. ‘I am so proud of you. That took a lot of guts to do what you just did, Jude. You know, a lot of big grownups my age don’t have those guts.’ He’s looking into my soul by this point with those big, blue teary eyes. ‘If you ask 10 kids and 9 of them don’t wanna be your friend, but 1 does, that 1 friend could be your best friend forever.’ I go on to tell him how all these kids are older than him. Kids want to play with kids their own age and when he starts school it’ll be much easier because they’re his age. He’s seems like he’s starting to feel better by this point. No more tears.
Jude, who’s looking out at the sea of kids, stands up, dusts himself off and looks at me. Leans in close. ‘I really like you,’ he whispers. He hugs me and smiles right before running back into the Kindergarten Mosh Pit. Nolan’s still chomping down on some mulch. Looking like a chipmunk.
As I was putting him to bed, we talked a little about it. I could tell he got it. He kisses me about 10 times (which never happens anymore), we hug, and, as I’m leaving his room, I hear him whisper. ‘I love you more.’
No buddy, trust me, I love you more.
Oh, I almost forgot. About 20 minutes before we left the park, I looked over and saw Jude playing…with 3 kids. He looked over at me to make sure I noticed and from across the entire park I hear, ‘Hey Dad! I made friends!’
It’s moments like these that I will cherish forever. This is fatherhood. This is love.”