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I Had A Family Too Young … Or So I Thought

What if the mistake that preoccupies you as a parent isn’t as simple as using bad judgment because you’re hungover, or forgetting essential ID for a trip planned months in advance, or failing at sleep training? What if the mistake that plagues you is the near paralyzing fear that despite good intentions, the biggest mistake you made is agreeing to start a family at all?

This is exactly the predicament that writer/comedian/filmmaker Jason Nash found himself in less than a year after the birth of his son.

When I first met Jason about 20 years ago, it was in a comedy club in New York City's East Village. Maybe I’d just rented “The Princess Bride,” or I’d been reminiscing with geeky theater friends about “The Pirates of Penzance” before the show, but I remember watching him pacing the stage in long strides, running his hands through a shock of blonde hair, hearing him rant about how often life missed the mark and thinking, “This guy is like the swashbuckler of comedy.” Even starting out, Jason had a noticeably outsized, unbridled energy, and charisma that separated him from the pack.

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So it didn’t entirely surprise me when we sat and talked these many years later—both of us now married with children—that stuffing a personality like his into the role of stay-at-home dad had caused some stress. I’d experienced the small, quiet life of a stay-at-home mom myself, so I knew how constraining it can feel. For Jason, “constraint” doesn’t quite cover the depth of the feelings he had as the father of a 10-month-old.

“I felt like I was done," he said. "I was 28, which isn’t too young to have a kid—it was just too young for me. I didn’t really know who I was or the things I wanted to do, and I didn’t have enough confidence or focus to figure that out and do it. Then you throw the baby in, and that was it.”

I couldn’t help but ask Jason, given where he was in his life at the time, why he decided to start a family. “My wife is older, and she kept saying, ‘God is stealing my eggs!’ I didn’t feel I could respond any other way than, ‘OK, let’s go look at cribs.'”

I wanted my wife to see my anger. I wanted to tell her, ‘You took my fucking life away and this is what you get.'

It wasn’t just his stage of life that gave him pause about having a baby. It was his vehemence about not wanting to turn into his hypercritical father. Yet, after his son was born, he ended up feeling angry much like his dad. “Angry that I wasn’t further along in my career, angry that after all my efforts I turned into him, a guy with a lot of potential who can’t seem to get off the ground. I so didn’t want to lay that on a kid.”

Jason also missed the relationship he had with his wife pre-baby, when they actually had fun together instead of spending all their time figuring out logistics and living in fear that something wrong was going to happen. All this heightened emotion crescendoed until one day Jason’s worst fear came true.

“My anger surfaced. I had just found out that I didn’t get a job as a writer on a very shitty TV show, and I really needed the money," he said. "I worked hard on the submission and was told my material was not up to snuff. My son started crying and wouldn’t stop. My failure, my life, the feeling that everything was finished came to a head. I put my son down in his crib. Then, enraged, I punched a giant hole through the door to his room. One time. Boom! Again. Boom! And again. Screaming 'Fuck!' each time, letting everything out. I knew I was doing it. I knew I wasn’t hurting the baby, but I was so mad I wanted my wife to see my anger. I wanted to tell her, ‘You took my fucking life away and this is what you get. A hole in the door of your perfect baby’s room in your perfect house.’ Then I turned and saw my son, and he was so scared. And for the first time, it clicked. That I was wrong. That I was part of something larger now. That I was being a selfish fuck, and it didn’t matter how my career ended up. I grabbed him and held him, and I just cried. The next week I went in to therapy and started a massive overhaul of myself.”

Today, Jason has two children and the raging, out-of-control man he was is thankfully behind him. He still winces recalling that fateful day but now feels the more far-reaching mistake of his early parenting is not having allowed himself to enjoy those first five years.

“Now they’re eight and five, and I love being with them. It’s so interesting to see them absorbing our personalities, they say funny things all the time, and they are always surprising me.” I can hear in his voice how genuinely grateful he feels to get to spend time with his children. It was especially apparent when he told me about a recent experience with that same son from the crib.

“I was bummed out because I wanted a certain song for my movie 'Jason Nash Is Married.' We didn’t have money in the budget for it, and my son, who remember is 8 now, asked me what was up. I told him, and then he gave me a hug and ran off to his room. That night when I came home, he bolted over to me, guitar in hand and started playing the song. He had learned to play it that day. It was amazing,” Jason said, full of wonder. “I don’t even know how to play guitar.”

Needless to say, Jason has come a long way from feeling like having children ruined his life. As for his certainty that fatherhood meant the demise of his professional life, that has hardly been the case. Last year, he achieved the monumental feat of writing, directing and starring in a movie largely inspired by his own experiences—right down to the couples therapy he and his wife have taken advantage of over the years. “There is no question 'Jason Nash Is Married' is the work I am most proud of in my life. That’s the great thing about art, when you can take what feels like all the debilitating stuff and craft it in to something that has meaning, and touches people.”

I do think if I had been more mature at the time, if I had had children later in life, it might have been an easier transition for me.

There is no way Jason could have known that punching his fist through the wall of his son’s nursery that first year would create the shift in him that would ultimately inspire his art rather than kill it. Once again, it proves my point about mistakes. We are going to make them. It’s what we do with them that matters.

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“I do think if I had been more mature at the time, if I had had children later in life, it might have been an easier transition for me," Jason said, looking back one last time on those early years. "Then again, there’s no guarantee about that, and I might not have gotten a son who could learn to play 'Little Black Submarines' by The Black Keys on his guitar in five hours. My son doing that … it almost made me forget every disappointment I’ve ever felt,” he said, looking a way for a minute. He then quickly added: “Almost.”

Image via Comedy Central

What’s the “mistake of the week” you bounced back from? Share it in the comments!

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