For many years, Shawn worked on a multitude of off shore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico: Louisiana's most booming industry. He worked away for two weeks at a time, leaving me at home to hold down the fort. After he and his comrades completed each hitch, they'd hop on a helicopter and fly back to shore to race home to their families, wives and girlfriends and babies anxiously awaiting their return. It was a grueling career path that required much sacrifice: the conditions were dangerous, the weeks away were tough. But we learned to enjoy the two weeks a month that he was home, adapting to the schedule shared by many families across the Deep South: two weeks on, two weeks off. That was our life for many years. We rescheduled holidays, postponed birthday parties, celebrated early when needed. I cooked big homecoming dinners and we talked on the phone as much as possible. We made the most of it and Shawn's unconventional schedule became our "normal".
People often told me, "I don't know how you do it". But, there was no questions of if or how, the sacrifices were made because this was Shawn's passion. His career was fulfilling and though he hated leaving us for two weeks every month, the pros far outweighed the cons. He made a good living and provided our family with financial security, excellent health insurance, and a solid foundation for which to build our future on. This was more than just a job. It was a part of who he was.
But then the accident happened, and the injuries he sustained rendered him unable to ever work on an offshore oil rig again. No matter how much nerve and muscular function Shawn regains in his arm and hand, he'll never be able to pass the physical required to work in the oil and gas industry again. Just like that, a decade of hard work and perseverance was over and my husband was forced to pull up his boot straps and move on to the next chapter of his life, those days out on the rig now a fond and distant memory.
He struggled with this reality for a very long time. He mourned the loss of his career, a furious battle brewing inside his soul as he redefined who he was and what he stood for. What kind of man was he now that he was no longer the primary breadwinner of our family? What was he contributing now that he was no longer the invincible force he once was? It is an incredibly humbling and frightening experience to witness a man become a vulnerable and broken version of himself, to watch him fight and kick and scream to start over while simultaneously holding on to what he once was.
But, time heals all wounds: in Shawn's case both physically and emotionally. It started slowly, with him keeping Brees home from daycare a few days a week. He saw it as a way to save money and spend extra one on one time with our girl. I saw it as a way for him to nurture and love our youngest while also contributing to our family, contributing in a domesticated way that was completely new to him. The few days a week slowly turned into four days and then, at Shawn's insistence, we pulled Brees out of daycare completely. Those days that they spent together, the lunches he made, the laundry he folded, the running of our household while I was away at work: they were healing him. He felt needed again, validated as a husband and father. And I watched his eyes begin to shine again.
Those hands that once worked on machines were now being used to care for our children. While I put in more hours at work and took on the role of the breadwinner, Shawn stepped up and gave our children his whole heart and soul. He reassured me constantly through his actions that we were, in fact, a team, his old definitions of what a man should be shifting and evolving into something new.
When I was pregnant for River, I researched our child care options, worried that taking care of two little kids might be too much for my husband, wanting to protect him just as much as I protected the kids. Our babysitter informed me, however, that she was raising her tuition prices and changing her attendance policies, putting me in an absolute panic as I did the math and realized that there was no way we could afford to have two kids in daycare. I came home crying one day, explaining the numbers to Shawn, throwing my hands up and wondering what to do. But he never broke a sweat, there was never even a moment of consideration. He already knew.
"They're not going to daycare," Shawn told me with complete confidence. "I'm going to keep both of them at home full time. I'm a stay at home dad now, babe."
"Are you sure?" I asked over and over. Are you sure? It would be a big undertaking, staying home with two small kids. But he was determined and excited, believing with every ounce of his being that this was what God had intended for our family all along. Not for him to be traveling away for half the year, missing out on so much precious time with his family. Those days were over and rightfully so. This chapter, this chapter was made for us to be together. Our kids will know what it means to have a father home full time, to be privileged enough to have a stay at home parent. And so we forged ahead with our new plan, determined to support each other in our new roles as a working mom and stay at home dad.
Now, when people ask me, "What does your husband do for a living?", I proudly tell them that he stays home with our kids. I've gotten every reaction possible, from confused looks and raised eyebrows to pats on the back and praise and encouragement. We try not to take the questions and comments too personally, being a stay at home dad just isn't a common occurrence in our community and people tend to need a little time to warm up to the idea. I'm so proud of him, I tell them. He is the best father to our children and a true gift to our family. He has taken on his new role with as much passion as he did when he used to fly off on that helicopter. He has rewritten his own personal definition of what a man should be, how he should love, what constitutes a hard day's work. These kids: they are his new adventure. And he is serving them so well.
My husband is a living example that sometimes life throws you curve balls and knocks you on your ass. When the going gets tough, you have to find enough courage inside yourself to let the things you once loved go so that you can make room for the things waiting for you. Though we never imagined these changes, the shifting roles, the pain and struggle that came with it all, we would never take any of it back. My husband has grown and changed in ways that have completely taken my breathe away and I am so humbled with the grace and patience in which he chooses to move forward. He refuses to give up, to look back, to live with regret. Instead, he embraces this journey and pushes me to embrace it right along with him.
I love you, Shawn. I love the way you love. Thank you for the many ways in which you teach me what life is truly all about.