Cultivating Presence: fatherhood through step-fatherhood

If someone had asked me ten years ago what my mental picture of a single mother was, my answer would have been drastically different from what I experienced when I first met my wife.
— Brian Wolfe
Brian and Robyn Wolfe. Photo credit Danielle Cohen.

Brian and Robyn Wolfe. Photo credit Danielle Cohen.

by Brian Wolfe

If someone had asked me ten years ago what my mental picture of a single mother was, my answer would have been drastically different from what I experienced when I first met my wife.  I grew up thinking that someday I would get a job, meet the right person, have a house, two kids, some pets … and granted, that did all happen … just not quite the way I imagined it. And, I am truly blessed. When I met my wife, I fell in love with a woman who had the quiet confidence of someone who’s been through the storm and come out the other side with a deep understanding of who she is. She knew how much she could handle on her own, and had somehow managed to miraculously stay open to the possibility that life could change again in a big way. 

It’s quite an experience to commit yourself to the woman of your dreams ... and her two young children. Aside from the huge learning curve involved in going from being single to a being a husband, I was simultaneously learning how to be a father to someone else’s children. It has truly been a beautiful experience for me. I got to instantly become the person that I thought I would have to wait years to become.

Wolfe children

Five years in, the learning continues on a minute-by-minute basis. My wife has been incredibly patient with me as she’s watched me settle into being a step-dad. Stepping on Legos in the middle of the night, taking vacations with young children, reading bed time stories, packing school lunches … I struggle at times and I simultaneously love every second of it. Once in a while I need a reminder that all parents struggle from time to time. As I continue on this incredible journey, here are a few things I’m working on and a few things that I’m finding nourishing in my life.

I revel in cooking meals with and for my family. I didn’t grow up in a “foodie” household. My parents did the very best they could to feed us. They were hard working people who came from a generation with different ideas about healthy eating. We ate around the TV most nights. I’ve always enjoyed cooking but having a family (specifically this family with a wife who turned our front yard into an edible garden, an 11 year old growing boy who eats twice as much as I do, and an 9 year old girl who loves to bake and cook) has inspired me to truly delve into the art of feeding a family. The great part of cooking for me is the multitasking involved. I find wandering the isles of the market therapeutic.  It’s a great way for me to let go of the day’s work and direct my focus to my family. Our local food co-op is full of delicious food and I have been known to spend hours and way too much money in there! The whole process allows me to fulfill a primitive desire to feed my family, make sure we are eating healthy food with fresh ingredients, and create my perfect cooking atmosphere: jazz music, a cocktail to sip, a house full of appetizing aromas, and a big mess in the kitchen (I’m learning to enjoy cleaning too).

Brian Wolfe

Sports & exercise is another big part of nourishment for me.  I’ve gone through different phases with working out in my life: running, lifting weights, playing sports, not working out at all, focusing more on diet, focusing less on diet, caring how I look, telling myself I don’t care how I look—we’ve all been there.  At the moment, I’m trying to focus on the fact that working out doesn’t have to be work. As a Waldorf Games/PE teacher, I want my students to enjoy moving and to crave a healthy, active lifestyle. I think too many of the adults I know (including myself) had the stereotypical “old school” PE teacher growing up who tortured them with calisthenics and running. My goal as a teacher and a parent is to help children learn how fun it is to move and not to see fitness as a punishment or a chore (even though I resist getting on that treadmill at the gym, I know how good I’ll feel when I’m done). The other day I had to write a tricky work related email. I was riding an exercise bike at the gym and thinking about this email. I decided to write it then and there. I’m not suggesting that it’s a good idea to write emails while on exercise equipment but it was amazing how quickly I was able to think and write … and 30 minutes flew by while I typed with my thumbs.  Most of the time, I’m plugged into my music at the gym and taking a break from the stress of the day. I find it incredible how I always feel better leaving the gym than arriving. I can be much more present to my obligations as a father, husband, teacher, etc. 

Possibly the most nourishing part of my life in the past three years has been my attempt to take the things I love the most (art, music, and sports) and try to bring them into my family life in a creative way. I’m grateful to spend my days teaching art, guitar, and coaching Games/PE and basketball. I feel like for all of us, these three things are elements in our lives where, at a certain point, we decide if we are artists, performers, or athletes—or not.  So many of us decide too early that we will only be spectators. That we are only talented enough to be spectators. It usually depends on our upbringing and the teachers we had when we were young. My hope is that the young people I work with will come to see that these things have more to do with passion and willingness to practice than with innate abilities that we are either born with or not.  Robyn and I intentionally created space in the studio for our children. They work in this space in tandem with us. They see us practicing our craft, daily in most cases. They are growing up understanding that the things we love take work. There is a large table for them full of crayons, markers, paint and colored pencils, a chalkboard on the wall, an easel, and musical instruments. This room has become one of the centers of nourishment in our home.

A final source of nourishment for me is music. It gives me something to look forward to. Whether it’s listening to my iPod at the gym, going to band practice, giving a guitar lesson, or performing at a gallery opening, I look forward to all of the different ways that music shows up in my life. I think it’s important to have small and uncomplicated things to look forward to; built-in access to the simple pleasures. My biggest challenge at this point is learning when to plug in and when to unplug. I love listening to music and podcasts and my iPhone makes those two things readily available to me at all times. I find it relaxing to put the headphones on and tune in or tune out, depending on how you look at it. When my wife and children are present, my goal is to be present to them without distractions. I’m still working on being fully present with my loved ones when they are near. It’s important to me though. I chose to spend my life with them and they chose to invite me into theirs. They deserve my full attention.

Brian Wolfe

About Brian

Brian Wolfe has spent his entire adult life playing music, teaching, drawing & coaching Waldorf kids.  So basically, creating a generation of grounded families with beautiful memories. He grew up in a musical-theater family, where he spent his own childhood painting backdrops for plays & musicals, as well as playing guitar in the house-band. Nowadays, when he's not teaching art & coaching his students, Brian loves performing a wide range of musical styles (blues, jazz, rock, pop, etc). He has played in various blues and rock bands over the past 15 years and 8 years ago began performing as a solo, instrumental acoustic act at various events. Brian and his family currently live in Northern California.

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