For my Christmas/Birthday gift this year, Wifey gave me something that can I can never lose or return: a tattoo (plus a legitimate excuse to never, ever have to give blood…”home tattoo” is way more manly than “cries at the thought of needles”). I’ve wanted to get one for a long time but hadn’t been able to come up with a design that I would want to carry on my body from now until the day I die. I was also held up by the fact that I really wanted to tattoo my forearm, a very visible location.
I had this idea that I would never be taken seriously as a professional and as a father if I had large, visible ink, an idea that was only reinforced by the frequent responses of “really?” when I would tell coworkers and other acquaintances about my intentions. Nobody ever said to me “you’ll never be taken seriously as a professional and as a father if you have large, visible ink,” but their inflection and sideways glances coupled with my own paranoia sure made it seem like that is exactly what they were saying. As a compromise of sorts, I had decided to get a simple, fairly small cross in the crook of my arm…something that would be acceptable due to its religious nature and small enough to cover for work without having to wear full long-sleeved shirts all the time (my district has a “strict” no-visible-tattoos policy…unless you are female and have one on your calf or ankle, apparently…but that’s a topic for another time). I’d decided on the artist I wanted to do it (Jeremy Shawn…he’s amazing) and was just waiting to have a little bit of extra cash to get the job done.
The time had come. Wifey was going to use my Christmas gift as the opportunity to get me to finally do it. And as the day approached, I was feeling unsure about my cross. Was it really what I wanted? I mean REALLY? Forever? And the answer was “no.” So Wifey suggested to me that I get…what I got. And I listened because she is wise.
By this point I had already come my personal epiphany about being who I wanted to be without concern for the opinions of people I don’t really care about, but I hadn’t connected this epiphany to my tattoo dreams. So when I made the final decision to go with a giant elm on my left forearm, I did so without fear or doubt. It’s what I wanted, so I got it.
I tell this story to illustrate my decision to change my life. I have one life to live. It can be guided by the opinions of a panel of outside observers who ultimately don’t care about what happens to me one way or another, or it can be guided by me in the way that I want it to go. Will some people doubt my professional abilities if they happen to catch a peek of my tat under my shirt cuff? Maybe. Will some people automatically assume that I am an amoral father because I am carrying my baby in an arm forever decorated in ink? Could be. Are their assumptions correct? Absolutely not. In fact, I would argue that I am actually a better father and teacher BECAUSE I have a tattoo, because I feel more empowered and in control of my life. For too long I’ve allowed myself to make decisions based on the perceptions of others. And what has it gotten me? A significant case of depression and self-doubt. And those things suck.