Four months ago, I was blessed with my first child. Cash Erickson Meachem came into our lives May 30th and our world was forever changed.
Like any first-time parent, I had no clue what I was getting into. Many of my parent friends warned me about the magnitude of commitment—not to mention the sleep deprivation—it takes in order to raise a child, but now that I’m in the thick of it, I finally understand.
Parenting is something that you don’t know what it’s like until you do it and you can be forewarned but nothing compares with actually experiencing it. You learn as you go, you make mistakes along the way, and it’s an adjustment for everyone—especially for baby who is taking on a whole new huge task of being a human!
As an opera singer, parenting presents a unique set of challenges. I’d like to say we’re a special breed of parent because we use our sleep-deprived bodies—much like an athlete—to do our very physically demanding jobs. Throw in the constant traveling lifestyle and opera parenting is a world of its own.
Rainbow of Emotions
What I wasn’t prepared for (and what I was dutifully warned about by parents beforehand) was the spectrum of emotions I would begin to feel as a father and how it greatly widens. The happiness I get from seeing my son’s smile or gratitude for his health is incomparable to anything in my life.
Hearing my son’s laugh has touched me more than anything in my previous life could ever have. No music has ever sounded so sweet.
I’ve become much more empathetic towards strangers, especially other parents because I now understand the amount of work it takes. Even towards non-parents, I think about the fact that they’re someone’s child and I’ve started treating them that way. For instance, when I drive and someone cuts me off, instead of my usual quick-tempered reaction (no flipped-birds!), I think, “maybe their child kept them up all night and they’re too sleep-deprived to make a smart decision.”
I smile at other parents, too. It’s a feeling of solidarity, of togetherness. We obviously want what’s best for our children and we want them to live in a compassionate world.
On the other end of the emotion spectrum is my new anxiety and worries. Growing concern with providing for my family is something I live with everyday now. Every penny I earn goes towards my son’s future. It’s an immense sense of responsibility on my shoulders, one that every parent feels.
Once in a while it dawns on me that my family depends on me and my artistic endeavors. That’s daunting because it sometimes feels like my career is balancing on the head of a pin, no matter what level. It could fall off at any time. If something goes wrong in my life, for instance losing my voice or having an injury, my livelihood would be affected.
I had this sense of worry before my son was born, but nothing like this.
Yet along with the joy and anxiety, there’s a deep calmness that has come over me. I had always wanted to be a father so now that it’s finally happened, it’s like seeing a dream come true. I’ve been very patient over the years to start a family and extra mindful of my timing. My career has demanded so much of me, I had to wait many years for all the pieces to come together and it’s finally here.
O Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?
As an opera singer, parenting has changed my entire artistic process. It’s made me much more conscious of what I physically need for a performance. My body requires a lot for a night of singing, for instance the right amount of hydration, sleep, physical energy, etc.
My body works as a singer’s body, so when my external factors change, like waking up in the middle of the night or forgetting to simply eat or drink water because I’m so focused on my baby, it’s a big change.
The lack of attention to my physical state has absolutely been comprised—and I say that without complaining, just stating the fact.
There’s this “orb of love” for my child that I carry with me and it’s what gets me up to my feet in the middle of the night when I can’t even think straight. It’s because of that orb that—if I sensed his safety was at risk—I could ward off an army and be there for him no matter the cost. That orb, though, doesn’t really work when I’m performing because he’s not there and I feel the aftermath of all that energy that was sucked out of me.
That energy I muster at 3am is not the same energy I can use during a performance. So what happens is, I’m flat-out tired!!
To counter this, I try to warm up my voice through the day by marking. The times when that doesn’t work, the physical awareness I’ve built up over the years tell me to change my plan of action.
The biggest help to overcoming tiredness before a performance is turning off my dad-brain (if possible!) the night before in order to get a good night’s rest. I do this only through the help of my amazing wife.
Normally, she and I have shifts at night if Cash wakes up (me before 4am, Irina 4am-7am and she feeds him at 7). Irina gives me a “shift pass” the night before a performance and I sleep all night and as much as I can the next morning. When I wake up, I’m back to full-on dad mode! That sleep that I and my wife (…LOVE YOU!) allow myself to get is the only thing that will get me through my day and a full night of singing.
Luckily, Cash now sleeps through the night (knock on wood) and it’s been much easier on all of us.
Shell of My Former Self
Another big change is what I do after a show.
Before being a dad, I would eat my dinner and drink a glass of wine after a show with my friends, family, or castmates. Now, I eat my dinner during the show in my dressing room (nothing too spicy) and afterwards I go straight home in order to go to bed and wake up the next day for my family.
Sometimes I even wake up early because I miss him! Yet before performances, I have to responsibly sleep to make sure I perform my best.
The Best Role Ever
Having a baby is unlike any human experience and no two experiences are the same. Every parent, every child, every situation is different.
The biggest change I’ve experienced is this:
It’s not just about me anymore. I’ve always wanted to be a great baritone but it’s so much more than that now. Every success that happens to me from this point on is an example to my son for what’s possible.
I can’t wait to show him what’s next.
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