This weekend was my first Father’s Day as an actual father. I was feeling a bit whimsical, reflecting on how my life has changed in the last year, and decided to externalize my inner struggle of being a father and balancing my life as a professional Magic player with fatherhood.
If you’re anything like me, you love Magic. If you’re anything like me, you have things you love outside of Magic.
For those of you who don’t know, I was blessed with the birth of identical twin daughters at the start of this Pro Tour season. In fact, my daughters were born several weeks before I had to take off for a week to participate in the World Championship. This marked the first real decision I had in my newfound double life, the life of a professional Magic player, the life of a father.
Should I stay home and spend time with my girls? Do I go to the World Championships, something I’ve dreamed about since I first started playing competitive Magic? For me, it was not a choice. My girls would be there in a week, but the World Championships would not. I played to a middling finish with six wins earning me six Pro Points. Nothing to write home about, but it was an experience I wanted to have, just in case it’s the last time I have it.
You see, when the news I was having twins spread, people started to make comments. Obviously I was congratulated, but there were also comments like “There goes your Magic career.” These comments were said in jest, but started to make me wonder. Can I do both? Will I be able to compete at the same level anymore? There I am, newly crowned Player of the Year, doubting my ability to play Magic. I feared losing everything I had worked so hard for.
Playing Magic professionally and being a father isn’t easy. The naysayers were right. I went from playing Magic Online for hours and hours a day to scheduling time with my wife to “work.” This is my job, but it’s hard to call the one non-Human thing I love most “work.” But I would bargain for a few hours a week here and there to play, whether to prepare for an event or just to unwind after spending all day at home with the girls.
At home, I watch my daughters while my wife works. Though I consider myself an attentive father, I am constantly thinking about Magic. While making bottles, I ponder sideboard plans. While the girls watch Sesame Street, I daydream about ways to attack G/W Tokens in Standard. Sometimes I get lucky and the girls nap at the exact same time. Jackpot! Time to sneak in a Magic Online League match or two. A Grand Prix is looming, so I have to make a decision. Do I still need Pro Points? Should I sit this one out and spend time with my family? Okay, I’ll be a good father. I’ll stay home and spend time with the kids.
Okay, I’m home. I spend the weekend watching tournament coverage, wishing I was there, wondering why I stayed home. I think to myself that this is my job. I am supposed to be there. Really, though, I am just itching to compete. I am itching to prove to myself last year was no fluke.
Am I being a good father? I am sitting at home wishing I wasn’t while my kids grab at my legs, looking for me to hold them.
Am I being a devout professional Magic player? I’m sitting at home, watching my friends and colleagues have continued success, envious I’m not there while they rack up accolade after accolade, trophy after trophy.
It could have been me.
Another Grand Prix approaching. Okay, I’m going. I need Pro Points, I explain to my wife. I explain to her in lay terms the importance of my continued ventures across the globe to compete for these seemingly trivial points. Sometimes she understands. Sometimes, she’d rather have me home regardless of the potential costs of me falling short. She always tells me she wants to learn Magic, at least a few times a week. She wants to understand; she wants to bond over Magic. “When we teach the girls,” I tell her. Until I fully involve her, I don’t think she’ll truly understand, but she always supports me.
I wonder to myself if I’m being a bad husband, not teaching her immediately. I’ve never liked teaching people Magic. I feel like I skip over basics because it’s so ingrained in me at this point. Needless to say, I never teach her. There’s no time. I have a tournament to prepare for.
It’s time to go to the Grand Prix. Finally, a chance to compete. I’ve sat out the last two or three events I wanted to play in and now it’s time. My wife drives me to the airport. I give her and the kids countless hugs and kisses. I go through security and wait to board the plane.
Right before I board, I have a routine. I always call or text my wife, tell her I love her, and tell her to give the kids kisses. I have a slight anxiety about flying. I manage it well, but my biggest fear is if something were to happen and I didn’t tell my wife or kids I loved them before it did. I tell my wife to send me a picture of the girls. I want to see them how they are right now, just in case. When I’m on the plane, I usually keep my phone in my hand or readily available. Whenever I feel anxious, I look at the picture of my daughters my wife sent me. It soothes me. I miss them already.
I finally arrive in whatever city I set out for. Time to get in a cab, get to the tournament site, and get to work. I sit down with my friends and colleagues and discuss last-minute changes, write down sideboard plans, and purchase some last-minute cards I’m missing from the dealers. Now it’s time to head to the hotel. I get to the hotel and video chat with my wife so I can see the girls.
“They’ve been screaming Dada since you left,” she says. She will show me the girls and tell them to look at “Flat Daddy,” a name she gave me because they are constantly seeing me through a screen instead of in person. I know she’s joking, but I think to myself maybe she’s right. Why am I a thousand miles from home playing a game when I should be home with my daughters? We end the call. The thought vanishes. I mess around with some last-minute sideboard changes and go to sleep.
I wake up and head to the tournament site. I play Magic until they tell me I have to stop. All the while I check my phone, looking at pictures of my daughters and texting my wife, asking for updates on the girls and giving her seemingly less important updates on the tournament I’m in. In between rounds, a fan comes up to me and asks for my autograph. It starts to make sense then. I start to realize again why I came. I feel blessed. I feel important. I feel loved. I’m where I’m supposed to be.
It’s time to go home. I get home, walk in the door, and see the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen in my entire life. My daughters crawl over to me, reaching up at me to hold them. I feel blessed. I feel important. I feel loved.
I’m where I’m supposed to be.
Now, why am I telling you all of this? If you’re like me, you have trouble balancing your love for the game of Magic and the love of the things outside of Magic.
Whenever I’m home and there is a big tournament happening, I feel like I’m missing out. My subconscious mind tells me that if I keep missing tournaments, I’m going to let the success I had slip away. I’m afraid I’ll get soft. I’m afraid I’ll be forgotten.
Whenever I’m on the road for a tournament, I miss my wife and daughters like you only see in a movie. I daydream about holding one of my daughters on my shoulder, gently caressing her hair while she quietly falls asleep. When I’m not home, I’m afraid I’m missing out on important moments in my daughters’ lives. I’m afraid they will forget me.
This fear is what drives me. I’m afraid to be left behind by both my family and my profession. I fear that if I don’t give Magic everything I have, I won’t be good enough anymore to compete with the best. I fear that if I focus too much on Magic, I will lose sight of what’s really important, my family. Through this fear, I’ve carefully crafted a balance in my life that is necessary to be both a loving father and a competitive Magic player. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
I’ve learned a lot in this last year, both as a professional Magic player and as a father. I’ve learned to set realistic goals for myself. At the start of this year, I told myself I just wanted to hit Platinum again. Worlds is the ultimate goal, but with newborn twins, I figured Platinum was more realistic. I’ve achieved my goal of reaching Platinum and I’m still live for the World Championships. If I get there, I’ll be ecstatic. If not, I’ll enjoy another weekend at home watching coverage and spending time with my family.
I’ve learned to play with a purpose. Before my kids were born, I would play a lot of Magic, but it would be unfocused. I’d be drafting instead of preparing for the Modern Grand Prix. I’d play Cube when I needed to focus on Standard. The birth of my daughters has made me take what I do more seriously. When I’m playing Magic right now, it’s almost always in preparation for my next major event. I don’t only want to succeed for myself anymore; I need to succeed for them.
Most importantly, what I’ve learned is the need for balance. I’ve learned that I have to balance my life to be truly happy. I’ve learned that I can’t always be where I want to be. It’s impossible. As a father and husband, I want to be home with the people I love. As a competitor, I want to be on the road, playing the game I love. I can only be in one place at a time, so I’m carefully trying to find that balance that gives me inner peace.
The last thing I’ve learned is that if you talk to your daughters in video chat every day for two weeks while your wife repetitively says “Look, it’s Dada,” they’ll start calling you and the phone by the same name.
Magic is one of the most important things in my life right now, but it’s not the most important.