Growing up in Northern California, in the Santa Cruz mountains, Chris Merz felt like an only child. He had a seven-year older half-brother, but was effectively home alone much of the time while growing up.
“It was a good childhood. I hiked in the redwoods, painted models, had a lot of time to myself. I was independent, and played in my own world, often in my dad’s woodshop.”
As a teen he bought a car and fixed it up, ready to hit the road when he was 16. By this time he had taught himself to play the bass guitar and was passionate about all genre’s of music.
Although he didn’t spend much time with his dad during his early childhood, he now realizes that much of who he is he learned from his father. His dad was a corporate executive in the computer industry, “I have his work ethic. He dedicated himself to his profession and I grew up with computers in the house and office. I have been in the IT industry for almost 20 years.”
But Chris’s most important life lesson came when he was 10 years old and his dad had a heart attack. Up until then, he didn’t see his father often. His dad worked with the NSA and would often go overseas. He couldn’t talk about what he did and became one of the silent warriors who were never recognized for the work they did.
“After his heart attack, he stopped smoking and everyday he asked me if he had told me he loved me that day. That’s when he taught me that a person could change. In 1996, he admitted that he had a drinking problem and then he got sober, spending the next 20 years in AA. He became the most incredible person. He became the father I always wanted, a man with compassion, forgiveness, humility and the wisdom to right wrongs. He taught me that love comes first, ego comes second.”
Chris’s dad died in 2016 and now, more than ever, Chris finds himself focusing on what matters the most, his own family. Everything that his dad learned after suffering his heart attack, Chris is now applying to his life, times eight.
He and his fiancé Natosha have combined their lives and their children and with the birth of six-week old Brielle, are the parents of eight children. Every now and then he asks, “Really, God?” But mostly he says, “The good Lord chose to put a miracle in our lives.”
Chris had four children his previous marriage: Kevin, 17, Lauren, 14, AJ, 11 years and Jason, 8 years. He became a single parent, with all of his children going to Nederland schools. Lauren became best friends with 15 year old Hannah whose mom, Natosha, was also a single parent (also mother of Landon 11 and Caleb 18) and it was inevitable that the two would see each other at school functions,.
Two and a half years ago, they ran into each other on a night out at the Pioneer Inn and ended up talking and dancing. The next morning Chris called her up and asked her out and they have been together ever since.
Two years ago, the families moved in together into Chris’s house in Gilpin County.
“We were pretty much on the same page then. We were single parents; we said we would never marry again and would never have any more children. They say ‘if you want to hear God laugh… make plans.’ “
On March 19, their one year anniversary, they became engaged to be married; and on April 20, Brielle was born.
In the past two years, the kids have bonded like siblings; they have normal disagreements, but they love each other the way siblings do.
“With the birth of Brielle, everyone is now related by blood,” says Chris. Even the oldest boys have jumped into learning the art of baby holding, even changing diapers. Brielle seldom gets put down, there is a lineup of seven pairs arms waiting to hold her; and that’s not counting her parents.
Of the eight children, Caleb graduated from Chinook West and Kevin graduated this spring from Nederland High School after starring the spring musical, the Addams Family, and teaching himself how to sing and play the piano in his senior year.
Natosha gave birth to Brielle the opening night of Kevin’s performance and was on hand for his graduation speech.
“Being raised as an only child much of the time, I don’t really know what I’m doing,” says Chris.
“But my dad showed me by his examples. Early in my life, he showed me how to be dedicated to your career so that you can take care of your family. Later, he taught me that Family comes first, and that balance is the true challenge. The head is the tool and the heart is home. I am determined to be there for my kids. I took the short cut to get there. The head is the tool and the heart is home. I am determined to be there for my kids.”
Each child brings their unique talents to the family. Caleb, 18, is the DJ who brings his love of electronic music to the mix; Kevin, 17, is the writer who can learn anything about music given the opportunity; Hannah is strong, possessed with a profound faith; Lauren is creative, always finds a way to fix something, always see a solution to a problem; AJ is the engineer with a keen intellect and has a thirst for knowledge; Landon has the purest heart, is kind and can’t stand to see anyone in pain. He is interested in science and nature; Jason has the imagination, gets along with everybody and is always exuberant; Brielle has the amazing ability to capture everyone’s heart and get them to do her bidding.
No dad is sure that they are doing things perfectly; being a good dad isn’t easy, but when Chris saw Kevin take the stage at graduation to give a speech, he realized he might have done something right. He also knows that he and Natosha have to make time for themselves, have to care for and feed their relationship. It is a balancing act.
Chris takes a moment to make funny faces at Brielle and she rewards him with a smile and a few gurgles that sound like she is trying to say something. One thing she can count on for sure: she will never feel like an only child.
On Father’s Day, Chris plans to sleep in and hang out with his family.
(Originally published in the print version of The Mountain-Ear on Thursday, June 15, 2017)