I sit in the dark of your room and watch you sleep; it’s late. I settle into the recliner in the far corner of the room. The corner softly illuminated by your nightlight. Like many other items in your room, this is a new addition due to a recent meltdown that no one saw coming. A meltdown that exhausted your mother and me. A meltdown that scared us again, scared us into wondering…always wondering.
I watch the rise and fall of your chest as you slumber; I wonder what you’re dreaming about. Your breathing is rhythmic, slow, steady, but also very similar to the heavy sobs and gasps for breath from earlier…during the meltdown.
I watch you sleep…and I start to cry. I cry because I hate myself for what I’m thinking; what I’ve thought many times since you were born. I hate myself because tonight was the first time I realized you felt my thoughts too. I hate myself because I think, you’re not the child I hoped for…you’re not the child I wanted…
You get what you get, and you don’t complain.
Being new-ish parents still, we had not the slightest clue that there is no fixing a toddler’s attitude; there’s only holding on and hoping for the best. But, being who I am, I dug my feet in and was bound and determined to fix you.
Fix you…as if you are somehow broken. Don’t worry, son. The irony is not lost on me. The very idea of that is absurd. And the fact that I’m the one, of all people, who thought it…well, that’s just downright laughable.
I’m not going to lie to you son, but our relationship is not how I imagined it prior to you being born.
It took me a good while to fully invest in the idea of becoming a father. And once I did, my mind went wild with how fatherhood was going to be. I would wager most soon-to-be-parents do that.
I imagine, much like me, many people envision what their child will look like and act like. They let their minds run rampant with thoughts of how they will do everything differently than how they were raised. They’ll be vastly better at parenting than their parents, the ones they grew up with, because they know what it’s like to have parents who failed them, parents who were just there.
They imagine they’ll bond with their kids from the second they hold them for the first time; they’ll be best pals and share all the same interests.
They will share endless hours of fun together. And, sure, there will be times when they’ll have to “be the parent” and discipline their kids for acting out, but it will be outweighed by the amount of awesome times they share with their kids, and that it won’t be that big of a deal.
They’ll enjoy every second of parenting; they’ll hate going to work because that only means more time away from their awesome kids and amazing spouse. They’ll pine to get home because being with their soulmate and children is the only place they want to be all day long.
And then kids arrive, and nothing feels quite like they imagined. Before they know it, a year has gone by, and they feel so far from their partners that they barely recognize them anymore. Even more, when they look at their babies, they can hardly remember anything good about them or the joy they felt with them over the last year. They fear what it’s going to be like years from now. They begin to realize their children are people they didn’t want. They suffer in silence, never reaching out or confiding in anyone.
Because how do you tell someone you blame your child for ruining your life?
I feel like I have failed you in so many ways. I wonder if it’s too late to get it back, if it’s too late to start over. I fear I have damaged our relationship beyond repair.
Tonight, during your meltdown, you told me today was the best day of your life. Like many things you say, I brushed it off, filing it under, “Things a 5-year-old says, yet has no idea what it means”…until you showed me you did. You followed it up with, “You played with me today and told me you were proud of me. I like that better than when you’re mad at me.”
I felt my heart break as I realized you feel my thoughts…you feel my misplaced regret…and you still love me. I held you so tight after that. I feared I might absorb you. I didn’t want to let you go…and I still don’t.
On the first day of kindergarten, and you could not have been more excited. The entire morning went by without any mention of anything that happened the night before, and a little piece of me wondered (for a second), if it really happened. But finally, during one quick rest between us playing around, you grabbed my hand and told me how much you loved me. I smiled and told you how much I loved you, and you asked, “Daddy, are you still so proud of me? Because I really love that.” Tears started to well up in my eyes as I got my answer; it was real, and you meant what you said last night.
I again scooped you up and hugged you tightly…just not as tight as the night before, I told you I was proud of you EVERY day, and I always would be.
I watched you get on a school bus for the first time in your life. You were so brave, and I was so proud.
Son…I’m sorry it has taken me so long to learn, to be the father you hoped for, but I promise you I will strive to be that person for you every day for the rest of our time together. I had an idea of you, before I knew what I wanted, and then I held on too tight to that idea, instead of seeing you for who you are.
You’re not the child I hoped for, my son…you’re better. You are beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I love you so much…thank you for always loving me, too.