A dozen years passed between the first time I witnessed the birth of one of my children and the last time I cut an umbilical cord. I was a mere 19 years old the first time, blissfully ignorant, arrogant, and ready to take on the world, while at 31, for my last child’s birth, I had grown, changed, and matured considerably. In fact, I was barely the same person.
This Father’s Day marks the 23rd time I’ve claimed my right to the holiday, and although my entire world changed between the first and last birth, even more has changed from the last birth until today (almost exactly a decade).
For my two oldest children, I have been promoted from parent to partner, and someday, I may even graduate to grandparent, though I still like to delude myself that I’m too young for that. For the younger pair of kids, I’m still “Daddy” though a stubbornly reluctant part of my inner self resists facing the fact that I may lose that at some point to just “Dad” (most likely uttered with a teenage sneer).
Over the last 23 years as a father, I’ve suffered more than my fair share of heartache and loss, but I’ve also savored more love and adoration than one man probably deserves. Someday, when I reach the ultimate end, and I’m mentally tallying my scorecard while reckoning the value of my existence in those last few seconds alive, I have no doubt that every last one of the bitterly painful woes that came packaged with the identity of “parent” will have been paid in full and then some by experiences ripe with the rapture of the moment.
So, when I was posed the question of why I’m thankful for my children, the answer seemed effortless.
From the moment of my eldest son’s birth, my children have defined the primary source of my personal identity, that of being a father. Their very presence bestowed upon me the right to be called “Daddy,” while 23 years of pursuing relationship with them has enriched my existence to the point of feeling worthy of being one.
Amid these relationships with my children and through traversing both the wins and the losses, they have taught me the following qualities:
- Patience, such as when getting up for the fifth time after putting my son to bed to get him another drink of water;
- Humility, such as when my daughter blurts out in public the “real” reason why I can’t afford to buy her that expensive toy at Target;
- Empathy, as in moments where I see heartbreak on my son’s face over something so seemingly insignificant to me, and yet, utterly devastating to him;
- Initiative, as I recognize that children are always watching and learning from my example, reminding me of how critically important it is for me to model the way;
- Mindful presence, for if I’m constantly distracted by thinking about the past, the future, or some other thing or device, then I’ll miss out on what happens right in front of me;
- Reckless abandon, such as when we skip down the aisles of the grocery store in our pajamas, singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” while laughing hysterically; and,
- Surrender, for when I finally began to recognize that it’s perfectly okay for me to set aside my priorities for later whenever one of my children needs my attention, because in doing so, I show them they matter more to me than anything else.
So, this Father’s Day, here’s to the children.
Here’s to their annoying whining, their incessant begging, their nonstop questions, and to all the times they changed their mind about what they wanted for a summertime snack. Here’s to every snotty “whatever,” every eye roll, every ignored demand to clean their room, and every last bloody time I’ve had to remind them to: put on deodorant, do their chores, brush their teeth, do their laundry, and put the seat down.
But also, here’s to all their rib-crushing hugs, their slobbery kisses, their gentle “I love yous” just before bed, and all the moments where we, as parents, see some of our best qualities emerge from our kids at some of the most unexpected moments. Here’s to seeing all of the heartache and frustration blossom into a young adult who fills our hearts and makes us overflow with pride.
#ThanksBaby – for all of it.
I wouldn’t be who I am today without the experiences – ALL of them.