Eighteen years ago today I witnessed the magic that is being the person responsible for making someone else go through the pain of labor. I still get a bit choked up when I think of it: the swearing, the pain she inflicted upon me, the promises to kill me once the epidural wore off, denouncing my character to any and all nurses who stopped by to help. Sigh. What a great day.
I joke, of course. In truth she handled it pretty well. Especially once that epi kicked in. But there was fear, I remember. The fear was real. Too real. Because I was myself only eighteen.
The first few years of my son’s life were tough on pretty much all of us. My parents. Her parents. Us. Even people relatively far away. She and I ended up splitting up when he was only three. There was, I think, simply too much to handle, too many external forces bringing too much to bear upon us and our situation. Not all of it was negative, but we were never really left to figure out who we wanted to be, what kind of family we wanted us to have.
It was tough. And it didn’t get easier for a long, long time.
For my son, though, life was pretty grand almost all the time. He always went the extra mile to make someone laugh. He tried as hard as he could to make people feel better – even total strangers. The times I remember him being less than happy, he was at least content. He showed more faith in the notion that everything would be okay than anyone I’ve ever known, even in situations in which that should be about the last thing he would think.
In short, my son has always amazed me.
Myself, I haven’t been the father that I’d hoped I’d be. The reasons are complex and long and, to be honest, I don’t think I myself fully understand them. But that neither changes nor excuses the fact that I have simply failed to step up to the plate that my own father stood – and continues to stand – up to.
But I know that part of who I’ve become is due to who my son has become now, here at his first day of real adulthood. In several ways he is more of a man, more of an honest human being, than I have ever been. I am proud of him. Incredibly proud. But not as a father. I do not look at how amazing he is as an extension of myself. He is amazing simply by his own choice and the choices of those who really raised him – his mother, her family, my family. The only traits he and I really share are being large, eating everything in sight, and making people laugh no matter the cost. I have many people to thank for making him the man he is today, but I am not one of them.
My son is amazing. He is kind and he is giving. He is funny and he is gentle. He lives his life unashamed. He cares what others think but is not crippled by it. He loves life and he loves his life. And he loves who is in it. He is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had.
Happy birthday, boyo. You are now where I was when you were born. And you’re already so far ahead of me I can do nothing but feel proud for you.