[This was written about a year ago about my then 1 year old son]
He’s looking up at me… Holy shit, man. Here’s this little boy, this son of mine, pulling himself up on a pile of dishes in the kitchen to show me how he can stand. And it really seems like he’s looking up at me with a “hey dad, are you looking at this” kind of look.
Naw, he can’t be thinking that. He’s only 8 months old. I’m sure I still look like some blurry tree to his developing eyes. Emotional father-son connections haven’t formed yet. His lizard brain is the only thing that’s really functioning; the one that says, “eat eat. Mouth mouth. Me me. I’m going to stay awake forever!”
But, shit, man! He’s really looking up at me with that look… On this loosely stacked column of dining plates (my, that’s looking awfully unsafe), my son has pulled himself up to create a leaning tower of chubbiness; a sort of meat turret topped off with this fcking charming grin, eyebrows pulled up, head cocked a little to the left and backwards to face me, little chubby nubbins’ of toes fatly fixed on the slate floor.
Is he really looking at me to make sure I’m noticing him? Have we started that already?
That happened a few days ago, and it has changed the way I pay attention to my child. The whole scenario took place in a couple of seconds, but it flicked something on in my brain that I hope will stay on for the rest of my life.
There Are Consequences
What it flicked on was the idea that there are consequences; from this point on how I am with my son has consequences. My inattention and attention will color his world differently.
This is kind of where the rubber meets the road for me. I’ve learned a lot about what I call “Father Wounds” over the past 10 years as I’ve dug into my own character, history, and story. To put it simply, father wounds are the scars on who you are which are directly related to who your dad was. I have these father wounds, just like you do. And I think everyone has father wounds, no matter how awesome/horrible your dad is/was. It’s a part of being alive, conscious, in relationships, as a human.
My father wounds have colored me one way. Some good, some bad. We’re dealing with it. And I’ve spent a lot of energy and attention over the years discovering and dealing with these wounds. The truth is: I don’t want Aiden to have to wait till he’s 28 to start understanding me, feeling valued by me, feeling that I’m interested in what makes him tick.
So, suffice it to say: Aiden looking up at me that way from his little, leaning meat turret was startling because it signified to me this “what does dad care” wheel is beginning to turn in him.
Before, There Were No Consequences
If I’m honest with myself, this moment was startling because I have sort of been on auto-pilot up till now with Aiden. I’ve loved him deeply, but I also always looked for a way to hand him off to mom, or distract him with something that would keep him on his own for a few, short-lived, oh so short and not-nearly-long-enough minutes so I could finish fixing something, designing something, coding something, writing something, etc.
Mr. “pre-leaning-meat-tower-giggle-grin-incident” dad had it pretty easy: not much guilt, and when there was guilt it would be coming from mom, not self-assigned guilt (you know, that kind of guild where you’re, like, ‘Oh man, i fk’ed it up again’)… Which is the worst!
The post-meat-grin dad now has an internal engine forcing him to engage, pay attention, get involved, be there, be there, be around, be there, be looking, be on the ground, be on the ground there, be covered in drool, play, be covered in what I can only hope is mashed avocado, be… You get the gist.
So, What Are These Consequences?
#1 Aiden’s character
A serious consequence of my inattention to Aiden now could be Aiden becoming someone he’s not proud of or happy to be. The spectrum of possibilities here is pretty wide, so I’ll just leave it at that.
#2 The kind of relationship Aiden & I have
I don’t want something standoffish with my son. I want a healthy, “Hey dad, what do you think of this” kind of relationship (i.e., he asks me shit, and cares about my answers because I’m not an idiot, and I have a history of listening well to him).
#3 Being old and regretful
There’s a short passage in Steve Martin’s autobiography about one of his last conversations with his dad. Steve Martin, sitting on his dad’s hospital bed, hears his dad say through tears (the first tears he can remember seeing) that he was regretful for “all the love I received and couldn’t return.”
I don’t want to be that dad. And I don’t want Aiden to be Steve Martin. I do want Aiden to accomplish amazing things, but I don’t want him to do them all just to with the affection, appreciation, and attention of a dad who wasn’t looking at a leaning, meat-flesh, chubby tower.
(Steve Martin’s autobiography is amazing, btw. Get it! )
The Consequence of Every Decisions
Ultimately, I don’t want to be a dad who wasn’t “all there.” None of us dads want to be that, of course. But it happens. It probably happens more often than not, and it certainly happens more often than any of us would like.
I don’t have a real easy tip for you on this one. Truth is, I’m a total n3w8cak3s when it comes to dadding… But I do have one secret burning in my mind about this whole dilemma… it’s this:
The decisions I make all day long effect how I am for those 1-3 hours I get to spend with my child after work.
Your whole day, your whole way of being, what you wear, what you eat, what you say, all the way down to your breath… all of that contributes to who you are to your kid. Gosh, that doesn’t even feel like it solves anything. Maybe there isn’t a solution… just a question and a posture we can take in response.
But then again, maybe he wasn’t looking to see if I was noticing him. Maybe i’m reading too much of my own fears and hopes into the situation. Maybe he just wanted to see what a blurry tree looked like while leaning against a stack of very unsteady, very breakable not-eatables.
Have you had to navigate this sort of thing before? What can you tell me!?