It’s birthday season in our family. (We’re all clustered at the end and beginning of the year.) And, as someone who grew up thinking he’d never be a parent, I get a little reflective when one of the kids’ birthdays rolls around. Today, Parker is seven years old.
I don’t write as much about my kids and about being a parent as I did when I first started this blog, but part of the reason is that I’d just end up repeating myself. Well, perhaps the specifics change, but the reasons stay the same. I was proud this week when the parent-teacher conference revealed that Parker was doing very well and even exceeding requirements for his grade level in reading and math. And was even reported to be an excellent listener.(!) We do have to work on his handwriting, but I’m sure he’ll get better in that area.
But it’s just the specifics that change. I’m proud of my son because I see the kind of person he has the potential to become, and how he keeps trying, with our help. I see him working to conquer his own fears and keep trying until he “gets it.”
For all my talking encouraging Parker to face his challenges and not to be afraid to try things that are hard for him, nothing would make it clearer to him than seeing me face my own.
Now, my class ends just before Parker’s begins. So he sees me in the pool, practicing kicking, breathing, etc. Then, I watch the beginning of his class, shower, change, and come back to watch the rest of of it.
That’s even more true because my challenge is similar to his own in this regard. Swimming lessons revealed how different Parker’s and Dylan’s personalities are. Dylan loves the water. He doesn’t have any fear of getting his face wet or going under the water. After swimming, he enjoys the shower so much he doesn’t want to get out. With Parker, it’s always been different. From infancy, he enjoyed the water, but was nervous and even fearful about putting his face in the water, let alone getting his head under water. Even getting him under the shower took patience and coaxing. My boy is a lot like me, in that.
But he’s made great progress. He’ll put his face in the water, and his whole head under water. Now he’s moved on to the next level of class, where it gets harder because all the things he’s learned in isolated lessons in previous classes — breathing, kicking, arms, floating, etc. — finally begin to come together into actual swimming.
This weekend was one of those times when it wall started coming together, and I was immensely proud of my son. I knew from the start of class that he was nervous. The teacher was slowly getting them used to being in deeper water. It was as hard for my son as I knew it would be for me. So, I watched him keep trying, and gave him a thumbs up when he finished his turns with the teacher, because I wanted him to know that I was proud of him for doing something that was hard for him.
Towards the end of the class, the teacher took the students all the way to the deep end of the pool, had them jump in, and then swam with them to the other end of the pool. As Parker’s turn approached, I knew he was nervous, because of the way he fidgeted with his goggles. Then I saw his face change, and begin to tear up. He was afraid. I got up, and went to him, with the apparent purpose of helping him with his goggles, but I took a moment to whisper some encouragement to him, and even give him a kiss for courage. My six-year-old who doesn’t want a kiss from his Dad in public anymore, didn’t care right about then. Neither did I.
He jumped in.
I was instantly proud of him, just for that. Even if he’d swam to the side and just hopped out, I’d have told him so — because he did something that was hard for him, even though he was afraid.
But he didn’t stop. With the teacher alongside him, Parker kept going. As I silently followed him the length of the pool, I could see he wasn’t a whole lot less afraid than he’d been before he jumped in. But he kept going.
Dad teared up a little. My son wasn’t swimming perfectly, but he was doing it. He wasn’t letting his fear stop him. He wasn’t letting the difficulty stop him. He was doing it.
…But when he made it to the end of the pool, and climbed out having made it to the other side, I felt sure he “got it.”. Even if he was still a little scared, he sat there looking back at the opposite end of the pool, with what appeared to be a vague sense of amazement that he did it.
I probably could have taken the time to tell him that if he did it this time he could do it again, and that it might even be easier because he’ll be a little less afraid. But fatherly speeches melted away in that moment.
As the class ended, Parker got out of the pool and walked over to me, shivering. I wrapped him in his towel, hugged him and told him how proud I was of him. And I was, because he did something that was hard, and even scary for him, but didn’t let either one stop him. I was happy, too — joyful, even — because I saw something in my son that I hope will serve him well when he’s older, and tried to nurture and strengthen it in hopes that it will help him in the future, when I’m not there beside him, and even when I’m gone from this world.
But that’s the future, and I plan to be beside him for a long time.
As we walked out to the car, and I told the hubby how well our son did how proud I was of him, Parker grabbed my hand and gave it a little squeeze. When I looked back at him, he smiled.
Oh, and we’re all signed up for the next session of swimming classes.
What I wrote about Parker last year still holds true, as well, — except now the kid whose first steps I witnessed is taking Tae Kwon Do, along with swimming, etc.
The kid that I could almost hold in one hand as a newborn now comes past my waist when we stand together.
The kid who’s first words were toddler-speak for “thank you,” which came out as “dee doo,” is now a regular chatter box and is taking Spanish.
The kid I once recorded singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” now requests two songs per night from me when it’s my turn to put him to bed. (And makes up some rather interesting songs of his own.)
The kid whose first steps I witnessed how plays soccer and takes swimming lessons.
The kid whose boo-boos I kissed now comforts his little brother when he falls down, or catches him before he falls. The same kid felt bad when a friend of his was sick and couldn’t come to his birthday party, and wanted to send him a card or a present to make him feel better.
I could go on, but suffice it to say that as a parent and a human being, I feel indescribably lucky and blessed to have Parker as my son and to be his dad. In fact, every so often I think to myself “I’m someone’s dad,” and it blows my mind a little.
Every day I am more proud of his spirit, his compassion, his confidence, his intelligence, and so many other things that on a daily basis cause me to smile or shake my head with wonder.
Every night that I put Parker to bed, before I close his door I say to him “Daddy and Papa love you.” Because I want that to be the last thing he hears at night, but also because we do.
The greatest gift of parenthood, for me, has been the discovery of a capacity to love I didn’t know I had, and the depth of which I never imagined.
When Parker was a toddler, I got down on the floor and looked at him and asked, “Do you know how much Daddy loves you?” And he’s open his arms and I’d say “more than that,” and he’d open them wider and wider until he started laughing, and I’d say “you can’t open your arms wide enough to show how much I love you. I can’t either.
My hope as a parent, is that I my children grow up never doubting that they have my acceptance, support, and love, and I draw on that capacity every day, to give as much of that to them as I can.
So, thank you, Parker. For being. And happy birthday. Daddy loves you. Always will.
It’s my turn with Parker at bedtime tonight — a little later than before, because he finally got that slightly later bedtime he’d been lobbying for — and that means I’ll sing him a couple of songs, from the ever-growing set list I’ve built up over many bedtimes with him and Dylan.
Usually I’ll pick them, just to keep from singing the same songs every night. (Dylan doesn’t care what the song is. He either goes to sleep or tries to sing along.) But tonight I’ll let Parker pick the songs. After all, it his birthday.