I love my son.
I don’t say that often enough. Truth be told, I rarely say it at all. But it’s true: I love my son.
I can’t honestly say that I really wanted to be a father. (Note that this will not surprise my wife.) Not that I was actively against the idea, mind you; we decided together that we were going to have a child and I participated enthusiastically in the three or four months of trying it took to create him. I wasn’t anti-having-a-baby, I just wasn’t enormously enthused about the idea. The main problem? I have never liked babies very much. I don’t mind kids– I work with them, after all– but I like them more the older they get. I have always had issues with dealing with children who are too young to talk.
“Oh, it’ll be different when it’s yours,” everyone I knew told me.
“It will not,” I would reply, and they would grin at me knowingly.
It was not. It took me months to get used to the idea– and that’s not the months of actual gestation I’m talking about, I mean post-birth— that I was supposed to feel specifically attached to this kid more than any particular other, at least on any genuine level. I will freely admit that there were times where if I thought I could have given him away and gotten away with it I would cheerfully have done so– and my son was an exceptionally easy baby. The light at the end of the tunnel was that he was going to age, and as he grew older and developed a personality of his own and– vastly importantly– the ability to talk and express himself, I always knew that I was going to like him more.
And he has. And I have. A year ago, on my first Father’s Day, if I’d started a blog post with the sentence “I love my son,” part of me would be wondering if I was telling the truth. I don’t know if I’m revealing myself as some sort of monster by saying that. I hope not. I’ve been told by men who I know beyond a shadow of a doubt to be wonderful parents that it would take six months at the very least to get used to the idea that the child was actually mine and real and something that I was expected to love and care for. Of course, I’ve also heard countless “gazed into the eyes of my child and was instantly in love” stories, mostly from men talking about their daughters. I made myself a boy.
I don’t get along with men very well. I wasn’t keen on the idea of kids. I was terrified of having a son. I don’t relate to men well. One of my greatest fears with my son is that I will be inadequate at teaching him the very basics of manhood, because much of what is considered masculine in today’s society repels and disgusts me.
But that is a worry for later.
I do not want another child. I don’t think I can go through another two years with a baby in the house, especially with the addition of a toddler. This is in addition to the very real question of whether it is remotely possible for my wife and I to afford another child; we cannot. Period, point-blank, end of conversation. Daycare is ruinously expensive as it is. He will not have a brother or sister, unless (and this is not unimaginable) we choose, four or five years down the road, to adopt a toddler. Perhaps we will. But that, again, is a worry for later.
I find myself frequently wrapping a shell around myself when I talk about him. His name is Kenny; I call him “the boy” ninety percent of the time when referring to him to other people. It will be interesting to see how long that lasts. I know it annoys people; part of me still clings to it precisely because it annoys people. My wife calls him “the kid” more often than not, which may or may not be more depersonalizing, I’m not sure. I affect, as much as possible, an atmosphere of complete detachment when talking about him to other people. Granted, to some extent it fits with my personality anyway, but I have no trouble at all talking to people about my love for my wife. When I try and talk about my son, even now, it catches in my throat and I push it away and retreat into distance and apathy. It probably ought to stop. (It probably will, soon enough.)
This post, being written late at night as both my wife and my child sleep in other rooms (but not the cats, who are racing back and forth to check on the two adults in the house,) is likely the most honest I’ve ever been about being a parent. So, hey: here you go, Internet. I’m telling the truth for once.
And as I write that, as if on cue, he begins to scream in his bedroom. It is 12:30 at night and my son has awakened in the darkness and is frightened. I give him a couple of minutes; his mother knows I’m awake, so it’s on me to calm him down and get him back to sleep (and I am a poor father indeed if I ignore my son’s screams so that I can write about him.)
I go to his room. I sit in a chair next to him and I rub his back in his crib and he settles down. I hear his breath hitching every few seconds; he’s not asleep, but he’s stopped crying. I pull my arm out of the crib. He pushes himself up, looks at me.
Daddy’s here, I think. You’re okay. Go back to sleep.
Ssshh, I whisper.
He quiets. A few minutes later I stand up and he starts to scream again and the cycle starts over. I sit in the dark, my arm draped– rather painfully, I admit– over the wall of my son’s crib to rub his back.
He’s gotta be asleep by now. I’ve got stuff to do.
Your son needs you. You’ll stay until he’s definitely asleep.
Rub some dirt on it, I think ridiculously. How long does it take a baby to fall asleep? He was fine ten minutes ago.
You will do what you know you have to do. When, after ten minutes of crying, you leave the room and he starts screaming again at the precise instant the door shuts, you will go back in and start over and this time you will wait longer. When you leave the second time and he starts crying again you will open the door and stand there, where he can see you, until you are certain he is asleep beyond a shadow of a doubt.
One day, my son will awaken alone and in the darkness. And I will not be there for him on that night and he will have to fend for himself. I must teach him to be a man; I must prepare him for that day. It is literally and truly my most important responsibility. But not tonight. Tonight Daddy is right here and you’re going to be fine. Daddy will watch you while you sleep. All night if he has to.
That was maudlin. I apologize.
As much as I kvetch about my relationship with him, his relationship to me probably causes more angst. I frequently feel that he does not like me very much. I frequently think that he believes “Bye, Daddy” might actually be my name. I don’t see him often enough and I don’t spend enough time with him. I work nights a lot; the next two weeks (and this during summer vacation!) I will not see him from Sunday night when he goes to bed until he gets home from day care on Tuesday, and again from bedtime Thursday night until he gets up Saturday morning.
I don’t like this. I hate it, in fact. But I have to keep my eyes on the prize; some sacrifices now will let me spend more time with him later, right? How do the lyrics to Cat’s in the Cradle go? But it hurts. It hurts when I’m home for fifteen minutes in between jobs or when I have to leave to go to work and I can’t get my son to put down his toys and give me a hug, or when I pick him up to put him on my lap and he immediately screams and fights and cries. (And this happens daily.) It hurts when I watch him spend fifteen minutes alternately hugging and kissing my wife and the goddamned cat and when I try to get him to just say goodbye to me before I leave for work he refuses to even acknowledge that I’m in the room. And that happened today. It hurts more than I’m willing to describe; more than I would believe myself if I tried to describe it.
“He doesn’t hate you,” Becky says. “He just prefers me.” And she’s right, of course, and it’s perfectly natural for a toddler his age to prefer his mother. I should probably be mature enough to not take the way a child treats me personally, especially when that child is not yet two. Sadly, I am not. Most of the time it’s upsetting. Sometimes it makes me angry, and then frightened. Frightened at myself for what I know is the wrong way to react, frightened because the single most terrifying thing in the universe, something that has literally woken me up at night more than once in the past twenty-two months, is the thought of somehow losing my wife and then being the only thing in the world that he has to count on.
I have said with a straight face that there was nothing in particular that I was scared of. That isn’t true now that I’m a father. The thought of being alone in the world with my son, of him having only me to rely on, is terrifying beyond my ability to discuss it.
He’s perfectly fine when we’re alone, by the way. It’s only when anyone else– any other relative, at least– is around that he rejects me. Will it stop as he gets older? Yes; I’m sure it will. But it hurts.
One last thing, and then I’ll bring this to a close; it’s far too long as it is, and it’s very late.
The very first picture on this post is a toy that either my parents or my brother got for Kenny last Christmas– I honestly don’t remember who it was, and I was sick as a dog on Christmas morning, so I didn’t actually see my son open his presents. (I was sick on his first birthday, too; read what you will into that.) It’s been in the basement since then since he wasn’t quite old enough for it when they got it for him. When Becky brought Kenny home from day care on Thursday, she commented that he had, for the first time, cried when she picked him up because he wanted to keep playing with his cars. I hadn’t previously been aware that my son enjoyed playing with toy cars; we didn’t have any in the house. I resolved immediately to make sure we bought him some, and we had to go to Target that evening anyway, so we bought him a couple of toy cars while we were out. I let him pick out which ones he wanted; one of them, to my great delight, was Batman driving the Batmobile. The other was a dog driving a red car. He didn’t want to give them up so that we could pay for them, and didn’t want to go to bed at the end of the night, either; he was too happy playing with his cars.
I got him up Friday morning (read yesterday’s post to find out how the rest of my day went) and the first word he said to me when I woke him up was “Cars?”
After we put him to bed, Bek remembered the playset in the basement, and I went and got it and brought it upstairs to put it together. It was the first time I had had to put together a toy for my son, or at least to put together something that involved. It was a surprisingly moving experience; I posted a picture of it on Facebook and Instagram calling it “my Father’s Day present.” For the first time, I felt some real kinship with my own father, who has endless stories about having to put together some complicated piece of crap for my brother and I, usually late at night the night before Christmas or a birthday. This was neither, obviously, but it was as if something had finally clicked in my head: Yep. You’re Daddy now. Get used to it. Such a silly, simple thing to provoke such a reaction, but I was fighting off tears (Becky, thankfully, was in the other room cleaning up the kitchen) while I was building it. I wanted to call my Dad and tell him about it, but it was late. I’ll tell him tomorrow, I think.
I recorded him when he found it in the morning, and playing with it with him may be one of my favorite memories with him so far. I’d made my son happy. Unambiguously and completely happy. And it was wonderful.
I love you, boy.
2 thoughts on “On fathering”
This is really lovely. My son’s almost 14 and I still call him The Boy. And you’ll probably bond with your son over SF like I did…
[…] Now that I’ve said that? I’m putting “On fathering” (June 16) on here. Call it honorable mention; the site wasn’t very old when I wrote […]
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