Today, I got hit with a truth bomb. I officially have a preteen on my hands.
And he looks, sounds and…well, you get the point. It feels like just yesterday I was changing diapers and calling him “Chumbawumba.” Now, I’ve got to regulate his screen time and make sure Fortnite doesn’t get him too aggro. Before, the biggest problem would be something like “I want a toy, but I can’t have it.” At nine, my oldest son is getting to that age where he’ll start asking (more) about romance, figure out more about himself, and begin to become the person he’ll be for the rest of his life. That’s not to say that he’s growing up too fast. However, it sure as hell feels like time is on Fast Forward these days.
I always think about another truth bomb: as great of a father as I am, I missed about a year-and-a-half of my oldest son’s life. Yes, I was still around and still active. I just wasn’t as present, partially due to my mental health struggles. I was around, I provided financially and gave warm hugs. Even still, there were moments where my struggles left me in a bubble of my own creation, sometimes catatonic to my surroundings. I strive to be more active and involved these days. I can’t make up for the past, but I can build for the future. Nothing good comes easy, though as there have been some uphill moments.
For example, my oldest came to me once, a few years ago, asking me to put my phone down. It was one of those “I ‘need’ to be within my bubble” type of days. Bubble-desiring or not, I realized that children are our mirrors. All the good, the bad, the ugly about a parent, they can see it in their child. My oldest is smart, but–like me–he’s stubborn as hell. He’s agile but, like me and his mom, he’d prefer to just chill and play video games. He has an anger streak like me and sometimes, like me, needs to go into his bubble–which usually involves TV and playing Switch games.
He’s an amazing child. Both of my boys are. They’ve made me have more fun and stop being so buttoned-up and closed-off about things. As children are our mirrors, if we want them to succeed, we first must make sure we’re in the right space to succeed ourselves. Children don’t need someone to try and prepare them for live who isn’t prepared their own damn selves.
Having children, especially a preteen, in 2020 is scary. There are so many things that can go left in an instant. My heart sinks at every tragedy, whether it involves children or not. However, if you spend a child’s childhood hiding them from the world, they’ll never fully grow.
So to my oldest son, I say this. Thank you for helping me grow into the father I want to be for you. I hope you continue to grow and prosper in your own light. Happy birthday. Dad loves you to the ends of the Earth.