Tuesday, August 14, 2007
15 trips around the sun
Still, in just four years our home was going to become an "empty nest". We weren't necessarily looking forward to that, but that's the way we assumed it was supposed to go. We had both just been accepted into our local fire department's volunteer firefighter training program - we saw this as an opportunity to stay healthy, active, and involved.
Then in early December, Y told me, rather hesitantly, that she thought she might be pregnant.
Conventional wisdom says I was supposed to get upset, angry, rage against the idea, etc. - at least that's how Hollywood usually portrays it. Obviously, the last thing I expected at that point in my life was to be raising another child.
But... I was elated! I could not believe our fortune. Without a moment's hesitation I was coming up with possible names, wondering about the actual birth-date, etc.
I can't claim to have been a great father to A and B; after all, my parenting skills were learned from watching my twisted mother and my emotionally distant father. I had more or less come to terms with my parents' effect on me in my early 20s. I knew what demons lurked inside me and did my best to guard against them so I wouldn't pass any of that on to yet another generation. Still, once in a while (thankfully only rarely) that 'dark side' would start to come over me and begin to affect my attitude towards my kids. As often as it appeared, I fought against it and pushed it away. Still, something in my psyche prevented me from getting close to my kids and being an actively loving father. In all, I wasn't a bad father to them, just more distant than I wanted to be and I hadn't been able to get past that.
With age comes maturity. With maturity comes a realistic self awareness. I knew I wasn't the best parent, but I also believed I now had a chance to fix that and do it better.
Immediately, I bonded with Z in the womb. I studied the sonograms and diagrams and I could locate his head, elbows, knees, and feet simply by massaging Y's stomach. I communicated this way (by massage) a lot. As soon as he started squirming around, I felt him responding to my presence. As he came nearer to term, if I gently pressed on Y's stomach, Z would push back with a knee or elbow... as if we were holding hands...
Within minutes of delivery I held him in my arms, and he opened his eyes and smiled at me. He was saying hi!
Becoming the father of a newborn at 41 was a chance to do it all over again. A chance to do it right. To be close. To love my child intensely and actively. To take an active role in parenting. And I think I have done so.
Naturally Z's arrival was not the same for A and B. They were embarrassed to have a baby brother attending their school functions. They were also somewhat jealous that he was getting so much attention from us and from everybody else. They felt left out. Yet in many ways, my newly unleashed parenting "skill" spilled over into my relationships with them as well. I couldn't fix the past 15 years of benevolent distance, but I sure could try to be better. I hoped it wasn't too late to start showing them the same sort of love and affection that I'd always felt but couldn't express. I like to think that I was able to improve things with them. It wasn't easy. It was probably quite a bit harder for them, I'd guess, because they didn't know how to deal with my new-found openness and attention.
But I was able to do it right with Z, from the start. It may have helped a lot that he was a happy fun-loving kid, open to everything that life would offer. I cherished every moment with him. We had both dropped out of that firefighter program, and I found myself jealously limiting how much my work interfered with my time with my son. Business travel became a burden. I never failed to call home at bedtime just to reread him one of his storybooks over the phone (from memory). It wasn't long before I started sending others on those business trips that I used to take so eagerly myself.
I remember every stage of his growth and development. I loved watching him grow physically and mentally as he eagerly explored the world around him. I was so much more relaxed this time... I'd experienced all the normal parental anxieties twice already, and I knew that each stage of development would come in its own time and that my getting worked up about it was not going to help. Instead, I fully appreciated each of the struggles and challenges he had to undergo - learning to sit up, to crawl, to stand (that was so cool!), to walk, to talk, to ride a bike, and so on. I celebrated with him, each achievement.
But I was also careful to fully embrace the times before each of these changes, because they were so brief and would never come back. Each stage of growth was another stage of independence and, because we'd so recently experienced it with A and B, another sign that our time together would come to an end all-too-soon.
Time has gone by so rapidly. I still see his innocent happy smile every time I look at him. We enjoy a good, comfortable, strong relationship. I trust him. I respect him. I ache for him. I worry about him. I am so proud of him. I want only the best for him. I love him unconditionally.
In some cultures the 15th birthday of a son or daughter is a "coming of age" and is celebrated in a grand way, attended by the extended family - some traveling great distances - friends, parents of friends, friends of parents, coworkers, neighbors, etc. The celebrant is feted with lavish gifts, a catered feast, live music, dancing, and toasts. These parties rival the more elaborate wedding receptions we celebrate in our culture.
We celebrated the completion of Z's 15th journey around the sun today by eating "lunch" together at Coldstone Creamery, by going to see "Stardust" together, by having his favorite dinner together, and then by spending the evening together. Not as flashy as others may do it, but it was just fine for us.
Incidentally, Y and I also celebrated our 36th anniversary today. We still consider Z's arrival 15 years ago to be our best anniversary present ever.
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