Every year around this time, I can’t help but think about what it means to be a dad.
Fifteen years ago, my son was only a few months old when I experienced my first Father’s Day as a dad. I remember feeling proud, scared and exhausted. Looking back, I think maybe I was still in shock. The little guy wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, and my parental duties consisted primarily of keeping him clean and fed at all times, engaged when he was awake and relatively vomit-free when he was supposed to be sleeping.
Back then, my worries for my son were simple. Was he well? Was he happy? Was he developing on schedule?
Now, the “little guy” is taller than I am, driving around in a car, taking classes and earning grades that will affect the course of his life, learning the basics of teenage romance, looking for a job and figuring out how the world works.
Yet, my concerns for him are almost the same. Is he well? Is he happy? Is he developing into a man capable of supporting himself and helping others?
As a father, I’m supposed to be serving those ends — keeping him safe while still giving him opportunities to grow and learn. That’s a delicate balancing act because growth rarely occurs without some risk and pain.
It would be easy, I suppose, to sum up fatherhood as a responsibility to prepare our children for the future, but that’s only one part of the equation. It leaves out everything that our children give us.
When he was still a baby, my son had a kind of infectious chipmunk laugh that would leave you rolling. Though the laugh disappeared as soon as he became a toddler, I still carry the memory of it, and it brings a smile to my face every time I think about it.
I will never forget his first soccer game or his first time at bat. I’ll never forget his first guitar recital. From now and until I die, I’ll remember how he, as a kid, wrestled with me, and all the times he was goofy and hilarious at home where he knew he was safe and wouldn’t be judged.
My daughter, too, has created so many joyful moments that have become a part of me. She is witty and has a penchant for making outrageously funny statements. She has a mountain of stuffed animals, and they all have names. To her, they are people and are to be treated accordingly. At bedtime, no simple tuck in will do. She demands songs and impromptu sketch comedy puppet shows using the stuffed animals. By now, we have invented separate accents and personalities for almost all of them. She’s not ready to sleep until her face hurts from laughing.
Yes, it’s my job as a father to raise my children well, and that task often involves work, worry and sacrifice. Yet, as I am helping to raise my children, they are also growing my life, filling it with love, joy and laughter. I am living in a much richer world than the one I knew before they came along. Long after they have left home and built lives of their own, I will have the memories they gave me and will be a different, better person than the one I was before.
Fathers, as your families show their appreciation for you this weekend, hug them close and remind them that you’re getting as much as you’re giving.