Used to be, Nora and I would wake up to find Nick snuggling between us.
I remember mornings like that with myself as the child in the middle. No greater joy than diving down to explore among the legs and toes, wriggling like jellyfish under the covers.
Lately Nick heads downstairs by himself, a thing he used to be afraid of. Sometimes he stops by our bedroom for a check-in, but he doesn’t linger.
There’s work to be done. Soft swords wanting repair, books to listen to, lego forts that must be provisioned.
My boy growing up.
A hundred milestones still lie ahead before we cross into the thorny wood of adolescence—first successful sleep over, riding in the front seat of the car, a walk around the block by himself.
But something is different. A willingness to try things. Quicker recovery. Almost, an assurance.
I sit in my study, fingers working the keyboard, long intervals. He rolls in on his scooter.
“Hey, dad, look at this.”
It’s always been dada. Now, sometimes, it’s dad.
He shows me the latest soft sword refinement, flops in a chair and says, “Tell me about the economy.”
We talk over the sorry state of the world.
“TMI,” he says, if I go on a tangent.
Then he’s off, rolling down the hall. I feel a should-I-go-with-him twinge and shrug it away.
Where’s the line between enough and too much?
In all this, a complexity: he’s at an age now when I had no dad.
Up until here, my focus has been on my own inadequacy. How was I to father with no model? With this void inside?
But now that we’re here, I find myself looking to him, comparing him to me, fatherless, at his age.
I grew from here without. He grows from here with. Nothing required of me except to be here. Be his father, here.
And from here, our paths diverge.
To be sure, he has his own work before him, the work of an adopted child. But it’s different from the work I had, work of a fatherless child.
Already, he’s far beyond me. Already at nine I was engulfed in shame, and wandering in the desert that was to be my home country for twenty-five years.
If there is shame in him, I don’t see it. Abandonment, yes, but not shame. Nor the unreasonable fear of the world collapsing at any moment. Nor the sense of futility that was my familiar.
These my burdens, constant as breath, absent from his life.
We are somewhere, he and I, on the mountain, past the easy foothills and rolling meadows, before us the lovely cascades, the bracing air and high alpenglow.
Breathe in deep, I want to say to him, because you can.
I will say it to him, when he needs me to, because I am here to say it.
When I say it to him, I will say it to me.
Fly, baby boy, fly.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Banner in the Sky — James Ramsey Ullman’s masterpiece tells the story of a boy trying to follow in his father’s footsteps by climbing the Matterhorn. It was made into the Disney movie, Third Man on the Mountain.
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