I’m looking at the clock on the wall now (you know that clock, the one with the angels you say are like the ones that watch over you), and it says it’s almost 1:00. Almost 1:00 on January 18. I know the date means a lot to you—birthdays are like that—but it’s the time that I’m holding onto now. Because as I see it, for the next twelve minutes and thirty-seven seconds, you’ll still be nine years old. When 1:05 rolls around, you’ll be ten.
Honestly, that’s hard for me to wrap my head around. It’s a big deal, turning double digits. In the words of your grandfather, you’re “Gettin up there.” True. But I think you’ve been gettin up there for a while now, and it just takes days like this for me to really see it. To really see the person you’re becoming.
I’ll admit it isn’t easy, watching you grow. There are times when I want to put my hand atop your head and push down as hard as I can in the hopes you’ll stay small forever. Sometimes I think it would be better that way. Sometimes I think that you’d do well to never have to grow up and see this world for what it truly is, that it would be best if you continued to think everyone always got along and everything always turned out right. But I know that can’t happen. We’re all meant for greater things, you especially, and that means having to go through a little bit of the darkness on the way to the light. No worries there, though. But I’ll get to that.
I figure since you’re double digits and all, I can maybe say some things you have thus far in your life not been privy to. I remember I was about your age when I realized my father wasn’t a super hero. He wasn’t really the smartest man in the world, or the strongest, or even the toughest. He was just a man. That’s a hard thing for ten-year-old to accept. Harder for me, because I had to find all that out on my own. But since being a parent is all about turning your own mistakes around so that your kids won’t have to stumble into those same holes, I’m going to help you out with that. Call it an extra present, one that will go well with the notebooks and pens and books you unwrapped this morning before school.
Ten years ago tomorrow, your mother and I brought you home for the first time. And though you don’t know this—and maybe could never believe it—I was scared to death. I didn’t know how to be a father. I’d asked around plenty—asked both your grandfathers, asked friends, strangers, preachers, anyone—but usually the only bit of advice I received was a wry smile and something along the lines of, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll know what to do.”
I didn’t know what to do.
Which was how I found myself awake all night, creeping over to your bassinet to prod and poke your little body just to make sure you were still breathing.
I’ve gotten a little better over the years, but you know what? I’m still scared. Scared every day. I don’t think that’s a bad thing (I think a lot of kids would be better off if their parents were a little more afraid for them), but it’s something you need to know. Because I’m not a super hero, either. I’m just a man.
But I’m a man who loves you. And I dare say no other man in the world could ever love you more.
You remember that. Keep it close. Guard it. Because the world is coming, and the world’s the kind of thing that will let you stroke it until it purrs and then turn and bite you for no reason. It takes faith to get by in this life, faith and hope and love. You have all of those things. I’ll make sure you always do, just like I’ll always make sure the monsters aren’t under your bed and the ghosts aren’t in your closet.
Because that’s what good fathers do.