I walk by their rooms a dozen times a day. Most of the time I don’t think about that fact. Some of the time it causes me to think about how they’re doing that day. And sometimes I veer off course and walk into the room. It’s a reflex. No, not a reflex, a whim. I’ll walk over to a window and just look outside, to see someone walking their dog, or check the weather. Other times I’ll look at a book or an article of clothing they didn’t take with them. But sometimes I’ll just stand there, allowing and even encouraging myself to be sad. Sad that they don’t share the house with me anymore. Sad that at 2:45 I’ll hear the bus drive by. Sad that I don’t have to care what they want for dinner. Whether or not that’s productive or healthy is not the point. We’re supposed to be sad, we’re supposed to miss the hallowed past of toddlers and school assemblies, crayons and stinky cleats. And I do miss those things. I miss them often. Like any parent I assume, I can stand in my son’s bedrooms and feel a sense of loss. A sense of aching, wondering why I didn’t drink in more moments, more memories of my young children and our young family. As if there is a point where we’ve created enough memories to ensure that we can always recall every moment, every stage of their lives. And knowing that they may or may not ever live at home again makes that an even more wonderfully painful self-indulgence.
We miss the days when they wanted us around all the time. When they just assumed we’d be as excited as they were about all the things they saw or did. We miss the celebration when they made the team, and miss the consolation ice cream when they did not. We miss watching them become more than they were the day before, in part because we don’t always do so ourselves. We miss seeing the best version of ourselves in their eyes, and miss showing them their own best selves in ours.
We note the moments that are no longer filled with ski races and band concerts. Memory cards and cell phones are no longer filled with photos of homecoming and science fair exhibits. We drive past schools we were once deeply involved in and now realize that the angry and joyous shriek of that life is lost to us. It’s no longer for us. We’ve all quit cold turkey.
And we’re sad, because we think we didn’t savor it enough. We didn’t understand how important all those little moments were. And we really didn’t see how much we’d miss the sense-assaulting, slow-motion hurricane of raising children.
But while I’m missing that life and regretting my inability to just hop back for a moment to push them on the swing one more time, to watch them see the ocean for the first time a second time, I think I’m also missing something else. They remember me too. They remember a dad who loves listening to their music, watching their shows, and listening to their stories. They remember a dad who would get too angry too quickly, and they remember a dad who would apologize for his shortcomings. They remember a dad that really wanted to be a part of their lives, and who did his best to help them with their homework. A dad who wanted to talk girls and sports while trying to keep track of names and faces under the increasingly frustrated monologuing of a teenage boy.
I find myself smiling at all the shared memories. I may lament the fact that I won’t get to hold them as toddlers again, but I also remember that my memories are only a quarter of that story. There are three other people whom I love dearly that also remember that day, that joke, that meal. I smile knowing that those three people picture a great and exciting adventure ahead in which I play a part. I smile because the rest of my story will be their story too.
For me, the greatest gift of fatherhood is in that moment when I’m standing in the middle of one of their rooms feeling the loss of time. Inevitably I find peace. And then happiness, and excitement. What comes next? Sadness? I’m sure of it. Heartbreak? Probably. But one thing is for certain. There is possibility. There is the cemented, rock-solid knowledge that my sons are great young men. Men I’m proud of today and will continue to be so for all my own tomorrows. And I hope that they are as proud of me as I am of them.