Today is your 7th birthday and I simply can’t believe that you’re growing up so fast. Can it really have been seven years since you came into this world and became an everyday part of our lives? I see little changes in you almost daily, but I guess I tend to ignore them until suddenly one day, I realize you are taller, you’re your hair is not as white-blonde as it used to be and your face has lost a little more of that little boy look that always made you such an adorable toddler. You’ve become a full-fledged child now, the stage that will take you to your teenage years in just….six years!!
Do you know how much I enjoy spending the last minutes of your day with you, tucking you in at night, listening to you say your prayers and having you hug me and tell me I’m the best Daddy in the world- even though I know I am far from being that? Can you understand that I feel a little pain inside of me when I think about the time that will come when that won’t always be the case? I know that in the not-so-distant future, you will discover that I am a fraud, just like most all fathers are, that we really didn’t hang the moon, that we can’t leap tall buildings and that we do make mistakes….we make a lot of them. We are prone to the same temper and outbursts that you are; we just don’t show it as much. I don’t want to accept the fact that one day you won’t be my little boy anymore; you’ll grow up, probably spend some time as an awkward teenager but eventually transition in what I hope will be a remarkable young man.
I remember the day we found out you were going to be a boy. I knew it a few seconds before Mommy did because I was watching the screen when the technician asked us if we wanted to know. I remember how proud I was to find out I was going to have a son even if I didn’t know the first thing about raising a boy, or even a girl for that matter. Knowing that you are going to be a father for the first time is a little overwhelming and even a little scary but I know now that the fear I had was unnecessary and it was based on my own insecurity.
You were loved from the moment you arrived. Your mommy cried a little because she was very happy as they cleaned you up to give you to us. You made up your mind you were not going to arrive until you were good and ready to and you made us wait days for your debut….but you were definitely worth waiting for. You came home soon after and from that day you have grown a little each week, each month and each year. I miss the way you used to curl up in the chair with me to watch TV when you were still small enough to squeeze in but I enjoy that you have become old enough now that I can see the many ways you are like me and appreciate the ways you are different. I miss that you’ve gotten too tall for me to put you up on my shoulders and walk you around like that but I take pride that your own legs are strong enough for you to want to run and play with boundless energy. I miss being able to hold you when you are scared or hurt but I marvel at the way you seek to understand the things that used to frighten you and how you work to overcome your fears. Each year that goes by, I let go of the little things that defined my relationship with the small child that you were, the things I always adored in the baby and the toddler, but I gain new things in the older child that is now to the stage of learning, exploring and discovering what makes the world around him tick. That doesn’t mean I don’t miss those things, just that I understand they are a part of the process of growing up and in life, we must always look forward and not backward.
Maybe it would have been this way had you been any other child but I don’t think so. There’s something special about you. Even when you get short-tempered, or when I get short-tempered, it doesn’t take long for me to see the things in you that speak to all the love I have within me. Maybe it’s the bond between a father and a son; if so, I can buy into the idea that somehow, in some way, there’s just a connection we share that can never be duplicated with anyone else.
There are times you make me angry and times you frustrate me, even though sometimes my frustration at my own shortcomings comes out….but more often, you make me proud of you because quite often, when I least expect it, you do something remarkable that astounds me or fills me with the kind of joy that only a parent can know. I felt that way just a few weeks ago when you decided you wanted to run in a road race just because you liked to run. You looked so small out there with the others as you prepared for the starting signal, surrounded by people of many different ages, all of whom I were sure could easily last the entire mile that for you, might be difficult. I was proud of you for wanting to do it and I just wanted you to be able to finish the race. You cannot understand the depth of my admiration for you when you finished that mile in just over eight minutes and when I saw you were the third person to cross the finish line I could hardly contain myself. For someone so young, I admire the way you focus on what you want and then how you go after it.
I’m writing this because I want you to know that you have no greater fans that your mother and I. We both love you and want what is best for you. I want you to know that I cherish our relationship and want no more than for you to grow up and be a good man. I don’t care if you’re successful by current standards; I don’t care if you’re the class president or the greatest tennis player or the finest piano player. If those things are in store for you, that is wonderful-it will mean all the more because they will have been your goals, not mine. In most things, my parents gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be and I want you to know that kind of freedom to choose your own path in life. That doesn’t mean I won’t give you the benefit of my opinion but I will always try to respect what you want to be and what you want to make of yourself. I will try to give you the tools to do that but in the end, your course will be the one you chart for yourself.
Most of all, I want you to be a good man. In this world there all kinds-the sorry ones, the mediocre ones and even the great ones-but in the final analysis, it’s the good men that truly stand the test of time. The good men are the ones that make the world work, that provide good homes and that create solid families. The sorry ones and the great ones alike tend to think only of themselves and thus they take from those they claim to love. A good man puts others first and in doing so, positively impacts many others, oftentimes even those he may never meet. Children are the messages in a bottle that we send to a future we will never see. Just as I am the message from those that came before me, you are our message and that of our ancestors-all those that came before us. You are our message to generations we won’t see. I’ve tried to teach you the best ways that I know how, just as Mommy has and we will continue to do that, along with your grandparents, your teachers, your pastor, your coaches and all those that care about you.
You have taught me many things about myself as well. You have shown me that I am capable of being a father, despite my faults and shortcomings and I hope, over time, that I am learning more each year. I hope that when you are old enough, you will one day be able to look back and say, “My dad may have had his faults, but not letting me be myself wasn’t one of them.” ….and I hope you will always know that no matter where life takes you, no matter what you achieve, no matter what mistakes you might make, that you will always, always, be my son and the recipient of all of my love. You will never be able to lose that…..I’ll even be proud of you if you decide to be a Florida Gator. Happy birthday to the best little boy in the world!