Another year has passed, even faster than last year and much faster than the one before it and suddenly you are 8 years old. It is nearly beyond my comprehension to think that if the first eight years can fly by this quickly, how much faster will the next eight go? I will blink and you will be ten….another blink and you will be a teenager….and then another one and you will be driving. You will be sixteen and I probably won’t understand you at all. I won’t understand the music you listen to and I probably won’t like the way you style your hair, just like I didn’t like it when you suddenly decided you wanted to spike it a few weeks ago. It really didn’t look bad…it was just that the sudden transformation it made in you was more than I could handle. It suddenly changed you from the little boy that I had grown comfortably used to into a junior preteen and I was just not ready to let go of your childhood. I’m still not.
Do you remember that day you finally rode your bicycle without training wheels to the end of the street and back? It’s funny that I can’t recall the day that I did that but yet I can recall when you did with perfect clarity. To you it was just another accomplishment but to me it was a milestone, another life changing event that signaled your independence from your mother and I and another step on the road to adulthood. To you, that road still stretches far into the horizon but for me, it looks as short as the end of that street that you pedaled your way down. I was proud of you but it scared me too because, just like the road of life, there was always the chance that something could cause you to wreck, to be injured or even badly hurt and you were suddenly beyond my ability to protect you from that. These are things I didn’t understand until I became a father and which are, for the present, completely beyond your own understanding. You see only what is before you; I see everything that is all around you.
In your eight short years, you have liked a lot of things; Star Wars comes to mind and how much you once liked everything that had anything to do with it but like other, similar things along the way, this soon passed and it was on to the next thing to like, to obsess over briefly, to paper your bedroom wall with posters of and to chatter endlessly about. Each of us do this on the way to discovering who we are but then one day we discover something we are truly passionate about and for you, sports is that passion.
You always liked sports but it wasn’t until this year that you developed the kind of fanatical obsession for it that will likely never subside. Golf last summer, football last fall, basketball this winter and now it’s baseball all the time. You love them all and with a passion that I will never understand because it’s not mine but yours. You bleed Red and Black during football season, Blue and White during basketball season. You scream at the television when Georgia makes a bad fumble, jump up and down when the Braves score a run and you follow me around the house reciting sports statistics that are as foreign to me as trying to read an instruction manual printed in Chinese. Your heroes are Herschel Walker, Chipper Jones and Bubba Watson, to name a few. You know more about Herschel than I ever did and I actually lived when he still played. You’re also the only eight year old I know whose iPod beeps every 5 minutes, not with a text message or an email but with the latest game stats from all over the country. Your Uncle Jay would be proud of you. Your Daddy is just confused.
You grew taller this year too. Several inches in fact and it is only because your mother isn’t tall that I am not in panic when I see your head is almost up to her neck. “Don’t get so tall” shouts the selfish side of my brain. “I’m not ready for you to grow up this fast! Slow down and let me catch up”.
“Is this really what you want?” says the rational side of my brain. “Do you really want him to stop growing, to be still, to not discover who he is and who he is going to become? Would you really hold him back and not let him spread his wings just so you can keep him in one place and in one time?”
No, I won’t do that to you. Part of your being a child is discovering yourself and growing up, learning about the world around you as you grow taller, stronger, and faster; as you reach for your dreams and not for mine. Your job is to grow from a boy into a man. My job is to let you do that and to always be there to give you advice and directions when you get lost or when you are just unsure of yourself. You already know what your job is. I just need to read my job description a lot more than you have need to read your own. Just because yours will change a lot as the next eight years go by, rest assured mine will not.
Let you discover who you are? Check. Let you grow into a young man? Check. Let you reach for the stars, fulfill your dreams and unlock your potential? Check. Support you in your decisions, guide you with wisdom, give you every opportunity I can and cheer you on to the next hurdle? Check. Love you unconditionally as only a father can? No doubt about it. Failing all else, that one I can guarantee you.
Some day, in the not so distant future, you will hopefully find yourself in this same predicament. You will worry about the new life that is coming soon and that you will bear so much responsibility for. You will discover with much joy that you can be a father and that you can very easily love him without any reservations whatsoever. You will swell with pride when someone tells you what a smart little boy you have or that he is such a good-looking little fellow or that he excels in math. You will sigh with frustration when he ignores your advice and screws up his hair…and you will remember each pivotal, milestone moment that comes along and tuck these away to treasure later. Most of all, you will watch his childhood pass by so quickly that you won’t notice it is going by until one of those events occurs just to remind you that his childhood is slipping away and you will feel an ache that tugs on your heart. Or you will have a daughter and you may as well learn how to use a shotgun sooner rather than later.
The one thing that won’t change is the love your mother and I both have for you and the pride that we both feel in all that you have been. all that you are now and all that you will become. You are a blessing to us both and the greatest gift either of us could ever receive. Know that if it is within our power and God’s will, we will always try to be there for you and that when we cannot be there in person, we will always be with you in spirit.
Happy 8th Birthday,