I became a father a little later in life. I was 40 when my son Ames was born.
It is true what they say, at least for me: You don’t know love until you become a parent. Other kinds of love are intense and passionate in their own ways, but fatherhood has shown me a different kind of love, and that difference is shaping me in ways that I’m still discovering.
Even at two years old, Ames is already a multitude. I can’t help but think of Walt Whitman’s quote as I watch the unveiling of his being. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
He is a mirror to his mother and me, shining back to us all that we love and loathe about ourselves. I’ve never encountered someone who can produce such softness in me one minute and such fury the next.
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Some days he demands more from me then I think I can give, and other days he gives me so much that I think I might burst open. Of course I delight in his charming ways that emulate my own, though most of his best characteristics come from his mother.
My boy is an industrious one. He has a strong will. I watch his frustration when his expectations for himself and others fall short. Failure and disapproval are devastating to him and the inevitable already breaks my heart.
Last year while we were walking through Wright Park during one of the summer festivals, a group of kids ran by us. Ames broke away from me and ran towards them with a look of perfect innocence and glee. When he caught up with them, the kids looked annoyed that he was invading their space.
I thought of myself as a young boy and recognized the look on Ames’ face; it had not yet occurred to him that not everyone would like him or welcome him in every moment. I thought of the many stories my own mother chronicled for me, about all the times I was devastated and dumbfounded by the fact not everyone wanted to be my friend.
These were painful lessons that caused me to be more cautious, less trusting, and protective. Already I am grieving the eventual loss of Ames’ unadulterated earnestness.
This past New Year’s Eve we attended the First Night celebration downtown. It was a cold night, so we warmed ourselves in the lobby of the Pantages Theater while we waited for entertainment.
Several people sat with us on the floor along the wall. Ames began to perform his best tricks for them – twirling, dancing, marching, doing summersaults and clapping his hands. Occasionally, he looked up shyly with his airy blue eyes through those perfect eyelids, to confirm they were watching.
There was a particular young couple he gravitated towards, and when they stood up to leave, I could see Ames’ face distraught with inquiry. I watched him wring his little hands and walk slowly after them with longing in his eyes.
Yet again I stood helpless, unable to shield him from the inevitable, knowing the pain, as we all do, of going unnoticed.
I couldn’t have loved him more than I did in that moment. I couldn’t have been more proud and charmed by his total lack of apprehension as he danced and twirled again, illuminated by the streetlights reflecting through the windows.
I picked him up in my arms and thought of those who love my son, of me and his mother, his grandparents and aunts and uncles, his favorite people, our friends David and Liz, who I imagined would be dancing along with him — unencumbered by what others might think and concerned only with being a partner to him in his delight.
Tad Monroe of Tacoma is an organizational and community development consultant, storyteller and creative entrepreneur. He is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org