How will my son describe me?
I think this question looms in my head most days. It annoys me, it looms so much. It stands and says hello when I’m correcting the boy and when my fathering voice is rising. It comes up when I’m not thinking about anything in particular. I could be buying diapers or making breakfast. The washing machine could be swishing or the boy could be playing the couch as if it’s a piano. Like a light shining on some spot of dirt when guests arrive, this question presents itself to me at the oddest and most noticeable moments.
I hush it. I turn my eyes from it. I quiet it by ignoring it even though it never goes away. I look at something else, something in front of me like a dirty shirt or a shopping list or a pot with something called dinner inside. I watch for the present moment and try to discard the futuristic orientation that despite my best effort doesn’t release me. There are, in my life, pernicious questions, and this is one of the strongest. It matters a lot this question, more than it should probably. How will Bryce think of me? How will he talk about me to his friends or to those folks who sit in his classes while everyone is talking about their fathers for one reason or another? How will he put together the image of his father?
It matters how he’ll answer those same questions for the others. He has many family members and many more people who love him. So his future answers for those folks are significant. But I don’t think about those people and his possible views of them. No, I think of him and me, and I wonder.
I want him to love me and respect me and believe in me. I want him to obey me and have fun with me and eat my food. I want him to clean up and contribute to the family. I want him to stretch himself and to do small and big great things. I know I have a lot of desires for this kid. And it’s inside all my spoken and unspoken desires that this question sits.
Will he see and experience me in a particular way, in a way that I don’t intend? Am I doing things that undo the person I’m trying to become in front of him?
Being a father feels like a perpetual mirror. Sometimes that’s lovely. Sometimes it feels exhausting. It’s lovely when that boy is smiling and laughing and when I know that I’m one of his favorite people in the world. I don’t live to be the boy’s favorite. Indeed, I remind my wife that it will all change in a flash—and I really believe that—in part to stay surprised by his splashes of affection and grace and contentment. But it is also exhausting. Because he watches me.
He looks at me. And while he’s looking, he’s developing a view of his father. I’m becoming more and more okay with this. It’s a part of the deal. Of course, I’m a man of growing faith, and I believe that all of life, yours and mine, is seen. We are noticed. And being seen, being noticed, is a deep need. It’s a need and a fulfillment. That’s why it hurts when we aren’t seen, when we’re ignored or overlooked at some fundamental level.
Yet our lives are witnessed by Someone other than our kids or friends or coworkers. I believe that that first Audience matters most. And yet my son is a reminder that being seen is so regular. So frequent. So often. His watchful eyes, staring and unrelenting, display love under observation. And I don’t enjoy being watched. The boy’s eyes are changing me. Everyday, more and more, I want my life to count for the God in and through that kid. But the question persists. When he sees me, what does he see?