My son watches me. He does. In fact, it’s become one of the most haunting and motivating parts of being a father.
I didn’t grow up with my father at home. And I still struggle getting to know my dad. His distance, with him living in Arkansas now, makes it harder. Our shared temperament for quietness at best and disinterest at worse makes it nearly impossible. So we’ve been building what we can with occasional visits and regular phone calls. I don’t see him, but I do see my son up close.
I’ve noticed how he, simply, pays attention to me. He does this less and less, but his interest is still there. He’s interested in other people, picking up details on life and living from a dozen places and people a day.
I remember how when he was really small, when we clicked him in the infant carrier, before he was too long to fit, I would turn around to check that he was breathing. I was nervous. I was afraid that I’d drive too fast for his lungs to catch up. So I drove slowly, and I turned around to ensure that his head was moving, his eyes open.
One day I turned around and saw him doing what he’s doing in this picture. I snapped it at a red light. I had turned to look and he was staring. I jerked, thrown off. I said something aloud like “He’s looking at me.” We were in the car alone, probably going to get his grandmother from home to bring her back to our place. When I turned around at the light, he was still steadily seeing my shoulders. He watched my head, the arm from my glasses, the profile of his father.
It launched me into a spiritual experience, and not the kind I enjoy. That stare made me conscious, technically self-conscious. Those almond eyes had a love in them that left me with a thousand questions. The questions have motivated me. Together, his watching me, the questions I’ve “heard” in his stare, make me want to grow.
It’s funny because I’m a pastor. I’m pretty sensitive to growth, especially in others. I’m not completely unaware of the topic. But I had to admit then–and, often, still–that I’m less aware of the reasons to grow until moments like the one behind this picture. Even as a Christian. Even as a preacher. The fact is I care less about God. I mean that literally. I care more about this kid. I care more about screwing up so daily that he conceives of life is a twisted way. I care more about doing something well so that he can see accomplishment and fruit and benefits.
Somewhere in my head I tell myself that God will get along well if I mess things up, that God might even show mercy to me. Of course, that is a motivating message in my ears. But it also makes me less vigilant. With my son, with my family, and with the people I love, they might not be so merciful with their glances. They just might expect me to live up to things. Indeed, they do, and just like my son’s stare, like his current habit of repeating exactly what I say, they make me want to live well. Or, at least, better. …I really have to watch what I say to cab drivers in the loop.