A few weeks after Tristan turned seven I was sitting on his bed, grading papers on my laptop. Tristan’s head was in my lap, my laptop close to my knees to make room for him. He was breathing into my thigh, dead asleep. My leg was falling asleep too, and as I looked at him slumbering, I wondered how many more of these moments we had left.
He used to ask me to sit next to him while he fell asleep every night. And every night I’d bitch about it. I told him that I didn’t have time to sit next to him. I had to do homework, or pack my lunch for the day, or fold some laundry. I told him that he needed to be a big kid, and go to sleep on his own. I thought I was teaching him to be independent. But now, I don’t know if that’s true.
Each year he drifts away from me. He doesn’t like me to hug him in front of his friends anymore. And he gets embarrassed when I call him by one of his nicknames: Gooey or Goober Kid. He doesn’t climb into my lap when I sit on the sofa, or snuggle next to me when we watch a movie. Most of the time he sits on the floor. He doesn’t drag at my pant leg to get attention, or sit on my foot so I can drag him around.
He doesn’t ask to talk to me on the phone anymore when I call the house.
He used to run and meet me at the door. Now he just asks if I have the iPad.
For most of his life he has begged and pleaded for my attention, but now, suddenly, he seems to be drifting away. Taking those steps towards independence that I wanted him to take so badly, and now that he has, I want him back.
I want him to snuggle with me on the sofa again. I want to see him light up and run to the door as I step into the house.
I think part of the problem was I wanted his attention on my terms. I wanted him to tug on my pant leg when I didn’t have anything important to do. When I had time to be distracted. I wanted him to get on the phone when I wasn’t in a hurry to deliver some message to my wife, and then hang up, and get on with this or that. I wanted him to sit on my lap when there wasn’t a textbook or a laptop on it. I wanted him to be my son when it was convenient.
But when was I free to be distracted?
If I didn’t have something I needed to do for school or work, there was always something I wanted to do, and rarely, as a young father, did the things I wanted to do involve Tristan. They involved long bike rides and writing projects, movies that Tristan didn’t understand or books he couldn’t read yet.
I often boast about going through college with kids. I use it as a way to get the college students I work with to stop complaining. But looking back, I feel like I was a full-time student, a full-time employee, and a half-assed father.
It’s only recently, now that I’m finished with graduate school, working a full-time job, and have found the reflectivity of my 30s, that I’ve started to realize all the moments I’ve lost with my young son. And now, I feel like I’m trying to get those moments back.
Now I’m the one tugging at his sleeve, asking if he wants to watch a movie or play outside. Now I’m the one sitting on the floor, trying to snuggle next to him, and hearing him say, “Go away, Dad. I’m busy.” Now I’m the one running to meet him at the door.
It feels like Tristan and I are on different trajectories now, me trying to make up for the time I missed with him, and him trying to get away from his embarrassing father.
And the harder I try, the more he pushes back. The more he tells me to leave him alone.
But sometimes, he gets scared, like the night where I was sitting next to him in his bed, and he snuggles up next to me, and falls asleep. It then that I feel like I’m getting some of those moments back. I feel like Tristan is that little four-year-old boy, lying next to me on his bed, gazing up at the stars broadcast from his stuffed and lighted turtle, trying to figure out constellations.
I jump on those moments more now than ever. I learned a lot in college. I learned how to write, and read, and thing critically. I learned how to get things done. But most importantly, I learned that the moments I sacrificed with my son are gone forever, and to savor the moments we have left.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley