Tristan asked me to sit next to him before he fell asleep. It was a Sunday evening, and now that Tristan is 7 years old, he doesn’t ask for that as much as he used to. He’s a little too cool for that sort of thing now.
I jumped at the chance.
I sat at the foot of his bed, my back against the wall, legs flat against the bed, with my laptop. Tristan’s head was propped on my leg and he was facing the screen. I was commenting on my blog's Facebook page that has become somewhat of a constant effort in recent months. I was happy and overwhelmed by this at the same time.
Two weeks earlier, I’d published a list of 11 things I’d like my son to know about marriage in the Huffington Post. I was checking to see how many shares it had, when Tristan said, “What did you want me to know about marriage?”
I’m surprised by how easily I forgot that Tristan could read. He’s only been reading well for less than a year, and sometimes I don’t think about that when I surf the web next to him. I honestly didn’t have intentions of reading him this list until he was older. I didn’t know just what age that would be, I just assumed that it would be sometime down the road. Perhaps he would be 16 years old, or maybe I would read it to him on his wedding day. Perhaps, by then, my list for him would have changed. I seem to be learning new things about marriage every day, and maybe by then I would have something more profound to say. Perhaps I would’ve thrown the old list out, and started a new one.
I got scared when Tristan asked about this list, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I’d written it several months ago, and I couldn’t recall exactly what I’d put in it. Maybe there was something he didn’t need to know just yet, like something about sex. So I closed my list, and Tristan said, “Let me see it! I want to see it.”
I thought about it for a moment. I wondered if he was too young to know this sort of information, and then I realized that when I wrote this thing, it was more about me than him. Writing that it was a list for my son, really was more of a vehicle for me to say what I wanted to about marriage. But now he knew about the list, and I had to let him see it. Despite all the negative comments the list had received on Facebook and in the Huffington Post comments section. And despite all the positive comments, also. I had to stand by what I said where it mattered most, with my son. Those other people, they didn’t really matter to me right then. They were strangers.
I opened the list again and started reading. I went through the bold headings on the list, but then I explained what each heading meant in words that I thought Tristan would understand. I didn’t read it verbatim because I didn’t know if he would get it. And I didn’t know how much of it he read for himself.
“No one will frustrate you more than you wife,” I said. “That’s a good thing, buddy. It means that your wife will keep you on your toes. She will help you become a better person.”
Tristan didn’t say anything, he just looked at the screen with an eager soft face, one that reminded me of when I was his age and had been introduced to something from the adult world.
I went on, reading the list and explaining.
“You are not the only one with an opinion.” “Sometimes she needs to be left alone.” “Tell her she's beautiful every day.” And so on. I told him that he needed to bring his wife flowers, and he said, “You do that for mom.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I try to. But I should do it more often.”
For most of the list, I don’t think he really got what I was saying. But once I got to number 8: Get up in the night with your kids, he started asking questions.
“Why would you say that?” he said.
“Because some guys don’t think that they have to get up in the night. They think that’s the mom’s job.”
“Why?” he said. He looked confused.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It seems strange to me, too. Do you like it when I get up with you in the night?”
Tristan rolled over and looked up at me. “Yeah,” he said. “If I have a scary dream, I come to you. But once you were gone, so I had to go to mom. When I was sleeping over at Mark’s house, I had a scary dream, and I really wanted to sleep next to you, but I couldn’t.”
“I get up in the night because I love you,” I said. “I love you a lot.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I know you love me.”
I didn’t realize it at the time, but suddenly we were having a very grown up conversation. Tristan sneaks these in every once in a while, and it seems amazing and scary at the same time. Amazing because he is obviously growing up so fast, and scary for the same reason.
I reminded Tristan of my real father, how he left when I was young, and that I never really knew if I loved him. “Just hearing you say that you know I love you means a lot to me. It makes me feel like I might just be doing a good job at this whole dad thing.”
Tristan sat up, crouched on his knees, and then started softly knocking on my head with his fist.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Knocking on your head,” he said with a big smile.
“Who do you expect to answer?” I asked.
“A big juicy fart,” he said. Then he covered his tummy and fell over with laughter.
The moment we were having was over, and I was reminded that he was still a little boy.
You would also enjoy, The Child We Almost Lost.
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