When you were born, I was really scared. I was young, 24-years-old (I know that sounds old to you right now, but when you turn 24 you will know how young it is). I was still in college and waiting tables at The Olive Garden. I didn’t know if I could support you. But most importantly, I didn’t know if I could be a dad. I’d never been one before, and my father wasn’t around much, so I felt like I’d never seen a good example.
The day you were born was a mix of emotions. I was excited to meet you, to see what you would look like, but mostly, I was scared. I was scared that something might go wrong with the birth, and I’d lose you, or your mother. I hadn’t even met you yet and I was already afraid of losing you, and although that feeling was new at the time, I had no idea that it would be the beginning of a life long emotion. Even after 8 years, I am always a little nervous that I might lose you physically, or emotionally. You mean a lot to me. More than I ever expected.
I was the first to hold you. This is not to say that the doctor didn’t handle you, and the nurse didn’t swaddle you, but I was the first to really hold you. To snuggle you, and look in your face, and realize that we had the same nose, same hands, same browline, and I wondered if we’d share the same frustrations. I wondered if we’d have similar personalities and frustrations and passions, and in that moment, when I saw how much of me was in you, I felt warm. I felt confident and I didn’t know why, but over the years I have begun to understand that it was the innate understanding between a father and a son. It’s the knowledge that even though you will grow up at a different time and in a different place, we still share similar blood, and with my understanding of myself, I have a good head start on understanding you.
The funny thing is, though, even with all that, and after 8 years as a father, I’m still scared that I’m doing it wrong. I’m always afraid that I’m going to make the wrong decision, push you too hard, or say some stupid thing that pushes you away. I fear that you will one day hate me just like I hated my father. I know that it’s different. I know that I’m around, as opposed to my father, who was in and out. But that doesn’t make the fear any less real. I want you to love me as much as I love you, and I’m not sure what that looks like. Perhaps you never will. I don’t know. I’ve never experienced it. But what I do know is that every day with you I get back a little bit of what I lost with my own father. Every time we play basketball in the yard, or do work in the garden, or go swimming, or read stories, or hang out on the sofa and watch silly movies from the 80s, I get with you what I always wanted from my father. And when I read what I just wrote, it sounds selfish. But at the same time, it’s ironic. I was so scared of having a child because I never had a father. I was afraid I’d be lost. But what ended up happening was me regaining something I’d always longed for: a father-son relationship.
Tristan, on your 8th birthday, I want you to know that you are one of the most amazing people I have ever met, and every day I’m shocked that God entrusted me with someone so remarkable. I am surprised by your curiosity, humor, and your ability to assess a situation and make a decision. You make friends, you make people laugh, you learn easier and faster than I ever did at your age. You think and process information in amazing and surprising ways, and the really cool thing is, I can see it happen. I can see it behind your blue eyes as they move side-to-side, deep in thought. Tristan, you are a deep thinker, and I love that about you. You ask good questions and you listen (most of the time).
Whether it is 8, or 18, or 28, I will always love you. You will always be my son. You are a bigger gift to me than I think you will ever know. Last year, when we were walking to the Strawberry Festival, I told you three things that I wanted from you. I waned you to be a good husband and father who loves his family and takes care of his responsibilities. And you said, “Yup! Just like you, dad.” It was in that moment that I realized that maybe, just maybe, I was doing it right.
Always remember what I said. I want you to be successful. I want you to be bright and educated. But if you grow up and love your family and take care of your responsibilities, you will be a success to me. Anything else is just frosting. I don’t know if me telling you what I want means anything, but when I was a boy, I didn’t know what my father wanted of me. In many ways I assumed he just wanted me to go away.
Tristan, I never want you to go away. I want to be a part of your life forever.
I love you.
Happy 8th birthday.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. 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 work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.