Kiddo and I were out running errands yesterday. A thunderstorm came up so we stopped by a store to let it pass and to grab a few things that were on our shopping list.
He has caught bits and pieces of stories from friends and family over the years that have made him curious about some things I’ve gone through.. These are things details about which I have been careful to reveal slowly as he matures. I want him to know my life and to know how I came to be the dad he loves but I want to give it to him in pieces he is equipped to handle. I think he has fallen into sync with this rhythm and so asks me about something he’s heard from time to time to see if I’ll tell him anything new. Yesterday was one of those times. After we talked for a bit, he got quiet for a little while and then asked me a question he had never asked me before. The conversation that resulted went something very much like this:
“Daddy, why do you remember the bad things that happened to you so much?”
“What do you mean, kiddo?”
“When I ask about you growing up, sometimes you really seem to think about the stuff that I ask that is bad. You get really quiet and I can tell you’re thinking about it for a long time.”
“Oh, I think I understand what you’re asking… give me a minute or two to think about how I want to answer your question..”
A couple of minutes passed in relative silence. We walked through the isles of the store as we continued our shopping.
“Son, the good moments in your life aren’t the ones that change you. They’re the ones you try to hold onto and remember warmly but they don’t really shape who you become. They nourish you and give you strength to grow but they don’t grow you. The bad things, the worst things, they are what widen and deepen who you are because those experiences are what chip away at who you were and expose all the people you might become. Notice that. I said they expose who you might become. That’s because how you choose to face the dark things in your life determines in what direction those experiences grow you. Those choices decide some aspect of who you will be from that point forward. Life is full of choices like that. I guess, when you see me thinking about something bad I’ve experienced and I seem like I’m thinking really hard for a long time, that’s me thinking back on how I came away from that bad thing. It’s me asking myself if I’m happy about how I let that thing grow me and, sometimes, it’s me trying to correct how I let that thing affect me when I wish I had handled it differently.”
“Are you happy about how your bad things affected you?”
“How I let them affect me? Some of them, yeah. There are some I wish I had handled differently and I’ll probably always carry that regret with me.”
“Can you change how a bad thing grows you later on?”
“It’s hard, kiddo, because it’s all about habit. You get into some habit from how you let those things affect you. It’s easiest to react to things in kind. Tell a joke and you laugh. Get your heart broken and you cry, ya know? When a bad thing comes and you get hurt, it’s easiest to be angry and bitter. In fact, it’s unavoidable. That’s the gut instinct we have. The problem is, if you let yourself stay angry and bitter when a bad thing happens, it starts a habit and habits are really hard to break. Some habits build up, too, until you’re grown up and sad about how your life has gone because you let the bad things in your life program your responses to put you in a negative place. You can’t change how a bad thing has already grown you, but you can force yourself to correct and start growing in a direction you’re more happy with from that point forward. It takes a lot more time and energy to do it that way and you never get back the time you spent already.”
“I’m happy with who you are. I’m glad you’re my daddy.”
“Thanks, kiddo. I’m glad I’m your daddy, too.”
That is my son and that is the relationship we have and this is how awesomely fortunate I am to be his dad.