“Have you noticed how Liam is always ill-tempered on Tuesday?”
“Huh? No,” said The Wife™ plainly as I got the ‘what the hell are you talking about
“I’m serious. The past few weeks on Tuesdays he’s had a pattern of acting the same exact way when he gets home. Remember? I wonder if it’s a coincidence or if there’s a reason for the pattern. Do they do something in particular at daycare on Tuesdays?”
The conversation ends with a whimper as I am the recipient of another ‘you’re crazy’ hand gesture/shrug. Something I’ve come to accept as a standard over the past 30 years.
I won’t end up being the best dad in the world, as I’m no star athlete, nor successful or wealthy or dripping with talent like so many of my friends. But if there is one thing I hope I can impart to my son, it’s a lifelong commitment to noticing, to silent observation. I want him to study it like an art, so that he can then study people, and things, and feelings that nowadays get plowed over by the insane amount of information flow in this world. I want him to be able to read people and situations just by watching, to empathize and to learn to trust his intuitions. I want him to remember names and the emotional sidecar behind every friend’s hug. I want him to notice when the moon is just shy of being full and when the frame on the wall is a half-degree askew. Not in a life meant to be critical, but in a life aligned with the intent of being more engaged. I want him to surround himself with (the works of) others who are also noticers: the photographers, the novelists, the philosophers and artists, so that he not only feels comforted and validated at the times when observation seems like a spiteful whirlwind destined to take him down, but so he can be reassured that there are others like himself who don’t just let the world flow around them, but rather through them.
“I’m fearful that the familiarity of it all will soon envelop me and that the wonder and awe I have for my son every day will slowly fade”
When we lose perspective, when our humanness gets in the way and we start to see and feel based solely on our own limited square of existence, we stop noticing things. And when we stop noticing, I feel like a part of our self starts to die, because we no longer care enough to notice. Observation, after all, takes work. But the rewards of an observed life are those moments of wonder, of being awestruck, moved beyond words in a state of absolute completeness. Like panning for gold, these shimmering nuggets of absolute truth and honesty are what keep those of us going forward for another few paces. But as a life in excess grows dull and desensitized, one cannot be endlessly bombarded by wonder and awe either. If you say a word repeatedly for too long, does it not lose meaning, and instead become a sequence of mouth and throat exercises? Indeed, the word sounds funny and foreign and entirely unattached to any meaning after awhile because it has become so familiar. And this is what I’m coming to fear as a father, this loss of meaning due to constant amazement.
Since his birth, I’ve tried to be there every cliched step of the way with Liam’s day-to-day growth. I don’t want to be on autopilot, coasting through the years to get past the rougher waters of toddlerhood or adolescence. But as a result, each and every milestone in his development is subtly a big deal to me on a personal level. Watching the evolution of his verbal and motor and cognitive abilities is breathtaking, and probably the most rewarding part of being a parent. I get excited when I hear him correct himself, fine-tuning his subject/verb agreements or remembering to use personal pronouns instead of speaking in third person. And while it may seem trite to those without children, imagine if your cat one day started walking on two legs or decided to don a smoking jacket. You would get the same “holy hell, when did you learn to do that?!” feeling coursing through your body, spinning your mind 180 degrees in comprehension. What frightens me now is that the rapidity of his development is outpacing my own ability to absorb and appreciate each new step. Yesterday alone I heard him upstairs randomly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (with hand over heart, my wife says), yet before the gravity of that can sink in, I’m distracted by him having learned how to spell his name. I’m fearful that the familiarity of it all will soon envelop me and that the wonder and awe I have for my son every day will slowly fade to a point where it’s just another a tiny pony.
Admittedly, though, I suppose he does a good job of keeping my fatherly incredulity in check, occasionally reminding me that he’s still a fumbling toddler and not letting my mind wander too far to a time when he’s going be smarter than myself or my wife. Driving home last night, I turned around when I heard him muttering under his breath. He was in his seat, brow furrowed in deep concentration with all 10 fingers outstretched before him. He was counting, but working his way higher than we’d heard him go before. “16…17…18…19…”
“That’s great, buddy,” I said as I looked at my amazed wife and wondering when he’d crossed the threshold of 11.
Both of us slightly eager for a confirmation that our kid
might have a shot at a college scholarship some day is making progress developmentally, I prodded, “So what come’s after 19?”
“Five,” he said as he beamed proudly.
Thank God he’s still a two year old kid, and thank heavens I still have time to soak it all in. Errors and all.
Those moments of spectacular failure might just end up being what keeps me amazed, connected and observant.