My first-born son is eleven now.
Paul, when you were born I knew nothing about kids. I failed you often, starting with the first time I held you: I dropped your head (sorry about that). The summer you were born was hot, rather like this one. As the days and weeks spun, I learned to change your diapers and give you baths and feed you bottles. I sure wasn’t perfect – or even very good at it – but you were stuck with me a lot of the time while your mother recovered from bearing you.
As you became more durable, I took you out for walks in the pram. By around Hallowe’en, you wouldn’t fall asleep in your crib; I had to walk you to sleep in the dark, quiet streets around our house.
Month after month, our walks lengthened; the summer you turned one, we’d go out for a three-hour walk in the morning, then another after lunch, then of course one at night to put you to sleep. With you, I explored parts of town I never would have visited on my own. I remember crossing a park one day when some kids called out, “He’s the guy who jogs with the kid in the stroller.” They were right, of course; they’d seen us from the swings. By the way: we didn’t have a jogging stroller; it was just a regular one.
At the play-gym, I remember watching you run across the floor just for the joy of it. Like everything with kids, some days didn’t go so well as we hoped. I remember one morning, sitting in our Olds with you and (by then) your younger brother, James: you were both in your car seats, both crying. A revelation came to me: “Today, the best you can hope for is a bad day. Just try to keep it from getting worse.” We made it, the three of us; believe it or not, the day actually did improve.
You turned four, then went to pre-school; you turned five, then went to school. When you were bullied, I told you to fight back, and even trained you how you might do so. After two years of being walked on, you fought back and won. Years later, you’re confident in your ability to defend yourself and your brother James. You’re also friends with the kid who bullied you so long ago.
Whether it was training you to defend yourself, or teaching you to read, I’ve always been on your side. Notwithstanding, I’ve been the worst bully in your life. Forcing you to practice the piano, forcing you to learn to read before you went to school, forcing you to eat your fruits and veggies…so much of your childhood you spent being pushed around by me. I swear I never liked doing it, but felt I had no choice. I can easily understand why you might not agree.
Nowadays, I rarely have to tell you to do anything. After school, you hurry up to your room to tackle your homework. You always get good report cards. You eat your meals without my leaning on you. I guess you’re growing up.
Physically, you’re the strong buck I never was. At age eleven, your shoulders are broader than mine were at age fifteen. Your fearlessness – I think it’s reminiscent of another Paul, after whom you’re named.
Nowadays, I try to influence you as little as possible. The world has changed so much since you were born, I am not qualified to give you advice about it. I can still help you with your math – on the rare occasions you need it – and remind you to practice the piano. Privately, I can anticipate a much brighter future for you than I faced at age eleven. That’s what I wanted for that perfect baby I carried into the waiting room eleven years ago, to so many hushed voices and wide eyes….
From that day on, I’ve been amazed someone as wonderful as you could be my son.
Happy birthday, Paul