You’re Not the Child I Hoped For…

I sit in the dark of your room and watch you sleep; it’s late. I settle into the recliner in the far corner of the room. The corner softly illuminated by your nightlight; like many other items in your room, a new addition due to a recent meltdown that no one saw coming. A meltdown that exhausted your mother and I. A meltdown that scared us again; scared us into wondering…always wondering.

I watch you sleep. Thinking about the meltdown from this very evening…no, yesterday evening. I’ve been sitting here for a while; we’ve crossed over to the next day. It’s late. I watch the rise and fall of your chest as you slumber; I wonder what you’re dreaming about. Your breathing is rhythmic, slow, steady, but also very similar to the heavy sobs and gasps for breath from earlier…during the meltdown. 

I watch you sleep…and I start to cry. I cry because I hate myself for what I’m thinking; what I’ve thought many times since you were born. I hate myself because tonight was the first time I realized you felt my thoughts too. I hate myself because I think, you’re not the child I hoped for…you’re not the child I wanted

You get what you get, and you don’t complain.

Such a simple, and silly saying, but true nonetheless. I remember the first time you came home from preschool and you lectured me, in your cute toddler way, with this phrase when you thought I was complaining about something your mother told me. Who knows – I probably was.

Your mother and I foolishly thought this new phrase of yours would sink in, and we’d finally see some change in your attitude. Looking back now, I probably put more faith into that thought than your mom. Which is why the fool’s hat usually rests firmly on my head most times.

Of course, being new-ish parents still, we had not the slightest clue that there is no fixing a toddler’s attitude; there’s only holding on, and hoping for the best. But, being who I am, I dug my feet in, and was bound and determined to fix you.

Fix you…as if you are somehow broken. Don’t worry son, the irony is not lost on me. The very idea that is absurd. And the fact that I’m the one, of all people, who thought it…well, that’s just downright laughable.

I’m not going to lie to you son, but our relationship is not how I imagined it prior to you being born. It took me a good while to fully invest in the idea of becoming a father. And once I did, my mind went wild with how fatherhood was going to be. I would wager most soon-to-be-parents do that.

I imagine, much like me, many people envision what their child will look like, and act like. They let their mind run rampant with thoughts of how they will do everything differently than how they were raised. They’ll be vastly better at parenting than the ones that they grew up with, because they know what’s it’s like to have parents that failed them, or were just there.

They imagine they’ll bond with their kid from the second they hold them for the first time; they’ll be best pals, and share all the same interests. They will share endless hours of fun together. And sure, there will be times when they’ll have to “be the parent” and discipline their kids for acting out, but it will be outweighed by the amount of awesomeness they share with their kid, and that it won’t be that big of a deal. They’ll enjoy every second of parenting; they’ll hate going to work, because that only means more time away from their awesome kid, and amazing spouse. They’ll pine to get home, because being with their soulmate and child is the only place they want to be all day long.

And then their kid arrives, and nothing feels quite like they imagined. Before they know it, a year has gone by, and they feel so far from their partner, that they barely recognize them anymore. Even more, when they look at their baby, and can hardly remember anything good about them, or joy they felt with them over the last year. They fear what it’s going to be like years from now. They begin to realize their child is the one thing they didn’t want; they are just like them. They suffer in silence, never reaching out or confiding in anyone.

Because how do you tell someone you blame your child for ruining your life?

Years go by, and many of their fears are confirmed. Their child is almost a carbon copy of them. The child has many, if not most of the qualities they dislike about themselves; it feels nearly impossible to fully bond with them. They love their child, but find themselves unable to shake many of the thoughts that still live in their head. Thoughts that they still hold to only themselves, because…

Maybe those people have another baby. Still remembering how rough and terrifying the last experience was, they throw caution to the wind, saying, “Hopefully this time things will be different. Hopefully this baby will be different.” Maybe they say that out loud too one too many time, because they don’t give their first child enough credit that he might understand what that means. Why would we…he never pays attention. Maybe when that second baby arrives, it “is” everything they always hoped for. They heap nonstop praise on that baby, telling her how perfect she is, all while telling their first baby to stop whining so much, and pay attention more.

Then…one day…they’re world comes crashing in as they realize, they should have been the ones to embrace that saying from long ago – you get what you get, and you don’t complain. The answer to all their worries and angst about their first child was right in front of their face all along.

****************************************************************************************************

I watch you sleep, and I cry…it’s late. I cry because I feel like I have failed you in so many ways. I wonder if it’s too late to get it back, if it’s too late to start over. I fear I have damaged our relationship beyond repair.

Tonight, during your meltdown, you told me today was the best day of your life. Like many things you say, I brushed it off; filing it under, “Things a 5yo says, yet has no idea what it means”…until you showed me you did. You followed it up with, “You played with me today, and told me you were proud of me. I like that better than when you’re mad at me.” I felt my heart break as I realized you feel my thoughts…you feel my misplaced regret…and you still love me. I held you so tight after that, I feared I might absorb you. I didn’t want to let you go…and I still don’t.

****************************************************************************************************

Today is your first day of kindergarten, and you could not have been more excited. The entire morning went by without any mention of anything that happened the night before, and a little piece of me wondered (for a second), if it really happened. But finally, during one quick rest between us playing around, you grabbed my hand and told me how much you loved me. I smiled, and told you how much I loved you, and you asked, “Daddy, are you still so proud of me? Because I really love that.” Tears started to well up in my eyes as I got my answer; it was real, and you meant what you said last night.

I again scooped you up and hugged you tightly…just not as tight as the night before, I told you I was proud of you EVERY day, and I always would be.

I watched you get on a school bus for the first time in your life. You were so brave, and I was so proud.

Son…I’m sorry it has taken me so long to learn; to be the father you hoped for, but I promise you I will strive to be that person for you every day for the rest of our time together. I had an idea of you, before I knew what I wanted, and then I held on too tight to that idea, instead of seeing you for who you are.

You’re not the child I hoped for, my son…you’re better, and beyond any thing I could have ever imagined. I love you so much…thank you for always loving me too.

~ Dad

 

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10 thoughts on “You’re Not the Child I Hoped For…

  1. I am 48 years old. I have been waiting/hoping to hear those words from my dad my entire life. You are so incredibly wonderful to not only realize this, but to openly acknowledge it! Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this with me.

  2. As always, refreshingly raw and vulnerable in such a relatable way. I look at your pictures and always think how lucky your children are. This post is more confirmation. You’re a great Dad – walking the journey with humility that only our children can give us

  3. I have to agree with many of those above. This is incredibly powerful and so true. I have grown boys and still, when I can, I watch them sleep and my heart aches. So many things I wish I had done differently and I wish to God I had been less ‘mean’ and more loving. I am in a world now where I can see why I was the parent I was….and I’m not grateful to mum for giving me those tendencies. God bless you, Mike, for being vulnerable now. For not waiting like the song ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ sings…May your children grow up to be just like you.

  4. So very powerful. I read your words so often and I nod and I smirk and I think “what a good dad.” This one just shows I wasn’t wrong, you ARE a good dad, a great dad. It is never, ever too late to be “shocked” into seeing what are innocent “mistakes” we make as parents.

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