“Daddy, you broke me!”
Through heavy sobs, the words came spilling out of his mouth. Eyes, red and bloodshot from crying so intensely; even causing him to do that heavy, shortened breath stutter, making his head shake with every gasp for his next breath.
I knew this day would come…and admittedly, selfishly, avoiding this day is one of the reasons I once said I never wanted to have kids.
The day he finally put it all together; solving the Rubik’s cube of emotions he lives with; the reason he had always felt different from other kids; from other boys. The day he realized why, when it seemed like all the other kids were jumping into adolescence with both feet, without regard, all the while he only knew hesitation; questioning every choice to death. The day he realized that when he found his “thing” that made him feel truly alive for the first time, only to have his first reaction to put it away; hide it from others, convinced people would laugh at him if he told them about it. The day he realized that voice in his head – the one telling him he wasn’t good enough to make it, or not smart enough to try, or that person isn’t going to like him back, so don’t bother asking them out; he would realize where that voice originated from, and how it got in his head. The day he realized, all those roads filled with fear and doubt, and the many still left to travel; they all lead back to me, his father, and the gift; the curse, I passed down to him at birth.
I knew this day would come. I knew I would have to answer for this one day…I just didn’t think that would come when he was five years old.
Gift? What lives in my son; in me, is no gift. We’re a lot like the super heroes I tell him so much about. The fictional characters that helped shape my youth. I tell him story after story, about heroes, and villians, and great battles where the hero swoops in, just in time to save the day. What I don’t tell him about, is the other battles these heroes face – internally. How many of them, like his dad, feel, no matter how much the accomplish, how many people the save, or how much good the do – they still feel like they’re not enough.
Like many of my favorite superheros, I have an alter ego. I spend most of my day walking around, looking “normal”, with no one around me any the wiser that I have something else lurking just beneath the surface. The major difference is, my secret is not a hidden super power. My secret will never save the masses, or thwart an evil plot for world domination. Because anxiety doesn’t save anyone. In fact, the only thing I really share in common with those heroes is, we hide our true selves; living most of our lives behind a mask we choose for others to see. And now, I fear my son has inherited that mantle.
I worry about my son so much. I have spent the first five years of his life worrying about what his life will be like. If he would end up like me. I have even talked about it with other dads:
Until recently, it was just that – worry. But all that worry became a reality recently. A reality, that even after all the worry, I was still not ready for. My son had, quite simply put, a panic attack or mental break, at five years old.
As someone who has had plenty of panic attacks, and even helped others come down from their attacks; nothing prepares you to see your sweet little boy break down in front of you. It felt like I was walking in quicksand. Moving slower and slower, and every shift I made dragged me deeper and deeper into the void that was his mental break.
I sat there, holding him, consoling him, telling him everything would be okay. I listened as he let loose what felt like a lifetime of repressed feelings and fears. Then again, when you’re five; I guess it really is a lifetime’s worth. Then came the dagger to the heart…
Daddy, you broke me!
I may not be a super hero, or have special powers, but my son does. My son has so much love in his heart. He’s kind, empathetic, and has a laugh that can fill even the saddest person with joy. But most of all, he has a the special ability to heal others…okay, maybe just one person, but that person is me. He helped me feel less broken when he was born, and now I will spend the rest of my days helping him feel the same.
cover photo credit: Angie Elliott – Canadian Family