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Toward the end of 2016, you turned 5, which was as exciting for your mom and me as it was a little sad. You’re 5. And the next year, you’re going to be 6, and the year after that? 7! (Arithmetic, clearly, is Daddy’s strong suit.)
And 2017 is going to be our biggest year yet. This year you’ll be starting kindergarten. On one day in August, you’re going to walk out of our house a sweet, innocent little man and come back a big boy. As thrilling as that is for your mom and me – and for you, too, no doubt – we don’t want that day to come too soon. Yes, you will always be our baby boy, but there’s something about being able to scoop you up in our arms that’s simply magical and is unlike any other feeling in the world. And, well, your mom and I want to hold on to that feeling for as long as we can.
Maybe squeezing you tight is the perfect symbol of us, the best way for all of us to know that Mommy and Daddy were put on this earth to love and protect you, that deadlines and bills, leaky faucets and unfolded laundry, aren’t nearly as important as putting our bodies between you and the cold, between you and pain, between you and harm. For this failed-but-never-very-good-to-begin-with Catholic, hoisting you up and cradling you while gently stroking your soft, dark, curly hair, is as close to heaven as I’m ever going to get.
And that’s why we wish you one more year of pure ecstasy, the kind that sets your booty to shaking (even though no music is playing) every time we get dressed in the morning, when you toss your head back, close your eyes, pump your arms like a crazed baby bird, and laugh and smile as if the joy is simply erupting from deep inside you. We wish you one more year of thinking that nobody can shake hands with Spider-Man because they’ll get stuck to him and that a 4-inch bubble bath is the most relaxing thing ever.
We wish you one more year of questioning how Santa gets into our house when we don’t have a chimney. (“Tinker Bell comes through the keyhole and unlocks the front door for Santa.” “We don’t have a keyhole.” “Hey! How ’bout some egg nog?!”) We wish you one more February of you practicing your balancing for “Balance Time’s Day,” one more year of you wanting to marry only Mommy when you’re older, of you wanting to be Spider-Man, no, Batman, no, Superman for Halloween and, when you grow up, a police officer, a fireman, or “the recycle man.” We wish you one more year of you thinking an orange tree will sprout from your belly if you eat an orange seed, one more year of you thinking your teeth will fall out if you don’t brush them every morning and night. (They will.)
As thrilling as that is for your mom and me, we don’t want that day to come too soon.
We wish you one more year of wanting family hugs just because, one more year of you and teddy bear Pat going on wild adventures that no one ever sees but that you always tell us about later. We wish you one more year of wanting to know at bedtime what Mommy and I are going to dream about so you can tell us in your downy, drowsy voice, “I’ll meet you there.” We wish you one more year of thinking playing football means throwing the ball on the ground and running away from it as fast as you can while laughing hysterically, of you sprinting into Mommy’s or Daddy’s arms every time we pick you up from daycare, of you wanting to sit on Mommy’s or Daddy’s lap every time we read together.
We wish you one more year of responding to Mommy’s exclamations that you’re growing so fast by promising us that you’ll “grow a slower way.”
Mommy and I don’t want to keep you 5 forever, as much as we love and adore you as you are now, but we promise you that we will do everything in our power to ensure that your joie de vivre follows you the rest of your life.
It’s not going to be easy. Especially for you.
For you, dearest child, we wish you one more year of not knowing racism, of not knowing ignorance, and of not knowing hatred because of the mere color of your skin. We wish you one more year of not knowing the fear and caution with which you will have to navigate the world once people stop seeing you as an adorable little African-American boy and start seeing you as a potential threat.
“The light drains from these little boys’ eyes,” says one of Mommy’s friends who works with young children and who, like you, has beautiful chocolate skin. “You can literally see it happening.”
Well, we will fight for that light with all that we have, because we want you to know that you are not defined by how you look and we want you to show every other kid, black or white, boy or girl, that what’s inside a person is what counts, despite the stereotypes, despite the 10 bad apples in a bushel of 11, despite the unearned privileges.
That’s why we wish you one more year of pure ecstasy.
That you will be able to express yourself more clearly, for us to talk about how you’re feeling, will be one good part of the coming year. We’re definitely looking forward to that.
Mommy and Daddy can’t protect you from everything, sweet boy, especially from the march of time and especially from every mean, close-minded, fearful, ugly-hearted person in the world, and there are a lot of them. However, we can prepare you to meet the challenges you will face with a sharp mind, an open heart, and with abundant grace.
Mommy and Daddy don’t want you to stay 5 forever. We just want you to remain 5 at heart for the rest of your life.
With the most love,
Anthony Mariani, a former freelancer for The Village Voice, the Oxford American, and Paste magazine, a regular contributor to the Fatherly Forum, and the editor of and art critic for the Fort Worth Weekly, recently finished writing a parenthood/adulthood/boozehood memoir that is obviously “too real, man!” (his words) for any U.S. publisher, reputable or otherwise. He can be reached at [email protected]