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A few weeks after my son Tristan turned 7, I was sitting on his bed, working on my laptop. Tristan’s head was in my lap, and I kept my laptop close to my knees to make room for him. He was breathing into my thigh, dead asleep. Meanwhile, my leg was falling asleep too, and as I watched him slumbering, I wondered how many more of these moments we had left.
He used to ask me to sit next to him while he fell asleep every night. And most nights I told him that I didn’t have time. When I was in college, I told him I had to do homework, or pack my lunch for the next day, or fold some laundry, because it felt like I was slacking on my home duties. I told him that he needed to be a big kid, and go to sleep on his own. I thought I was teaching him to be independent. But now, I don’t know if that’s really true.
With each year, he drifts further away from me. He doesn’t like me to hug him in front of his friends anymore. And he gets embarrassed when I call him by one of his nicknames: Gooey or Goober Kid. He doesn’t climb into my lap when I sit on the sofa, or snuggle next to me when we watch a movie. Most of the time he sits on the floor, a few feet away, his back to me.
He doesn’t drag at my pant leg to get attention, or sit on my foot so I can drag him around. He doesn’t ask to talk to me on the phone anymore when I call the house. He used to run and meet me at the door. Now he just asks if I have the iPad.
For most of his life he has begged and pleaded for my attention, but now, suddenly, he seems to be drifting away. Taking those steps towards independence that I wanted him to take so badly, and now that he has, I want him back.
Now I’m the one tugging at his sleeve, asking if he wants to watch a movie or play outside.
I want him to snuggle with me on the sofa again. I want to see him light up and run to the door as I step into the house.
I think part of the problem was that I wanted his attention on my terms. I wanted him to tug on my pant leg when I didn’t have anything important to do. When I had time to be distracted. I wanted him to get on the phone when I wasn’t in a hurry to deliver some message to my wife, and then hang up, and get on with this or that. I wanted him to sit on my lap when there wasn’t a textbook or a laptop on it. I wanted him to be my son when it was convenient.
But when was I free to be distracted?
We had Tristan when I was 24 years old. I was a late bloomer, and I had only been in college for 2 years. The first 5 years of his life I struggled to make ends meet while attending classes. If I didn’t have something I needed to do for school or work, there was always something I wanted to do, and rarely, as a young father, did the things I wanted to do involve Tristan. They involved long bike rides and writing projects; watching movies or reading books that Tristan couldn’t yet understand.
Even though I told myself that everything I was doing was to make his life better, what it came down to was, I wasn’t making time for him. Plain and simple.
I often boast about going through college with kids. I use it as a way to get the college students I work with to stop complaining. But looking back, I feel like I was a full-time student, a full-time employee, and a half-assed father.
It’s only recently, now that I’m finished with graduate school, working a full-time job, and have found the reflectivity of my 30s, that I’ve started to realize all the moments I’ve lost with my young son. So much of everything I did in my 20s was an attempt to find a comfortable and stable career so I could take care of my family. But looking back, I had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way, and while I didn’t realize it then, I do now.
For most of his life he has begged and pleaded for my attention, but now, suddenly, he seems to be drifting away.
I was pushing my son away.
And now, I feel like I’m trying to get those moments back.
Now I’m the one tugging at his sleeve, asking if he wants to watch a movie or play outside. Now I’m the one sitting on the floor, trying to snuggle next to him, and hearing him say, “Go away, Dad. I’m busy.”
Now I’m the one running to meet him at the door.
It feels like Tristan and I are on different trajectories now, me trying to make up for the time I missed with him, and him trying to get away from his embarrassing father.
And the harder I try, the more he pushes back. The more he tells me to leave him alone.
But sometimes, he gets scared, like the night where I was sitting next to him in his bed, and he snuggled up next to me, and fell asleep.
Sometimes he’s still that little boy who needs me.
It’s then that I feel like I’m getting some of those moments back. I feel like Tristan is that little 4-year-old boy, lying next to me on his bed, gazing up at the stars broadcast from his stuffed light-up turtle, the 2 of us making up constellations.
I jump on those moments more now more than ever.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I learned a lot in college. I learned how to write, and read, and think critically. I learned how to get things done. But most importantly, I learned that the moments I sacrificed with my son are gone forever, and to savor the moments we have left.
Check out Clint Edwards’s new book, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Parenting. Marriage. Madness.). You can read more from Babble below: