Ever since my son began to speak, the majority of his sentences have been punctuated by the same word.
“I had a great day at school today, Daddy!”
“Can we have tacos for dinner tonight, Daddy?”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
These last few years, however, especially as we approached the end of his elementary school days this spring, the word doesn’t seem to get thrown around with the same fervor as it did when he was smaller. It makes sense, I get it. I was there, too, once. It just gets to the point where saying it isn’t cool.
That certainly doesn’t mean I have to like it.
There is a pretty easy metaphor of growing-up as the constant opening and closing of different chapters that, when binded together, comprise the multi-layered novel that is childhood. Many of those chapters have already played out with my son, of course. He learned to walk and talk almost a decade ago, and my head is full of other monumental occasions such as his first day of kindergarten, finally taking the training wheels off his bike, and more recently, the arrival of double-digit birthdays.
Looking back though, it has been those little moments that I seem to treasure the most—letting him win at a game of Go Fish or Chutes and Ladders, pretending I loved the movie Cars as much during the 100th time we watched it together as I did our first, or not quite staying in between the lines while coloring at the kitchen table.
Yet all those memories seem to have been accompanied with that one simple word.
“Thank you, Daddy!”
“Do you want to play with me, Daddy?”
We have arrived at the point where the tears no longer flow over every little thing, and where a trip to the ice cream store does not fix a bad day like it used to. But when I talk to my son now, I can see his mind go places I had not yet seen it go before, and it is exciting to watch it unfold. Now when we talk he can articulate hopes and fears, work through concepts and ideas, and begin to lay out a simplified trajectory for his developing dreams that when listening to, make me realize that he still thinks he is capable of anything.
But in all of that dialogue, “Daddy” seems to be slowly fading away, replaced with this new character that’s taking a bit of getting used to.
I will be the first to admit to being far from perfect, and this whole parenting thing has been a case study in learning on the fly. Yet every time I look at my son, I cannot help but feel proud to see the man he is becoming, in spite of my many mistakes and overreactions along the way.
Here’s to the future, because I can only image that hearing, “I love you too, Dad,” is not all that bad, either.