A tightness is cinching its way around my chest. Laying in a tent, way off the digital grid, an anxious pressure swells around me.
I’m not there.
I can’t get there.
I can’t help him if something happens.
What if something happens?!
I tried to hug my son before leaving on a 5-day trip without cell service, but it didn’t go well. Taking him outside, I picked him up even though he’s plenty large enough to walk on his own. As we left the protective roofline he cried out when raindrops smacked onto his forehead.
“I don’t want to go outside!” he exclaimed.
I told him I brought him out cause I wanted to hug him. But he knew that. He wanted it inside.
I told him I was sorry because I couldn’t tell him that I was scared.
I brought him outside to squeeze him. To grab one more memory of this beautiful boy to keep with me on my journey ahead. I brought him outside so that we could have one more a moment to ourselves. After so many moments to ourselves.
Since the pandemic separated us from typical society there hasn’t been a single day when I was unaware of his whereabouts. Once his school closed it’s been month after month without an extended moment to myself. Months spent playing, reading, and wrestling. Spent making meals, eating meals, and cleaning meals. So many meals.
Standing here with a light rain cloud falling around us I miss him already, but he doesn’t need to know that.
Because a kindergartner doesn’t need to know that his Dad needs to take space to figure out his life. A kindergartener only needs to know who’s picking him up, and what’s for dinner, and if tonight can be movie night.
It’s on parents to be there, but also to not be there. Because it’s also our job to go out and determine what’s next. But he doesn’t need to know all that right now.
He knows about money cause that buys toys, and he knows about dreams because those happen at night, and he knows about love because we remind him every day. But he doesn’t yet need to know that finding all three will pull you in opposing directions. That sometimes you have to let go of one to grab another.
I must stop my mind from spiraling.
I must breathe.
But I can’t.
Attempting to pull in more air I’m met with a staccato resistance, a pressure that pushes back in pulses. A ribcage constricted by fear.
I can’t be there because I chose to be here. I need to be here. To learn and grow and step out of the defensive crouch life forced me into the past half-year.
It’s scary to admit that caring for the immediate needs of my family is no longer enough. After so many months of protecting the immediate, it feels dangerous. After so many days spent washing hands and wearing masks and reminding him to give others space, I’m here because I’m hoping it’s safe to aspire to something more. It’s frightening to admit that Dads have more responsibility than simply protecting their children.
Besides, danger gets a bad name. So much time is spent discussing methods of avoidance, at least a mention should be made to remind us that it’s also where we grow.
At some point this spring I started letting him run around the block alone. His fifth birthday was in quarantine, and our days had become progressively smaller, and safer. He needed hazards he could navigate on his own.
“See these driveways?” I asked sternly.
He offered a quiet nod.
“Cars back up from here. It’s your job to look for them cause they can hurt you. A lot.” I was educating with understatement. I didn’t want to say “Kill,” even though that’s what I meant.
He knows about death.
The conversation I’d been fearing came and passed quickly with a discussion of bugs, birds, flowers, and dogs. But he can’t yet understand how far and wide it will reach. When we gently mention how nothing lives forever, how that’s a part of life, he excitedly replies about a rare squid that regenerates its organs. A specimen that can survive indefinitely. Amused, we congratulate him for teaching us this time. Then subtly apply another layer of reminder that although it’s sad, death isn’t good or bad. It simply is.
Laying here alone I want to call him, even though there’s nothing to say.
I want to tell him I love him again, even though he already knows.
Breathing, calming, I attempt to recenter on the reality that though our future is uncertain, to figure out what’s next we must create space to explore and live and grow.
Because, despite the heightened fear of this year, avoiding death isn’t the same as living life. After months of defense, of simply protecting my family’s basic needs, I must begin to stretch toward the future. Must begin navigating a path forward while still keeping an arm up for protection.
Days later, after a workshop that pushed me and forced me to consider what’s next, I pull into the driveway. It feels good to be home. And it felt good to miss home.
Sometimes enough love is actually enough. It’s a cup that can run over. Sometimes you have to let the hug go because life can’t be lived in a full embrace.
Walking in the door after dusk, I smell bad, my contacts itch and I’m ready for bed, but I’m holding out hope that he’s still awake.
“Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam!” his small feet rap the floor with an irrational childlike footfall. Flying down the stairs, arms outstretched, he leaps into my embrace.
“Dada I missed you!” he screams in excitement and surprise.
“Me too sweetheart. Me too.”
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