I am in a codependent relationship that is headed for heartbreak. My heartbreak, that is. See, this is one of the many things no one ever quite captures when they try to explain how a parent feels about a child. They say things like "You'll love them more than you knew you could," as if love somehow operates on a sliding scale that's about to get turned up to 11. That's a decent stab at it, but it's not quite right. The fact is, most people have experienced something like new parent/child love by the time they're eighteen years old.You know that first month of a new relationship? That time when your feelings about another creature are all-consuming and unshakably certain, when you find yourself obsessively thinking about them and doing goofy things like sniffing a t-shirt they wore because you miss them. You know how, during that time, any smile or touch or hug is a minor emotional earthquake? This is how people feel about their kids, and not just for the first month. It's why we gush unapologetically about the little buggers like we're some crushing twelve-year-old school girl certain that what's she's feeling has never been felt so profoundly in the history of humanity. It's why the childless roll their eyes at us (like we roll our eyes at lovestruck tweens) and other parents tolerate us, but only because at some point they have been guilty of the same .
This is definitely how I feel about my kids and -- if history is any predictor -- it's likely to end with me heartbroken and them vaguely disappointed. It's an especially raw topic for me with my little boy, Z, because my personal, historical dysfunction makes father/son stuff something of a minefield.
In my experience, the normal trajectory for a boy and his Dad goes something like this: Stage one is the honey moon, the "My Dad is a superhero and my best friend, he knows everything" phase. This is, by far, the best part of the equation for the Dads -- where the love affair is at its most equal and fair. It lasts, roughly, until adolescence at which point the kid starts to realize that the graying, aging guy in the living room isn't a superhero at all. This leads to mistrust (after all, Dad perpetrated this Superhero fraud for a decade) and the two going from being best buddies to cell mates -- a couple of guys forced to live in close quarters.
This is Stage Two, the rejection stage, where Dad is -- at best -- massively out of touch and unforgivably normal. At worst, he's something to be shunned -- a guy rocking tube socks and Tevas and there's no way in hell you're letting him drive you to prom in the Ford Festiva. Later -- way later -- if you're insanely lucky, you get a Stage Three in which the kid finally gets enough perspective on life to realize that, while Dad wasn't a superhero, he did a pretty damn good job with the cards he was dealt.
Does it have to be this way? Probably not. I realize that the picture I'm painting is full of wild generalization. Then again, I've seen some version of this play out with most every guy I know. And so, I'm stuck with being the best father I can and hoping that my son one day believes that -- for all my inevitable failures -- I did my best (Z having this realization sometime before I'm dead would be ideal).
All of which informs a sad truth for me: there's not a moment of tickle-torture rough-housing or Monkey-Robot-Once Upon a Time that doesn't carry with it the bitter knowledge that the number of days when this amazing, frenetic little boy will let me hold him, manhandle him and love him as ferociously as I care to are dwindling rapidly. It's probably unhealthy to think about this kind of thing rather than simply be in the moment, but I can't help it. Every time he wraps his arms around me and says "I love you, Daddy!" (he actually does this from time), I melt and glow, but I also have a flash of the day he'll say "I hate you!" and mean it just as passionately.
Right now, my son makes the predictable mistake of believing that I am the greatest Dad to ever walk the Earth. I really ought to disabuse him of this notion but I'm too much of a coward. I desperately need him to love me back as much as I love him, even if I know it can't last.