Everyday my son smiles at me, at least three times. He smiles when I come into the room I’ve loaned him to give him that last bottle at night. He smiles and sometimes giggles when I come home from work. He smiles when I sing or play with him. He even bucks and kicks and tries to jump when I come in after being gone during long stretches in the day.
I tell my wife that I’m very aware that one day this will stop. I told her that the first smiles were mostly hers. During those days when I felt like he didn’t recognize me, or, worse, that he recognized me as some wierd, hairy big guy who kept returning to his space. I tell Dawn that those days traded themselves for the mornings where, if you look at how he acts, you’d think I was the best person on earth. Still, this is the same little boy who will one day disobey me on purpose, conduct himself in ways that make me sick or mad or crazy. He will one day do things that make me just about forget these splendid smiles. So I suck up these moments, and each time I walk away I bit more human.
But I’m a little nervous. I’ll tell you why.
1) I’m not as good as he thinks I am. I’ve spent the last six plus months responding to this person’s needs. Somewhere in his brain he’s concluded that I’m a good guy. I’m not as good and delightful as he thinks. I know that already. One day he’ll get it, and I think he’ll smile less.
2) I’ve made mistakes that’s he’s already forgotten. I remember things he can’t because his memory structures are yet to be fully formed. He clearly remembers that I belong. I think he’s finished with stage where he’s asking himself why we’re always around and never seem to stay away. Still, he doesn’t recall the little wrongs, the missteps and mistakes, the mumbles under my breath at 2AM or those several hours later when I still haven’t had my required allotment of sleep.
3) I’m slow at matching my life with his grin. In some ways, each time the boy delights in my company or laughs at something I said that really wasn’t funny or giggles because I tickled him or just because he is truly happy I’m with him, I see the distance between whatever’s happening in those eyes and what’s happening inside me. Having a child, one who lives where I live and doesn’t go away–not that I have any other kind, just to be clear–makes you grow. You see the kid, identify the praise in that smile, and walk away saying, “I’ve got a lot to live up to.”
4) I will certainly screw something up soon enough. Maybe even later today. Even if I’m a good dad, even if I get some marks for all the things only God saw–things the boy will one day devalue in some stubborn fit and grasp for independence–I am certain to mess up. A lot. I can see it already. Some embarassing comment made at the wrong time in the company of his friends. A misguided response to some secret he’s told me. Making him wear the wrong set of clothes for a field trip. Making him do anything.
There is so much room for him to reserve those beautiful smiles. I’m nervous. And I’m collecting each smile the best way I can. I’m trying to see his presence in my life as a gift like those stencils boast on the wall in my used-to-be-office-now-turned-baby-space. I’m trying to notice how God is using him to change me and make me a man who lives up toward something as a big as a boy’s smile and as wide the world around him.