My in-laws recently texted me a video of my three year old son Declan responding to the first snowfall. Then again, we live in Atlanta, so it’s very possible that it will also be the final snowfall of the season. There were two inches of snow here recently and society all but shut down. Restaurants and other businesses closed. The authorities encouraged people to stay at home and pray for an end to the horrific downfall. Having spent thirty nine years of my life in the Midwest, I felt like an X-Men, like I could tell freaked out Atlantans, “I come from a mythic land called “Chicago” where it snows day and night twelve months out of the year and everyone just accepts it. Heck, by my standards, this is lovely weather” and watch them tremble in awe.
When I see that it’s snowing, my response is a dispirited, “Oh fuck. This shit again?” Declan has grown up in the South, however, so his relationship with snow is much different. In the video Declan is literally cackling with delight. He’s got the biggest, cutest, most infectious smile in the whole world on his face but he’s really smiling with his whole body.
Giggling and radiating delight, he sticks his tongue to catch the snow. I can’t stop re-watching the video. It is literally the cutest thing ever. It perfectly captures my son’s natural ebullience, his inveterate love of life.
I’m so happy that I’m raising a son whose response to snow is delirious happiness and profane resignation. But it’s not just snow that Declan has a different relationship with than I did when I was his age. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that my son loves absolutely everything. He’s going through a big Scooby Doo phase right now and at various points in every movie (we’re watching their many, many surprisingly clever direct-to-video movies instead of the TV show) he’s so overjoyed that he’ll joyfully cry out, “Scooby dooby doo!”
I’ve always wanted to have children but I’ve always been exceedingly careful because having grown up in a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents, I know all too well how easy it is for things to go wrong, even when you have a very loving, active parent like my father.
So part of the enormous, life-affirming pleasure of being a dad comes from being able to provide for my son the happy, stable and secure childhood that I never had. But it goes beyond that. Through Declan, I am able to experience what it’s like to have a happy childhood. Through Declan, I’m able to know vicariously what it’s like to go through life filled with happiness and excitement, surrounded by people who love you and want nothing more than for you to feel secure and loved.
Being able to help give me son a happy, secure childhood, along with an enormous support system of aunts and uncles and cousins and grand-parents has healed some of the wounds of my own traumatic upbringing. Helping give Declan a happy childhood has given me the tools for a happy adulthood, in spite of all the uncertainty and craziness of the world but my peculiar profession in particular.
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