In a few days the guy who first made me eligible to celebrate Father’s Day is turning 18. A few weeks later, he will leave for college, embarking on an adventure that will not only carry him farther away from us, but will carry me further away in his recollections. That’s what we do as humans; short-term memory kicks in, processing information to help manage cognitive tasks like learning and eventually some of those short-term memories become long-term. Our memories are like human tree rings.
Soon my future memories will be different and I’m not sure if looking at him through the Instagram portal, getting a text message or temporary visits home during the holidays and summer will suffice. When he was born, Duncan filled a void I never knew existed and now with his departure there will be a void I know I will never fill.
Most days of his life, except for the year I was deployed to Iraq, and those days when he was away at Boy Scout camp or traveling with his lacrosse team, his days started and ended with a hug from me. It was never a goal or an objective. I just love him and it has been like this for 18 years.
This Father’s Day will be his last at home with me and I’ve found myself looking at him going through 18 years of random memories like a box of photos in my head. How in tee ball as a second baseman he lay down in the clay and buried his hands when he lost interest in the game. How he used to terrorize our neighborhood, his shirtless, blonde-headed, brown-berry body barreling down the sidewalk on his scooter.
Then there are all of the firsts; his first camping trip, his first haircut, his first tooth, the first time he saw snow, the first time he saw the ocean, his first step, and his first word, “Dad.” So many things to remember that I have enough memories banked to last me a lifetime. I’m a glutton though and I want more. For the past 18 years all of my memories have involved him.
But like all parents, I’m guilty of being human. I never really listened to those older, more experienced dads who would watch me rough house with Duncan and say “Enjoy him. They grow up fast.” I must have heard that a million times. I never gave it much thought because it seemed so cliché and that comment, drenched in regret was clearly spoken by people who had made the wrong decisions—chosen career over children, or themselves over their kids. That would never be me. I should have listened. It was good advice. I took our time together for granted sometimes.
I know my wife will read that and shake her head. I coached him in every sport, lead him in scouts, volunteered at his schools and spent much of the past 18 years teaching him to be a man and showing him the world. I’ve come to learn as a dad, you never feel like you’ve done enough.
I wish I could remember the last time I had him on my shoulders, his arms wrapped around my forehead. I would sway back and forth, and lean forward and back as if I was going to drop him and I could feel his belly laughing on the back of my head. Try as I may, I can’t remember the last time he was on my shoulders. It bothers me. I miss his weight on me, his sweatiness.
At the beach and in the pool, I used to throw him high into the sky. He was fearless, trusting, happy and I was his best friend. I would count down, three, two, one and launch him skyward. He squealed the entire time he was airborne. Then, as he got older, heavier and taller, my spirit was willing, but my body simply couldn’t do the things we once did together.
Eventually those “catapults” as we called them turned into “slingshots” where I would sling him into the pool. That eventually turned into me throwing him a football so he could make diving catches. Now, we have rough games of pool basketball and he tosses me like a ragdoll.
Because of his looming departure, I ask him about particular memories from his childhood and sometimes he vaguely recalls them. That’s happened a few times and he senses my disappointment so he adds, “It’s only because I had so many good memories that I can’t remember them all,” and in his smile I see the kid who years ago used to feign exhaustion to get me to hoist him on my shoulders. Hustler.
For the most part, he’s right. We’ve tried hard to give him a good life, investing in him where it mattered, teaching him what we know about life, its joys and its heartaches. We’ve exposed him to as many experiences as we could and then helped him navigate his emotions, his challenges and his life, talking and guiding, but letting him drive his life. These are my memories of fatherhood with my first born and all I can hope for is that the many things he has experienced will stick with him when he leaves home.
My shoulders are empty these days and the only thing on them is my big, fat, bearded head, but luckily it is full of memories. So many wonderful memories, Duncan. I am a rich, rich, man.
I am going to miss you, son.
Three, two, one…