Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What's in a Name?

Fatherhood, as a status, is acquired suddenly. One minute, you’re just a normal guy. Your schedule revolves around sporting events and video games. You had nobody to take care of but yourself. You may have been married, but more than likely your spouse relied on you for emotional and financial support at most.

The next minute, a human being with half your DNA miraculously finds a path out of that same spouse’s womb through a process which includes numerous gruesome details we will not discuss here, and relies completely upon the two of you for every need. That tiny human must be fed, sheltered, clothed, washed (especially the butt, remember that, that tip is free), and given constant attention. You are one of two people primarily responsible for all of this.

But the realization that you are a father takes a little longer to set in. Through the sleepless nights, the feedings and the visits to the doctor with a 104-degree fever, it ends up feeling more like a job than fatherhood. It often seems you’re barely doing more than treading water.

Instead, true appreciation for fatherhood comes in moments. Your infant recognizes your voice. Your toddler takes his first steps to get to your arms. They beg you to read a bedtime story. The ball you throw finally lands in the mitt. And one of the best moments is when they say your name: “Da-da.”

Of course, before you know it, those moments fall into chaos and the smile you thought your baby gave you was the gas he experienced as he loaded his diaper. The kid who it seemed had just learned to walk now runs out into the street if not kept under constant surveillance. The ball that was just caught gets fired back through your front window. And soon enough, “Da-da,” becomes just another word that gets screamed from the other room when they want something while you’re just trying to get enough free time to get the bathroom to yourself for five minutes.

While short lived, they continue to pop up, usually when you least expect them. That’s what happened to me the other day. My sons have obviously been walking and talking and reading for some time now. I’ve been proud of many recent accomplishments, but just last week, my eight-year-old decided to start doing something differently.

“Hi, dad,” he said.

Amazing, right?

I went from “Da-da” to “Daddy” and have been that for years. The sudden and complete switch to “Dad” struck me silent when he said it to me. It was obviously a change made on his part to seem more mature but something about it moved me. It was one of those moments when I was reminded that I was someone special in this boy’s life. Our relationship was deemed important enough that a calculated decision was made regarding his choice of name for me. I know that sounds extremely nerdy when put that way, but I meant something to me.

It was nice to be reminded of what I mean to my sons, whether they intended to do so or not. Regardless of how much they grow up and what they call me (I’m sure there will be some rather colorful expressions in there through the teenage years), I’ll always be their dad.

Thank you, son.

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