My son first said these words over two years ago, when he was two and a half. I was visiting my parents in South Carolina during the summer, shooting basketball with my dad on a humid southern evening. My dad and I had our shirts off. My son came running out, looked at us, and immediately took his shirt off as he yelled, “I want to be just like you, dad!” He was so, so happy to be one of the guys. I’m smiling now just thinking about it.
At the time, I appreciated the moment and laughed, gave him a hug and high five, and then helped him “shoot” the basketball for a while. I didn’t realize how much my world shifted that evening.
I mean, talk about pressure.
When he was still a toddler, I could laugh and mostly write if off…but it turns out that toddlers grow into real, actual people with a personality. And as he develops in so many amazing ways, it is obvious that he is paying a LOT of attention to what I do. Some days I love it and embrace it. Many days it feels really heavy.
I figure that today alone, I consciously or unconsciously communicated to him…
- How to greet someone you love first thing in the morning
- What is acceptable to eat for breakfast
- What is okay to wear in public/to school
- How to make requests from others
- How to interact with acquaintances and strangers
- How to handle anger
- How to apologize when you’re wrong
- How to show joy and have fun
- How to treat someone when they make a mistake
- What to value – rules or flexibility
- How a father shows love and affection to a son
- How a father treats a daughter
- How a man interacts with his wife or partner
Yes, these examples are just from one day, though many of these situations happen every day to some degree. Some of this stuff is trivial (I think?), but there are some big ones in there too. As he gets older, I grow more aware of shaping my son and tend to be harder on myself for losing it or messing up.
Luckily he’s an honest kid – I don’t have to guess how things affect him. He told me before bed last night that I yelled too much and should be nicer. He also told me earlier in the evening that I was the best dad ever. Those are the moments I hold on to. When he stops telling me how he feels, that’s when I’ll get worried.
Research tells us there’s such a thing as a “good enough” parent. I’m going to hang on to that and just try to be thankful for this little mirror in my life who forces me to think every day about the man I am.