As I continue to walk through parenthood, I do everything I can to be a great father. My son deserves a father who will equip him to stand on his own, know who he is, and reach for great things. We all deserve that. The trouble is all fathers are imperfect, so we fall short of what our little ones need and deserve.
As we discover shared interests it’s fairly natural for me to instruct and guide the boy in something I already enjoy. We’ve had some fun bonding moments of late. Now that he’s skiing and becoming more active, I expect there will be many more.
The struggle for me is trying to guide him in areas I don’t like or ways where his wiring runs counter to my own circuitry. Some are already clear, and his personality is stretching me in ways he doesn’t even realize.
Most common is my son’s extreme empathy and interest in people. While I want to dig into the lives of those I love, outside of my immediate close circle, I’m not interested. On camping trips I don’t want to meet the folks in the neighboring campsite. At dinner I don’t care about the next table. In church I shouldn’t be a greeter. I want to share moments with the people I already know and love. I’m not looking to meet passing strangers.
My son is quite the opposite.
Before he could even talk, the boy was sympathetic to others. His faithful security-blanket-thing “Moo” has not only been his comforter since birth, but he’s been known to lay it on the TV when characters are crying. He wants to put it next to people who are sleeping. If he sees a random upset stranger he asks us if we can give them “Moo” until they feel better.
This is the heart of my son.
Couple this with his boldness and need to meet those around him. He’s not frightened of strangers and in most cases will walk over to them before they’ve said a word.
“Excuse me,” He always begins, in a very polite but insistent voice. I’ve watched him stop conversations cold. If he wants to meet you, he’s going to say something.
“My name’s Bodie and this is Todd.” It is impossible to not be introduced if you are standing anywhere near him. You are involved. And he knows to not introduce me as Dada. If he’s feeling formal he’ll include a last name. It’s worth noting that we did not teach him to do this. He’s an introduction savant.
Interestingly, he sometimes forgets to ask their name, as he fully expects the person to give it the moment he’s finished our side of the meet and greet. I’ve watched him stand there with his brain grinding to a halt if names aren’t quickly given back. The only time I have to prompt him in this scenario is to encourage him to ask for their names if they haven’t spoken up. It’s clear this seems unnecessary to him, as they should be forthcoming once he begins the process.
After this, a delicate dance begins. He would happily spend the rest of the day with his new acquaintances. In many cases he’s actually interrupted his new friends and they would like to return to what they were doing. Even though I didn’t want to meet them in the first place, the boy just wants to hang out.
On a recent ski day I was having a great time with him, and he was amazing me with his willingness to ski pretty much anything that wasn’t labeled black. But as our day was drawing to a close, my mostly perfect experience was challenged by his need to make friends. He began to notice every non-adult on the mountain and announce his desire to meet them. Never mind they are going up the lift while we are skiing down. Overlook the fact that they are currently taking a family portrait or skiing away at four times our speed.
This is not an idle want, but a deeply wired need, and the longer he goes without meeting a random peer the more unsettled he becomes. On one of our first ski-days we met another father and his two kids. My son skied right over, introduced himself, and insisted we ski down the hill with them. He even struggled with the fact that we couldn’t all ride the chairlift together. We did two very long runs with a family on vacation, and when we parted he acted like it was the separation of life-long friends.
You might be thinking, “how cute”, and to some extent you are right. However, it now falls to me and my wife to nurture this empathetic part of his personality. I can’t begin to think how many ways his extroverted tendancies will benefit him and others on his walk through life. Yet it makes me uncomfortable.
So I’m learning to meet random strangers. My son is teaching me. I’m cynical and insular and self-reliant. He’s emotional and open and relationally gifted.
I’ve spoken to large groups and met plenty of strangers in my life – more now because of Everyday Driver. The common thread for me is my willingness to speak into a microphone when it’s handed to me, but I won’t go looking for the opportunity. My son would go out in the street, gather up the people needed to fill an auditorium, then tell them to sit quietly while he plugs in the mic and shares his life.
What kind of person are we guiding? I fear him catching my cynicism like a virus that kills his faith in others. But I know those heartbreaks are coming. I love his uninhibited ability to be who he is without apology. He stretches me to kill my own self-consciousness.
My son is more shamelessly confident than I think I’ve ever been. I hope he never loses it and we can help him blend it with humility and a willingness to learn. I don’t know what he can be, but whatever it is you will likely know his name. He will tell you. And he’ll probably introduce everyone around him in the process.
Be sure you tell him your name.