"Why do you want me to bleed daddy?"
This is what my then 5-year-old son said to me late one afternoon. For the third time I had told him to come inside to get ready for bed. When he didn't respond I grabbed the rusty old watering can he was playing with and headed inside, fuming about my paternal incompetency. Pausing at the back door, I realized that I didn't want to take the rusty old watering can in the house so without thinking I tossed it back toward the play area. As I did so, the handle broke and the can flew in a different direction striking my son's forehead. He started bleeding immediately and we were both shocked. When he noticed he was bleeding he asked me why I threw the can at his head and why I wanted him to bleed. I explained it was an accident but he was still very confused and in pain. I was crushed by his words and my actions. I couldn't get in touch with my wife, so I found a baby sitter for the other two kids and took him to the emergency room to get stitches, and to endure the questioning stares when he told the nurses and doctor that I threw a watering can at his head.
Almost a year later we were at a parade when a pirate ship came though firing off an extremely loud cannon. This scared my son so badly that he jumped in my lap and hugged me very tight for about five minutes as the spectacle inched past and out of range. I hug my children every day if I'm not away on a business trip but there was something different this time. I felt forgiven and I felt like he trusted me to protect him. I felt his trust in a way that I'd never felt before.
About two years later we are hosting my brother-in-law and his family as they visited our new home city of Amsterdam. It was the week before Christmas and we decided to visit the festive city center. There were hordes of people doing last minute shopping and enjoying the sights. About an hour into our adventure my sister-in-law noticed that our child count had dropped from 7 to 6 and we discovered my boy was missing. We quickly retraced our route but after 10 very long minutes of searching he was nowhere to be found. Fears entered my mind as we fanned out down crowded sides streets and alleys. At one point I imagined him alone sitting in some dark alcove crying for his family. As I passed each building my worries grew as various scenarios – none of them good – played out in my head. Then, in the crowd I saw two officers coming my direction and they had my son between them. I ran to him and picked him up without saying anything to the officers. I took him in my arms so I could make sure he was all right. I tried to ask him how he was doing but I was so emotional all I could muster was an inexplicable donkey bray that embarrassed my son.
What do these stories have in common other than my middle child? It's hard to describe but I think it has something to do with depth of emotion or perhaps emotional peaks and valleys you experience as a parent. You hear that parents love their children the same but I'm not sure that's true. I love them all tremendously and maybe the quantity is the same but the quality is different. And when I say quality I don't mean good vs. bad quality I mean the nature of the love seems different. With my middle child, at least for now there are lower lows and higher highs and although things have plateaued as of late I get the feeling that events are being foreshadowed and that fathering him will always be a roller coaster.
Please share similar stories or share your thoughts on mine.
MAB has fond and therefore suspect memories of living his pre-teen years in rural Central Utah with his five brothers and one sister. As a teenager he moved with part of his family to the suburbs of Salt Lake City then left for a mission to Honduras. After barely surviving that he went to college in Rapid City, SD then married an open minded Californian who helped put him through graduate school in Seattle. He currently resides in Amsterdam with his wife and three children and has a hard time figuring out if he'll ever leave the land of bikes, canals, tulips and clogs.
Image credit: Pierre Lognoul (used with permission).