Between the diaper changes and crying fits, I spend a lot of time watching my 8 month old son and musing about what kind of man he will become one day. I watch him while he sleeps and while he plays. I watch him as he figures out how to use his little fingers and toes. I watch him watching me as I’m getting ready for work in the morning. A few nights ago, I was watching my son as he wiggled in my lap from arm to arm, treating me like his personal jungle gym. At one point, he abruptly decided to dive backward from the standing position he was in facing me. Without a thought, my arms and back adjusted instantly to compensate for the shifting of his weight and the change in his body’s shape. A second later, he was comfortably laying with his back across my lap, secure in my arms, and playing with corner of my t-shirt. I turned to my wife – who had been witness to what just happened – and said, “Isn’t it amazing? He just always assumes that I’ll be there to make sure he doesn’t fall.”
No sooner did those words leave my tongue than I started to ponder the wondrous depths of that observation.
My son is not able to speak, communicate thoughts, or fully comprehend the complexities of our Father-Son relationship. However, being able to do all of those things pales in comparison to his ability to express unequivocally who I am to him and what he feels for me – something we grown-ups struggle to do and spend years trying to get better at. By leaping backwards while in my arms without the worry of falling or the fear or injury, my son expressed his pure perception of me.
Daddy is safety.
No ornate words are needed between us – no gifts of appreciation to be exchanged. My son simply lives unfettered in the light of the fundamental truths he has gained from his experiences. There is no reasoning or process of deduction he goes through to determine how he should be with me.
Daddy is safety. I can do anything when I am with Daddy.
He does not recognize the existence of those who would harm him. He does not ponder what is good and what is evil. When he stretches his hands out to me to pick him up, when he clings tightly to me when we’re around strangers, when he falls asleep in my arms – my son proclaims his view of me over and over again.
Daddy is safety. I can do anything when I am with Daddy. I am safe with Daddy.
We adults go to great lengths to learn how to express ourselves in such pure ways. At practically every retreat or team building event I’ve been to, I’ve seen or participated in the trust building exercise where one person closes his or her eyes and has to fall backwards into the arms of a partner. Those who participate as the one who must trust in the exercise often look back before falling – visually confirming that their partner does not have the intention of letting them fall and measuring the distance between them and their partner to minimize the chances of an accidental fall. And if the one who falls is caught – which they always are – he or she is awash with relief and joy that they weren’t hurt even though the chances of any serious injury were slim to begin with. So it amazes me all the more that children not even a year old can do this with such ease.
Sadly, losing the ability to express ourselves this way is a part of growing up – a casualty of maturation. Watching my son, I cannot help but wonder what kind of place our world would be if we never had to lose that ability. Perhaps Heaven is such a place.
But right now, I’m going to try and engage in a pure expression of my own. I’m going to stop thinking about how the expressions of my son – who is curled up in bed sleeping next to me – make him the personification of purity. I’m going to put away my laptop, wrap an arm around him and close my eyelids. Hopefully, this simple expression of mine will let him know…
Daddy is with you. You are safe.