Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Seven Years Later, My Boy Stands Strong

Dear Jackson:

Seven years ago tonight, I feared for your future. I didn't know if I was up to raising a child without his mother's help, and I didn't know if you were up to the emotional challenges of growing up without her. It was a really scary moment, knowing that I’d be solely responsible for guiding you from the age of 8 all the way until manhood. It’s a huge job—too much for one person, it seemed to me at the time. Who would be my system of checks-and-balances? Who would rein me in when I was flying off the handle? Who would stop me from spoiling you? Who would make sure you occasionally ate something besides red meat?

And ya know what? In many ways, it was too much. We got too much of each other, and we argued like a husband and wife, often driving everyone around us nuts. Some of your childhood characteristics became like fingernails on a blackboard to me—probably because they reminded me of myself at a similar age. And I know that my tendency for over-reaction pushed you away more often than I’d like to remember. I can’t tell you how many times I sat on the couch feeling like such a jerk, and wanting so badly to take it all back. But just like I couldn’t bring your mom back, I knew I couldn’t undo my reactions. I hope you can forgive me.

Still, despite the MANY mistakes I've made along the way, I must have done something right, because you’ve grown into the vivacious, stubborn, life-embracing soul I'd always hoped you’d be. You've been strong since day one, and now you've gotten through the hardest stretch of your loss. They say life progresses in seven-year increments, so perhaps you can look upon this date as a rite of passage of sorts, a doorway to the land of emotional freedom—the first day of the next stage of your life without Mom. There shouldn’t have even had to be such a stage, but we play with the cards life deals us.

And you, my son, have played your cards pretty well so far. You remained upbeat more often than you had any right to be, and you stayed engaged—with school, friends, activities, family, and anything else that brought you joy. While many other teens—with far less emotional justification—spend their time sulking and staring at computer screens, you spend them skating, producing amazing videos for your own YouTube channel, golfing for your high school team, and (occasionally) playing with your little brothers. (Okay, sometimes you sulk and/or stare at your computer, too—no one’s perfect.)

What’s more, you never stood in the way of my journey. You embraced Taylor when I dated her, and you seemed to be genuinely happy for me when I subsequently met and fell in love with Sarah, despite all the indications that she would frequently take me away from you (probably a good thing!).

And speaking of Sarah, you never once made her feel uncomfortable, no small miracle given that she was following in the footsteps of a ghost. Your willingness to accept her as your stepmother is a big reason why she’s so willing to be tough on you; believe me, Sarah’s toughest when she cares deeply. Try to remember that when she’s riding you to do your chores.

I have no way of knowing what the next seven years will bring (although a college diploma would be nice), but if they bring us as many good things as the last seven have—hello, Sarah and Max and William, and cousins Emma and Lennox and Sage and Riley and Charlotte and Clara, and Albany and Cornell Avenue, and all the good times you've spent with Alex and Owen, and the countless other treasured aspects of our lives!—we will be two of the luckiest people in the universe.

All of this is why, as I sit here tonight, seven years after ushering you through your terrible loss, I have complete confidence that you're going to go out into the world and take care of business, and have a good time doing it. A dad can't ask anything more.

I know that almost nothing I’ve written here is something you haven’t heard before. But I wanted to get it all on “paper”, in one stream of consciousness exercise, so you would always know how I felt about our most tumultuous years.

I love you, Jackson. Your mom would be proud of you. I know I am.

Love, Dad

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