fathers & sons

I saw this image years ago, and it really captured my attention – so much that I saved a copy on my phone and made it a favorite. I wish I knew who to credit for the artwork, but I truly have no idea. I wanted to share it today because it speaks a truth that words cannot. But I don’t think it tells the whole truth.

People used to say my son was my “mini me”. There’s been a pretty strong resemblance between us since he was born! These days, he is a taller, stronger, smarter, and of course younger “chip off the ‘ol block”. I’m grateful to say he also doesn’t have the hang-ups that I’ve carried most of my life. He would be quick (and humble) to say he’s not perfect. But I’ll say he’s usually quite easy-going and a lot of fun to be around. He’s also compassionate, works hard, and is well respected by those on his team and those he serves. His wife, who he married over four years ago, absolutely adores him and she is his everything – I can see it in their big and little interactions with one another every time I’m around them! He is loyal to his friends, and loves family deeply.

My son also works out regularly, but has never enjoyed running – which if you’ve been with me on this blog for very long, you know running is kinda my thing. Over the last several months, though, he’s been slowly incorporating running into his workouts. So now he calls me randomly to ask for running tips. We’ve talked about running shoes, socks, pace, cadence, breathing, and other technical aspects (did I mention he’s smart?) He tells me that while he doesn’t enjoy running like I do, he has begun to appreciate the cardio benefits.

My son and his wife came to visit this weekend. On Saturday morning, he and I went for a short run together. It was just a couple miles, and those two miles were such a joy for me! It was like a bucket list item I didn’t even know existed! I thought my heart might burst – and it wasn’t from the pace, either! It was sheer exuberance!

And then, on Sunday, my son, daughter-in-law, my wife, her mom, and I went to church together, and then out to lunch for a Mother’s Day celebration. We selected a nice restaurant and enjoyed a great time and a good meal. When the server brought the bill, she handed it to me – as expected. I started to get my credit card, as usual. But before I could, my son handed his credit card to the server! He paid for the whole thing!

It wasn’t about the money. It was one of those moments when something transfers between father and son, and everyone knows it’s special. My son is a man – in every respect, and with plenty of it too! He could’ve let me get the check, as usual, but he is no usual son. He’s kind, confident, and generous. There’s nothing more any dad could want for their son! I’m more than proud! I’m confident in him, his integrity, and his love. I have this peace, this contentment, knowing that he has the character and courage to face and walk through whatever comes his way in days to come!

My dad was around this weekend, too. After all, we live in his house. I imagine it was a difficult time for him. This was the first Mother’s Day without his wife (my stepmom) of over 40 years. He has some physical health challenges that take a lot of his mental energy to deal with. This weekend, I think most of his emotional energy was also focused toward those challenges. I think it felt safer for him than engaging on any emotional level. So while he was around, he wasn’t really present. Which is why I can only imagine it was difficult. I did check on him and help when requested. We also invited him to be a part of our activities throughout the weekend. But he was dogmatic that he needed to stick to his schedule – a schedule he set for himself – so he could tend to his physical condition.

Knowing what dissociation is like for me, my perception is that he basically “checked out” because that was easier for him. It takes a lot of physical energy for him to be present. But even more, there’s an emotional toll he is often unwilling or unable to pay.

Honestly, because of his challenges, in some ways, it was also easier for everyone else for him to check out. I noticed in me a sense of ease, but also some dis-ease or uneasy feelings. I want him to be more involved, so when he’s not I grieve and am frustrated. But then I am not responsible for his choices, nor can I make him do anything. So, we invite and leave the decisions up to him.

In this season, this is my life. Reaching back to my dad in support, working to be free of judgment and frustration while also working to be compassionate and caring. Reaching ahead for my son with availability and encouragement – ready to connect in any way possible and appreciating the moments I can get.

But then also, I must continually reach inward, to do the work of having self-compassion and attunement. I must recognize my own emotional state – to which my body usually alerts me if I’m paying attention. If I am not paying attention to me – and to what has my attention, then I will end up being disconnected as a son and as a dad (and husband, neighbor, friend, etc).

There was a time when I would say I’d give anything for my son. Especially in an effort to help him walk this life without the pain and emotional baggage I’ve carried. But I’m learning there are limits. It’s the message we hear every time we get on a commercial flight. In the event of an emergency, I must be sure my own oxygen mask is in place – then I can help secure his, too! If I give too much, it leaves me vulnerable and unable to continue giving, being present, and connected – to be a bridge between generations – and, I think, for future generations as well!

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