5 minute readRelationships, Family, Parenting

In Memoriam: The pride, joy (and sorrow) of growing up

A child's growth brings pride, joy... and sorrow

By Caleb Stanton
May 10, 2020

Parenting is a relentless push-and-pull of celebration and mourning. Often times, joy and sorrow become so intimate that they no longer exist as separate entities – they are hot water and ground Arabica, filling the soul with conflicted energy. Every new milestone assails the frail parental heart with pride in a child’s growth and grief for an era that will forevermore exist solely in memoriam.

My oldest turned 5 today. Needless to say, I’m a hot f#%king mess…

But that’s not the point.

The hearts of parents are fragile and conflicted because the heart of every human being is fragile and conflicted. This paradox of complex emotion is what makes the human experience so unique. So maddening. So… beautiful. And it’s why not a single soul was shocked today when I helplessly transformed into an overboiled beaker of emotional instability – spewing out cringeworthy one-liners such as “you’re my little man” and “how did you get to be so big?”

Men have relied on embarrassing clichés to cope with insecure feelings for millennia. My less-than-composed reaction to my son turning 5 was entirely predictable, it seems. His reaction, however, was nothing short of remarkable.

We spent the morning hiking Newport Beach’s Back Bay – a swampy nature reserve surrounded by trails and bike paths. He walked and ran and effortlessly climbed tangled trees. When he spotted a local fisherman casting in the muck by the waterline, there was no stopping him: Three of us waited on the dry dirt path as he ventured alone through the sludge to the edge of the water where the fisherman stood. The slippery ground inevitably yanked him down again and again. Undeterred, he returned minutes later covered in black and brown slime.

He was a hot f#%king mess… and he was grinning ear to ear.

As we got ready for bed tonight, I became overwhelmed with how strong and brave and independent my son has become. I feel infinitely proud of him yet deeply melancholy as I reflect on how little he needs me anymore. My heart is an oaken barrel overflowing with some rare vintage – sweet yet bitter – and perhaps a little too full-bodied. It’s a heavy wine.

I strained to push the heaviness aside so I could be the fully present, engaged father he deserves. But in the midst of the struggle two small hands took hold of mine, and my brave little adventurer said the most remarkable thing:

“Daddy, can I fall asleep in your arms tonight?”

He has never asked me that before – at least not so explicitly. How did he know that was exactly what my frail, insecure DadHeart needed in that moment? How did he know?!?

I held him firmly as he curled into my chest. It was one of those moments you know is special even as you’re living it. His tired body quickly melted into a relaxed sleep, and I found myself taking deep breaths – as if to capture the fullness of the moment with every gulp of air.

As we lay there in the darkness it occurred to me that perhaps this rare moment wasn’t the result of some deep insight on the part of a five-year-old boy – however emotionally intelligent he may be. My heart tells me we found ourselves in each other’s arms because of something much nearer to the core of the human experience: That however grown we may be, we will always find our greatest security in deeply connected relationships. I am nearly 36, and in moments of weakness or insecurity I still long to be held by my wife, my loved ones and my God.

I needed to be held tonight. My son did too. And I will cherish the security we found in the arms of one another for a very long time.