This past Saturday my son graduated from the Univeristy of Arkansas. I read this to him at a little celebration we held after the ceremony.
I believe it was a Saturday morning, maybe Sunday, but it was definitely late morning because I can remember the warmth of the sun low on the horizon as it filtered in through the window behind your changing table. You were only a couple months old, flopping around like a wind-up toy and making things difficult for me as I attempted to change your soiled diaper. I remember thinking this was going to be my fate, changing all of your shewy diapers because the smell didn’t bother me. But I didn’t mind. I knew that your mom was destined to bear the brunt of chasing after you through the coming years, so it was something I could do to help.
As I went about the business of cleaning you up, I would always talk to you. The more animated I became, the calmer you would be, making my job that much easier. I’d describe all the things you were going to be doing some day, football, baseball, basketball, hiking, poison ivy, chiggers, prom dates, blind dates, rock & roll, slick bikes, fast cars, and college (LSU of course). That particular morning, when I was finished, I didn’t pick you up right away. I stood there staring down at you, and you laid there peacefully looking back at me. Then the fear started to creep in. All the negative thoughts that as a parent you struggle to keep barricaded in the back of your mind. All the what if’s. Accidents, illness, car wrecks, emergency rooms, court, emotional turmoil, all started breaking through that mental barrier I worked so hard to preserve. My heart started racing and I seriously started wondering what it was I had gotten myself into.
That all changed in an instant…when you smiled up at me. It wasn’t prompted…nobody blurting “Boo” in your face…or talking in a funny voice. Just a smile. And in that instant I understood what you were telling me…or rather…how I needed to look at things.
It was as if you were saying, “Dad…I got this.”
I knew then that I didn’t need to worry so much about screwing up and venturing into the dark thoughts, because we were in this together. If I just stayed out of your way and made sure I trailed just far enough behind that I could catch you if you stumbled, things would be just fine.
And they were. Look at all that you’ve accomplished. You graduated today and became an independent man of your own right, creating memories along the way that would bust the seams of the sturdiest treasure chest. We are so proud of you! The rest of your life is ahead and there will still be many choices, some of them tough, but they all will be yours to make, alone.
So the days of looking over your shoulder are over. We surrender that role happily. But that doesn’t mean we’re backing away. We will always be here when you need us, and if you want to discuss those tough choices…or even the easy ones…we’ll gladly do that. Face to face.
I love you son! Whatever the rest of your life has in store, to me you will always be that little boy on the changing table, instilling confidence in me with your smile.