I’m a little over halfway through my COVID quarantine as I write this and two things are certain.
One, I am coming out of this with a beard.
Two, I am coming out of this after my son’s birthday.
Both kids have been at their mother’s and me, I’ve been living here alone like the Phantom of the Opera, haunting my hallways and experiencing just what it is that I was supposed to be afraid of this past year. It hasn’t been fun and the rotating symptoms have kept me on my toes. The worst of it, however, is the waiting.
For most people, saying that they have to miss their child’s birthday is fodder for a blues song or a self-inflected flogging. It’s tragedy and turmoil wrapped in heartache and the tear ducts it tugs on can be felt by anyone. Parents shouldn’t miss their child’s special day and, even if through no fault of their own, it still should hurt.
After all, won’t your child miss you? Won’t my non-verbal now-ten-year-old with autism miss me?
Um…yeah? I mean, I guess, kind of?
That’s the magic of having a child who lives in the moment. Lucas doesn’t deal with future dates or daily anniversaries. It’s a quirk of who he is and one that has presented a dilemma to me whenever anyone, over the past ten years has asked me such things. Does he know it’s his birthday? Will he miss you in his few-days time away following your divorce? Is he sad when you aren’t around?
I shrug. I try to explain his absence of notice and the different ways he views life. I ultimately end up saying “sure”, but, honestly, it’s more because the people I am speaking to most likely won’t ever understand.
Lucas doesn’t “miss” me in the traditional sense and, as a father, that’s kind of what I want. Wanting your child to long for you is actually a selfish thing because it says you want your kid to feel the sting of your absence. Why? Will the sting help them throughout their day? No. It’s to make you feel important, needed, and wanted. It’s really for you and not for them.
I don’t want Lucas to long for me or hurt when I’m not there, nor do I need him to do so in order to know I affect his life. He doesn’t have the language to ask for me and he doesn’t seem to process that an overly long amount of time has gone by since he’s last seen me. He lives his life. If he gets the things he wants and enjoys, he moves forward.
Of course, all of this is my own observation and I can’t speak for what goes on in his mind. I do, though, feel I know him better than most. He’s my son and I get him.
His memory is pretty incredible so I don’t fear that he will forget me. I can rediscover long forgotten about YouTube videos or songs from years gone by and he will perk up as soon as they play. He doesn’t forget much and I know he’ll never forget me.
He also doesn’t seem to care about when his birthday is. Don’t get me wrong. He likes it when we celebrate his birthday. He enjoys cake, presents, more cake, and then dessert cake. Yet, he doesn’t anticipate that it is his big day. I’m not fully sure he grasps the idea of certain days being more important than others. There’s no sense of his special time arriving or knowledge that a new morning is a new number on a calendar. He just goes forward until someone screams “happy birthday” and hands him cake. It’s a pretty sweet way to live.
What my boy does get is that time we come back together is everything wonderful we can make it. Sure, he doesn’t come running towards me with tears in his eyes after days apart. Sometimes his reaction is very underwhelming and, as I stand there with my arms stretched out, he will slowly walk up to me, lay his head on my chest, and give me the hand signal for “iPad”. The big reunion is never the same big moment for him that it is for me.
The moments that are big for him, however, are all the ones that follow. It’s the days we spend together and the memories we make from that moment forward. It’s the weekly reminder of how much fun we have together and how loved he (and I) truly are.
That’s what’s important. It’s the big part of all this that some never truly understand. A boy like Lucas might not tell me he wants me back or show me that he missed me in those minutes he first sees me again. Those typical “look Dad, you’re important” signals aren’t there. It’s watching him shine in the time we spend together after that which makes me know how truly important I am in his life. That’s the equivalent of being missed that I live for.
Maybe, outside of a Facetime call that he barely pays attention to, I might be missing the chronological anniversary of his birth this year. It might hurt me in a pretty drastic way, but it really means nothing to him. That day doesn’t matter. It’s only his “birthday” because we declare it so. His actual birthday this year is going to be much more than the date on a calendar. It’s going to be an event that sees me, him, and my daughter all reunited for a big celebration that he won’t forget. I’m not sure what it will be exactly just yet, but he will love it. I know he will.
I know he will love it because I’m his dad. I also know that his reaction will be all the reminder I need that I’m important and, without him having to say a word, he missed me.