My son is suddenly interested in spending time with me. He is particularly enthrilled by my childhood, driving me into the dangerous paths of nostalgia, reminiscing an idealised period of carefree existence and unconditional love. We talk about growing up in the 90s; a bygone era with more freedom and less danger, mostly spent in the home of my paternal grandparents.
Tears came to my eyes seeing him excited by the banal story of me returning home with a bust knee, having fallen off my childhood bicycle. My grandfather, the story goes, hugged me and said “everything will be alright” — words that can be persuasive only if uttered by one who loves us undconditionally — before taking out the Dettol, which at the time was the solution to everything.
Narrating these stories of past love and affection is novel for me. Unexpectedly, I feel that a tear with my past is being restored; that there’s suddenly a thread going back to my childhood years. This link had been disrupted with the passing of my grandmother a few years ago, which left me exposed to the ills of a complicated world without a stable point of reference.
Johnny’s eyes sparkle as I narrate these stories. His radiant glare allows me to pass on these nostalgic yet happy moments, giving them a new meaning. I am now the adult in the room, tasked with creating new memories. In a few decades' time, maybe after I am gone, he will recollect and possibly share similar stories with another pair of sparkly eyes of someone who may even bear my name.
Love is a continuous exercise of being there; of providing assurance and stability, creating experiences and setting boundaries. We are all athletes of love. Sometimes we excel, while other times we slug.
The stress of the past few years with the toll of two children, a consuming and meaningful job, and the health challenges I faced, numbed me. I was struggling to find meaning in the simple things.
Johnny’s enhanced awareness somehow tilted a switch in me. I gained a newly-found perspective. My anxiety is now at reasonable levels and there’s renewed space for feelings. I realise that I have long muted these feelings under a cloak of seriousness and responsibility.
This revelatory re-prioritisation of what’s important was timely. It coincided with the arrival of our second child, Despina. She is joyous, smiling at everyone. I transform into a clown, trying to make her laugh. Her smile is contagious. Her laugh talks directly to my inner child, enabling me to experience positive feelings without guilt or reservation.
I am back in training, exercising in love, both giving and receiving it. This love is reciprocal and exponential, as well as revelatory. I learn new things about myself, both positive and negative. I try to become better for them, but I’m not always successful. I also witness a shift in my limits: in my endurance, resilience and capacity to generate great feelings from the mundane.
I strongly believe that our past shapes our future; that our experiences shape our abilities for what’s to come. In a way, we are both victims and beneficiaries of what we have gone through. I hope to assist my children to shape their own future in a constructive and positive way, having references to a loving and stable childhood.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.