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I have always been something of a softie, but becoming a father really opened the floodgates of sloppy sentimentality. This was driven home for me recently when I teared up looking at a bag of onesies my son had outgrown. It wasn't the garments that made me deeply melancholy so much as what they represented. These tiny little garments represented the passage of time and the baby my son Declan used to be but no longer was.
It felt ridiculous at the time, but in that moment, I was already nostalgic for my son's past, short as it might have been. That's the tricky thing about nostalgia; it sneaks up on you when you're not paying attention, and infuses your experiences with a longing for the past that is at once impossible, maddening and yet oddly comforting. Nostalgia doesn't need years, or decades, or eras, to work its curious magic. It can make you deeply nostalgic for something that happened last week. It can even make you nostalgic for the moment you are currently experiencing.
That seems to be what I am now. Even as I delight in the boundless fount of joy and exuberance that is my ten-month-old son's developing personality, there is already some part of my brain that is rocketing ahead decades into the future and thinking about how desperately I will miss my son's first year and all of the milestones along the way. And that makes me feel like I'm choosing not to live in the present.
This isn't the only time I've felt intense nostalgia for the present. When I started writing for the entertainment section of The Onion in the mid 1990s back in Madison, Wisconsin, I remembered vividly thinking from time to time what a wonderful and important cultural moment I was inhabiting, and how lucky I was to be a part of something so special, that meant so much to so many people.
I don't know the future, but I now how wonderful the present is, and I'm torn between wanting my son to stay in his current state of perfection and dizzy anticipation of what's to come.
I knew at the time that what I was doing was special, and didn't need history to validate what I was experiencing. I feel the same way about being a parent. I don't know the future, but I now how wonderful the present is, and I'm torn between wanting my son to stay in his current state of perfection and dizzy anticipation of what's to come. God willing, the future will be as full of things worth remembering and cherishing as the present is. For nostalgia is in many ways a happy kind of sadness, since we're looking lovingly at something that is already gone. But the funny thing is that those moments don't necessarily even have to be gone for us to be deeply nostalgic for them.
If a bag of outgrown baby clothing can nearly reduce me to tears, I can only imagine how hopeless I will be when my son graduates from college or moves out or gets married. Though I don't have a crystal ball, I do not need to be Nostradamus to ascertain that I will probably be a blubbering, sobbing, nakedly emotional mess during every single one of my son's milestones and landmarks. And in a weird sort of way, I'm looking forward to that. I think I am ready to be the sappy dad with the camera who wants to commemorate each moment for posterity as a way of holding onto the present before it slips away forever.