Before my wife got pregnant a little under three years ago, I had almost no interaction with babies, children or really anybody under the age of 20. Then my son was born and suddenly a tiny little dude became the center of my existence. And as many people know, sometimes having your own kid brings back things from your own childhood that you haven't thought of in ages.
For me, it reconnected me to the pain of being abandoned by my own mother when I was just two years old—the same age as my son is now. Before I became a parent, I felt like I’d moved past that pain—that I’d forgiven my mother for the sake of my sanity—but it still dredged up a lot of memories.
My son has a tendency to panic any time my wife or I leave his sight for even a minute, even if it’s only to take out the trash. The prospect of one of us being gone for even a short time, clearly terrifies him.
So what must have it felt like to my two-year-old self when my mother didn’t just go away for three minutes, or five minutes, but instead went away forever? Did I feel her absence acutely? Did it register to my two-year-old brain as rejection? Abandonment? Did I understand what was going on? Could I? Did I forget my mother? Did I forgive my mother? Did I forget what she looked like, what she smelled like, how she laughed?
When my boy gets scared when I leave for a little while, I assure him that Daddy is there for him, and that I'll always be there for him...
I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. They're lost to time and I can only guess. But one thing I do know is that if I ever abandoned my son, I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
The shame would be too great.
In order to survive, I’d have to find a way to justify that desertion to myself and to the world the way that my mother semi-justified leaving me by telling me that she knew then that I would have a better life with my father raising me, so she nobly chose to step aside. I don’t believe her, but I suppose it’s nice to have an explanation—even an unsatisfying one.
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When my boy gets scared when I leave for a little while, I assure him that Daddy is there for him, and that I'll always be there for him, no matter what. I worry sometimes that I’m projecting my own insecurities onto him, that I tell him that his parents will never leave him because I wished that had been true for me.
Reliving these memories aren't all bad. Yes, it’s brought back some of the hurt of my own childhood, but its also made me more determined than ever to be a good dad. I’m committed to being as present for my son as my own mother was absent for me.
And that's a promise I intend to keep.