There are just some moments you know you’re going to want to remember forever. The scene is so beautiful, the air full of emotion, and the people in them mean so much to you. Last night, I experienced one of those moments that met all three of those criteria, and more.
He was simply standing there – fishing pole in his hands staring off into the lake where we are staying. It’s become a bit of a family tradition now to take a trip post school year, and conveniently it’s over his birthday. And for just a moment, he wasn’t casting, he wasn’t reeling – he was just standing and staring – like we all do from time to time – and it took my breath away. My little boy, my beautiful son, is his own grown up person. Capable of casting and catching fish, sure – but more so capable and already forming his own thoughts and feelings about the world in which we live, and the one he will someday inherit from me. There he was, thinking special and unique thoughts all on his own, all by himself.
There comes a time when we all do things like this for the first time – it’s kind of like a coming of age. And while I am sure this was not his “first time,” it was the first time I caught him, and the first time I realized who he now is. And then, he told me.
“I’m a young man, dad! A tween. Double digits for life!”
Admittedly, he’s a little more excited about his birthday this year than I was about my own – but we’re reaching milestones together. Me turning old (40), and him turning old enough. Old enough to ride in the front seat. Old enough to help me move the church trailer every week. Old enough to help me carry stuff around the house. Old enough to feed dogs, vacuum floors, and file dishes back in to their proper cupboards. All of these and more amazing milestones, for an amazing young man.
But he’s old enough for other things too. He’s old enough to notice when something or someone isn’t right. His emotional intelligence and empathy genes are off the charts. He often is now the one turning to ask me, “is everything ok?” He’s old enough to make lunch for his sister, who he “most of the time” loves and protects the way that every big brother should. And yet, not quite so old that he won’t play with her for hours like best friends in the backyard on the trampoline. He’s old enough to talk to me about the bad choices he or his friends made at school, and help me come up with positive potential ways to handle them the next time. He’s old enough to make informed decisions about who he wants to hang out with and why; and his track record on this one is almost 100%. As a young man, turning ten, he certainly is old enough, for this and so much more.
And so, as I sat down next to my ten year old boy on the dock and watched him fish, I promised myself that I would treat him as what he is; old enough. To sometimes know the truth about difficult things. To make his own choices about certain situations, and to hold him responsible when he makes his own mistakes.
But more than that, I promised myself that I would spend the next ten years getting to know my son, the real person inside of him, in tangible, meaningful, powerful ways. He is no longer “just a little boy” of who I must take care and protect. He is a unique and perfect gift from God to me – and someone whose company a really do enjoy. I want to hear his thoughts. I want to know his heart. I want to earn his trust. I want to be his lifelong friend. I will always be his dad, and for a few more years, he’ll have to answer to me (and he will 🙂 if he comes home late or breaks mom’s dishes – but soon the days are coming when it is my prayer that he will seek out my opinion instead of wishing he hadn’t gotten caught and didn’t have to hear it.
And so, with the help of a list from a good friend, I sat on that dock, I asked questions, and maybe for the first time, I listened to my son, my beautiful young man of a son, tell me about the world in which HE lives. Some were simple.
“What’s your favorite thing about mom?” or “What’s the best thing that happened today?”
Others were much deeper.
“How would you explain God?” & “What is your secret talent?”
Each one though, earned me a front row seat into the mind of a person who is quickly becoming one of my favorite discussion partners on the planet. Just old enough to talk to dad, about all the things that dad really needs to know. Things that THIS dad needed to know, about Ezekiel Aaron Steffen. A ten year old young man, in a world that needs more people like him.
Ezekiel, the truth is, I should have asked these questions long before now. I should have taught you more in the ten years that have already escaped us. I shouldn’t be so surprised by you or all the things you’re old enough to do. You inspire me each and every day to press on and push in. I know you still need me, but the truth is, I need you too. More and more every single day. I love you in the way only a father can love his son, and I pray you’ll know and feel that love long after I am gone (many, many years from now).
Last night was a moment I hope to remember forever. That moment (incapsulated by the magic of digital photography) will be forever etched in my memory banks, and will serve to remind me that each stage of life and every single day with you Zeke, is a gift from God that Daddy will never take for granted. Every good gift comes from above – and you are everything that is good in my world. I am so proud, yes of the touchdown passes and strikeouts, but SO much more of the young man you are becoming. The young man who I met last night. The young man who today, turns ten – and if you ask me – that’s just old enough, for now.