If I am being honest, Ezekiel, I sometimes wonder if you ever look in the mirror before you leave the house? I’m not attempting to be cruel, simply being honest, which as your father it is my duty to do. Let me just recall for you some of the outfits I have seen you wear, along with some accessories.
First, I know you’ve left the house in shorts that contain shapes, shaded in primary colors that look as though they’re straight out of the 80’s, along with the most Wisconsin Badger red jersey that you own. Add in the flat brimmed hat with tropical hues of pink and blue, and I can guarantee that someday, you’ll be embarrassed by it too.
Second, I know that you’ve worn jorts a shade of gray, along with blue, white, and green sweatshirts – all of which are intensely colored on their own – but when paired with your customary fanny pack and glasses that make it appear as if you’re about to hit the slopes, it leaves even the most artistic of mothers say “hmmmmmmm” – as we watch you walk out the door.
Lastly, your affinity for hoodies has reached a level that may be dangerous to you in the coming months. I take this opportunity to remind you that Wisconsin summer days are filled with intense and blinding rays, humidity levels that tax even the largest of freeze babies, and temperatures that rival those on the surface of the sun. Sometimes when we have just woken up, the degrees outside are higher than the number of years grandma and grandpa have been alive, and yet – on goes the sweatshirt – with ball cap and fanny pack in tow.
Truthfully, I am not sure I will ever understand your “style” – but I am also sincerely in awe of it. I have never met a kid who could look so cool, confident and charismatic, while looking so ridiculous as well. They way you own what makes you you, is one of the things that makes me grateful you are you, and you aren’t me.
Because, if I am being honest, Ezekiel, for me, sometimes looking at you is like looking in a mirror. Sure, we share the struggles of anxiety, and we often worry about the same things – but it goes SO much deeper than that. I couldn’t have planned for you to like sports, both playing and watching, any more than you do, and it makes me remember what it was like to take the field as a kid, and makes me excited to think about all the games I’m going to get to watch, both with you, and with you in them.
Hearing you engage your friends and our family in conversation, with sarcasm, wit and silly jokes – reminds me of when I was trying to discover who I was, and how to share my voice. Seeing you play with your sister and help her with simple everyday tasks like making her lunch, reminds me what it was like to be a big brother whose only goal, was to make sure that their younger sibling knew what it was like to feel safe and cared for. Knowing, as you run around in the backyard announcing your own games and pretending to be like the players we watch on TV, takes me back to a time when I too truly thought that I could be one of them.
There are SO many things you do, that I once did, and selfishly, it makes me feel like I am living parts of my childhood all over again, through you. At times, when I stare into your eyes, it’s like I can read your mind, know your thoughts, and it feels like I am staring into a mirror that has the power to turn back time.
But here is what I know. Today, YOU turn eleven years old – and I am forty one. Today you are still exploring and discovering who God designed and called you to be – and how He has uniquely designed you as His beautiful and precious child. Today, you are experiencing a life as exclusive and uncommon, as all of you actually is. You are one of one – and the one and only Ezekiel Aaron Steffen.
I see it in the pictures you draw, that I know I never could. I hear it in the conversations you have with your mom about deep and meaningful things that I couldn’t have cared less about. I spot it as you show your love for things I never had like cooking, reading and eating crazy and copious amounts of nachos. You are a thoughtful, intelligent, incredible and inspirational young man – and I have never been more proud of anything or anyone as I am of you and your little sis. Two wonderful and different little people, who love each other, and more importantly love the God who designed them in His image. You make EVERY, SINGLE, DAY of my life more meaningful and magical – simply by being part of them.
But as I have said, today is your day, to celebrate and live it up. You have now lived eleven FULL years, of a life all your own, and what a life it has been. You need to know – I love you, forever and always, and no matter what. Nothing could ever or would ever change that. But as you revel in all the appropriate and opportune attention that comes your way – just know that two things are true. First, your dad wants you to be yourself – special and unique in so many beautiful ways. Never try to be someone else, you are good enough and always will be. And second, know your dad is looking at you. He is beaming with love, gratitude, pride and joy – and feeling just a little bit, like he’s looking in a mirror. Only this mirror is magic or perhaps more accurately supernatural, and has the power to take what was, and turn it into something so much better.
Ezekiel Aaron Steffen, my son. Tonight, as I lay next to you as you fall asleep, and sneak a kiss on your forehead before, as you so eloquently put it, “I’ll see you when I’m 11” – I steal a few extra seconds to stare and see that right here in front of me, God has done what only He could do, when He took a little part of me – and made it into you.