My face felt claustrophobic all day today.
It started when my daughter and youngest son were halfway to Burlington, VT., where we were meeting my oldest son and a close friend of his for a birthday breakfast. Around mile marker 90 on Interstate 89 South, I was terribly aware of the beard growing on my cheeks, upper lip, and chin in a way I’d never felt before. By the time breakfast was over, I felt trapped in a cage of facial hair. As we pulled into the driveway late this afternoon, what began as a beard had transformed into a symbol.
I immediately went upstairs and shaved the whole damned thing off. First time in about ten months.
Now it’s time for a fresh start. The beard will grow back and stay for a while, but today, it had to go. Those long whiskers just felt so … old.
Did I mention that one of my sons turned 21 today?
The next several months, starting today, are filled with milestone birthdays. My oldest kid today. I turn 45 on Monday (not a milestone, but the 5’s always feel big to me). My daughter turns 18 in February. My youngest son turns 16 in July. And my step-daughter hits the quarter-century mark in October.
People tell me I have a baby face, and facing all these birthdays down, I needed a little affirmation that I still have some time ahead of me. When she saw my naked face, my wife freaked out and told me I look like a child, so I guess I’ve still got it. Unfortunately, I’ve also still got a bit of a double-chin going, so the beard is definitely coming back.
Anyway, I’ve been a father for 21 years as of today, beard or no beard.
It all began on Christmas morning, 1998. I was awoken by my son’s mother, who told me her water had just broken. Yes, Virginia, there really is an uncanny valley in which real life resembles sitcom plots.
Living literally across the road from the hospital and with zero traffic due to the holiday, my then-wife suggested that we just walk over to the birthing center to begin the last leg of our journey into parenthood. I learned early on during the first pregnancy to trust the instincts of the person growing the child, rather than relying on my own anxiety, which would have placed her on bedrest at the end of the first trimester.
So we walked.
This was around 8:30 a.m. or so, and we brought the stack of Blockbuster rentals we’d picked up the previous night. We got through those movies and then some over the next 20-ish hours, and in the process I learned what a real badass – and motherly love – is truly capable of as literal blood, sweat, and tears resulted in the birth of our first child. A son.
After that … I don’t know. It’s a blur of parenting and love and anxiety and heartache and joy that allegedly happened over 21 years. Doesn’t feel like it, though.
The cliché about clichés is that that they’re clichés because they’re true. I don’t know how solid that idea is, but it definitely holds up when it comes to “old” people telling new parents to cherish every moment because time goes fast. You can roll your eyes at the words all day, but it doesn’t make them any less true.
I’ve been saying those words a lot lately.
Twenty-one years old. What the hell happened?
The amazing baby falling asleep on my chest and taking me to dreamland with him.
The toddler that snuck away from nap time at daycare to binge on prunes and milk in the kitchen.
The little boy who made scared and crying young adults laugh on Sept. 11, 2001, by playing ball with them.
The pre-teen who was obsessed with what sort of mansion is the best one: the kind with water slides or machine gun turrets. (I can tell you now, as an adult: why not both?)
The teenager who taught me more about music than I could ever teach him.
The young adult who worries about not doing “it” right, but who’s already made so many more good decisions than I did at his age.
The son. The brother. The grandson. The great-grandson. The stepson. The stepbrother. The nature lover. The poet. The reader. The potential.
The boy *sigh* man who made me a father.
Yes. I’m getting older. But this is exactly the way I want to do it.