You were always my hero growing up. You taught brothers and me how to read and ride our bikes, how to conquer the ocean waves, and how to make the perfect toast with cinnamon and sugar. You built us a triple bunk bed out of two-by-fours and came in every night to pray with us and sing us to sleep.
You came to every soccer game, swim meet, karate practice and music recital. You were home every night for family dinner, and you never drank alcohol. You challenged us to be the very best at everything, and you never asked us to do anything you weren’t willing to do yourself.
Things changed a bit when I turned 14 — when I started transitioning from a boy to a young man.
I still loved that you came to all my track and cross-country meets. I still loved that you made time for family dinner. I still loved that you always put us first.
But as I got older, your physical presence alone wasn’t enough. As a kid, it made me feel safe having you there to tuck me in bed, to teach me how to swim, to be there at sports practice. But as I became a young man, I craved more.
More than your physical presence, I wanted your emotional presence. I wanted to hear you say that you loved me. I wanted you to give me a hug and hear you say that you were proud of me.
I wanted you to talk to me about my changing body, about girls, and how to navigate becoming a young man. I wanted you to tell me it was ok for boys to cry — actually that it was more than ok to cry — it was healthy. I wanted you to show me how to talk about my feelings, and for you to ask me about them.
I went off to West Point, and those 4 years were the hardest of my life. It didn’t seem like you understood just how hard and lonely it was. As I entered the Army and my mid-20s, it felt like we were growing more and more apart. We only connected on surface level things. You never asked me about the important things in my life when I was a young man, and so I never learned how to tell you about them.
My mid 20s turned into my late 20s, and then my early 30s. I opened up to you about my depression, and you didn’t seem to know how to respond. That made me decide to not invite you into the important parts of my life anymore. I stopped telling you about my relationships, and my depression, and my career.
You came up every nearly week in therapy. Every week I told my therapist I needed to have that talk with you. To tell you what I needed. To tell you I needed to hear you say, “I love you.” That I needed you to just listen sometimes and tell me you were proud of me for opening up. That I needed you to not tell me that my depression was just something to pray about.
I finally built up the courage to have that talk with you, and you responded much better than I thought you would. I poured out what was on my heart and soul, things I’d been holding inside for all those years. The way you responded gave me hope for the future, hope that this would change our relationship, hope that this would bring our family closer together, and hope that we’d be able to have more tough but honest conversations down the road.
You slowly started to come around. You started ending your emails with, “Love, Dad.” You started saying, “I love you,” at the end of our Facetime calls. You started listening more and asking me more about how I was doing.
My girlfriend got pregnant and it wasn’t planned. Growing up, you’d always told us you shouldn’t have sex before marriage. So I was nervous about telling you that you were going to be a grandpa. But the conversation we had last year gave me courage.
We took a walk, and I told you she was pregnant, and you responded with love and support. And it filled my heart with joy that I could invite you into this, and instead of responding with judgement, you responded with love and kindness.
And then we lost our baby Gabriel. And you showed up for us with love and support again. You told me how much you loved me, how sorry you were for what I was going through, you asked me how my head and heart were doing.
And when it was time to go you said you wanted to spend more time with me 1:1, that you wanted more time to talk. And that’s the first time you ever said that to me.
Feeling grateful for you and hopeful for what lies ahead.