A Birthday Remembered

My son turned one this week, and, in commemoration, I revisited what I wrote for him last year on the day that he was born:

Rembrandt“Over the weekend, the craziest thing happened: My wife birthed a son. He was our third child, but our first boy. We wrestled with naming him for nine months and two days. We named him, after forty-eight hours, Magnus Rowan Peters.

A little known fact about Magnus’ father is that he writes a book for each of his children. These books cast each child as the protagonist in a story of emerging identity. Who am I? What is existence? How do the complex realities of life and goodness mingle, oppose, and define one another? Or do they?

Each novel has a similar though different setting. All of the books take place in the fictional world of Elaea, but at varying epochs. The first is high fantasy, the second is steam punk, and the third is post-apocalyptic. After all, there’s no harm in my kids knowing that their Dad is nerd supreme.

Each novel is comprised of two parts. One part is the journey of the child; the other is the journey of the author. In the first novel, I tackled the relationship between children and parents in the character of my oldest daughter, while simultaneously exploring the difficulties of becoming a father. In the second, I wrote about the relationship between father and sons, and how one lives in the looming shadow cast by the imposing realities of ‘father,’ ‘dad,’ and ‘blood.’ In the third and final volume, I spun a yarn for Magnus that examined childhood identities. What happens when a child lives without a name, a family, a foundational understanding of self? In the alternating chapters, I wrestled with the burgeoning truths of my life — a father becoming, a family growing. And the constant tension between being a loving and present father and the inner desire to achieve: to write that book, to start that PhD, to rock that world.

People keep asking me what it feels like to have a son after having two girls, like it’s some great relief. But I love my daughters. Perhaps not in name, but they would have, just as well, carried on the spirit of their father. Yet, having a boy is different. For example, when changing him, I have to tuck his penis down so that he doesn’t pee straight out of his diaper. I did not know that. He wears hoodies where the girls did not and, though I’m partially bias, he digs his dad’s voice a little more than the girls. I read him Tennyson’s Ulysses on Wednesday, and he sat through the whole thing. I was like, ‘Some work of noble note, may yet be done/Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.’ And he was like, ‘I dig that shit, Dad.’ I don’t remember the girls saying stuff like that.

So, yeah, he’s cool, and I like him. But it is different. I want him to be strong and gentle, wise and honest, witty and vulnerable. I want him to find his identity in our — his family’s — togetherness. Yet, I want him cast out and find those ‘works of noble note’ that only he can accomplish. I want to strengthen and not hamper him. I want Magnus to fail and learn from his mistakes. I want him to be good rather than happy.

I find that the hardest part of bringing children into this world is that you have to, eventually, let them go. Granted, when they’re eighteen it will probably feel like sweet release, but with every new joy comes a plethora of new hurts and doubts. What if I fail him? What if he is diagnosed with leukemia? What if he decides to drop out of college because, ‘Dad, Burning Man is the bat’s guano. How did you not tell me?’

All of these doubts and worries have led to three indelible truths: I am a dad. I have a son. I am imperfect.

And with that last: How long do I have before he realizes it?

Probably not long, but, hopefully, when he turns twenty-one and I hand him his book, he’ll understand my imperfections a little better. And in his understanding, he’ll extend to the Father, Benjamin John Peters, the grace of the son, Magnus Rowan Peters.”


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