I see his small, bare, size 5 feet poking out from under the bottom row of clothes hanging in our closet. He isn’t aware that his feet are showing, assuming that if he can’t see me then he can’t be seen. It’s adorable.I pretend for a few minutes that I can’t see him and that he has bamboozled me. I hear him giggle. My heart swells at those high pitched chuckles.
Then I swoop in for the attack. I grab his exposed feet and he breaks out into full laughter. However, at this moment the tables are turned. Gabe’s laughter becomes a growl and the bear hidden inside him charges forward and chases me through the house until he “tackles” me in the den. His smile is stretched from ear to ear and his mischievous giggling is incessant. He runs circles around me (soon in more ways than I will be able to count) as he prepares to dive bomb on top of me. He finally turns in for his attack run and lands on my chest.
I let him overpower me because it’s important for him to know he is strong and will be strong and how to not abuse or misuse that strength. I let him win because my biological father, Carl, would never let me win.
I only knew Carl for 1 year of my life; between ages 9 and 10 years. It was a traumatic year. For example, our “wrestling” matches always turned into him pinning me and laying on me until I almost passed out from lack of breath or he would trap me in a blanket or sleeping bag by cinching it’s end together, prohibiting escape. Sure, maybe it made me “tougher” but I never thought, felt, or sensed Car loved me. There was rarely an interaction with him that wasn’t violent or frightening.
No matter how I cried or asked to stop “playing,” he wouldn’t relent until he’d had his laughs, literally. Then he would call me names like cry baby or sissy. I just wanted a dad who loved me. Fortunately, I would receive that dad later in my life when I met my step-dad, Bill.
I don’t have a template for what a heathy, loving dad looks or lives like before the age of 13. So, I fill in the blanks. I look to other dads who have inspired me as they raised their young sons; dads like my uncles Russ and Gary, as well as mentors and friends in Scott Smith, David Hopkins, Paul Ballowe, Ray Ward, Brian Niece, Nate Ward, and Rob Patterson.
Books like The Five Love Languages of Children, Wild at Heart, Way of the Wild Heart/Fathered by God, Killing Lions and Telling God’s Story have proven invaluable.
The more I endeavor to love my son, the more I discover about the great lengths of God’s love for me and the rest of us. The game I play with Gabe as he is hiding in the wardrobe isn’t too much unlike God’s efforts toward me.
I’m all smiles too.