2024

Regular readers of this site…. both of you…. know that I reserve the first post of every year for personal reflections and gratitude. Interestingly, I’ve waited many weeks before starting this post. Why?  Because I suffer from crippling procrastination. Took me too long to get an actual haircut not done by my spouse in our basement. My hairdresser insisted on taking pics so when I come back, I can just show them to her and say, “Give me this again.”

I don’t know what’s up with me these past weeks. I’m lacking a lot of motivation to do a lot of things. I’m content to binge-watch TV shows, experiment with more vegetarian cooking, and do deep dives online into topics most people don’t care about. (No, I won’t offer any examples.) My procrastination is so bad that I saved this meme for this post, fully intending on finishing this post before the end of the month:

And yet now we find ourselves midway through February, and I still haven’t finished my first post of the year!

While I currently suffer from crippling procrastination, I still do many things… just probably not the things I’m supposed to be doing. The one thing that I consistently do, with both joy and vigor, is raise my son. And that, frankly, is what I think I need to write about: just how impactful being a father has been on my life, mood, and sense of universal belonging.

A Facebook friend just sent me a link to this old New Yorker article titled, “Becoming You: Are you the same person you were when you were a child?” The essence of the article is that few of us have meaningful memories of life as a toddler. My personal memories go back to when I was 3 years old. They are mostly impressions, flashes, and emotions. I remember the joy and safety I felt in the company of my (now late) father, and how precious that time was, since he worked so hard to support a family of five kids. I also remember the things I was afraid of. But I don’t recall what kind of child I was.

My own son is about to turn 4 years old. I am obsessed with him, his personality and development. I often wonder what he will remember of these days. Perhaps it will be different for him, since his generation is so thoroughly recorded. As the only grandchild on both sides of his family, he is always being filmed by adults. What will he remember of these days?

Some of you will ask, does it really matter? And ordinarily, I would agree with you. It’s just that I’m an old father. I turn 57 this year. I’m very much aware of my mortality, and of comparatively how little time I might have with him. I accepted a long time ago that I am unlikely to live long enough to see any grandchildren that might come my way. And if the universe has plans for perhaps an earlier departure for me, then each day I spend with my son acquires relative greater weight.

Now, that took something of a more morbid turn than I intended. So let’s pivot back to more positive thoughts. Historically, this first post of the year was about me listing the things for which I’m grateful. I’m not ashamed to say that I still say my prayers every night before I go to bed, just as I close my eyes… not for any particular religious reasons, but more because it’s what my father taught me to do when I was a boy. So I have always retained the ritual to honour my endless love for him. And a long time ago, those prayers morphed into simply listing the things for which I am grateful. Yes, it’s a daily exercise in gratitude affirmation.

The list really does not change: I am grateful for the bountiful love in my life. Before, it was just for my parents and siblings and friends. Now, the list begins with my son, my dog, and my spouse. It’s a cliche, but you are immeasurably wealthy if you have love in your life. And thus I am the richest man in the world.

But an element of the exercise in gratitude is an appreciation for its temporariness. I’m reminded of Buddhist mandalas: intricate and ornate works of art that are destroyed upon completion. For their beauty is to be enjoyed in the moment, though their lesson in impermanence is transcendent.

I’m reminded, as well, of the day my father died, of coming home from the hospital and seeing all his worldly possessions still arrayed before us, including his unfinished cup of coffee and his crossword puzzle. The lesson: we will leave all of this behind. Nothing material matters. To measure wealth in possessions is so foolhardy. And yet, even the time with my dependents –my son and dog– is also transcient. How many years do I have left with my aging dog? Not many, I fear, and losing him will break me. And what of my very elderly mother? Another guaranteed heartbreak awaits.

And so today I am flush with gratitude for a thing I never thought I would have: the joy of parenthood. Years ago, I resigned myself to the idea that I would live my life childless. I’m quick to point out: there’s nothing wrong with that. If you don’t want kids, good for you. If you don’t have kids, you certainly don’t need them for a complete and fulfilling life. In fact, if you don’t want kids, you absolutely should not have any!

But I always wanted children. And while opportunity for parenthood had presented itself to me in the past, I somehow always managed to let those opportunities slip past me, always with some vague unspecific assumption that my chance would come again. As the years ticked by, it became increasingly clear to me that I had missed the boat one time too many. Then…. by an absolute miracle, the gods smiled down upon me and gave me my chance anew.

When I was an adolescent and my own father was ageing, I consciously mourned the passing of those tender father-son moments. I thought about the loss often. I was exactingly aware of the preciousness of the relationship between father and son. I have a clear memory of asking him, when I was quite wee, “what are toes for?” He gave me such a splendid and surprising answer, something to do with balance. He was my font of all knowledge, my example of all morality and rightness. Years later, well before his death, I had already grieved for the withering of those moments, as my own beckoning adulthood made clear that an era of tenderness had flitted past.

Then a line from a TV show or book came to me, offering surprising comfort. It promised that I would have those moments again…. with my own son. I never let go of that promise.

And so here we are. This is why I cling consciously to every waking moment with my son. As I explained to his mother, I never reproach time I spend with him, whether I am sick, sleepy, or frustrated. Every moment with my child is precious, for there will be so few of them in the long run.  Being a father is without question the finest feeling of my life.

Some would say I’ve done a fair bit in my life, and have accomplished more than many. I’m not so sure about that anymore. It’s an arrogant claim that unfairly weighs some achievements more than others. There was a time when I was obsessive about keeping rigorous records of my accomplishments: maintaining scrapbooks of all my newspaper clippings, multiple pristine copies of all my books, recordings of all my news appearances, framed copies of all my awards, etc. Now…. who gives a shit? Really, none of that matters. What I am most proud of is the role that I have played in helping a small consciousness emerge into this world.

Two decades ago, the wife of one of my best friends was telling me about how she felt when her daughter was born. “I knew I would love her,” she said. “But I never knew just how much I would!”  I find myself in a similar position. When my son was first born, I struggled to find an emotional connection to him. He was just a shitting blob that someone had handed to me in a hospital. Love? I loved my dog! But a few days later, the love grew and exploded. Now, I am so engulfed by it that is sometimes consumes and overwhelms me.

David Letterman, also an older father, had commented shortly after the birth of his son (who ironically has the same name as mine), “I thought I knew what joy was. This, this is joy.”  That line has lingered with me for 20 years, which is why I’m able to pluck it so readily from my memory today. Yes, this is joy.

Had I not become a father, it would have been the greatest regret of my life. Now, I’m pretty sure the greatest regret of my life will be that I did not have more children. So what am I most grateful for in 2024? Well, my son, of course. I’m grateful for all my family, to be sure. But I can be forgiven if I dedicate this one blog post to my two boys, my biological son and my adopted canine son. Know that you are both loved beyond all measure.

And now it’s time for predictions. What will happen in 2024?

  • We will have mainstream indirect scientific evidence of life outside of this solar system, possibly via the James Webb telescope.
  • We will have a workable intranasal mucosal vaccine against COVID transmission by the end of the year… perhaps not ready for licensing and mass deployment, but I think a working formulation ready for that next step.
  • The news buzzwords: immigration, nuclear, non-human intelligence, gen-AI, and cicadas

That is all, my droogies!

 

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