When my oldest son, JD, turned four years old, I took him to a San Francisco Giants baseball game. He had just begun to like baseball and I taught him in our driveway to catch and throw. He also had a growing fascination with trains. We lived within a long walk of the Diridon train station in San José, and the train stopped at the north end of the line just blocks from the Giants’ stadium in San Francisco. It was a perfect setup. For JD’s birthday, we rode the train all the way to the city together and walked hand in hand to the ballpark, carrying our gloves so we could catch that elusive foul ball. I purchased matching Giants T-shirts and hats for us to wear. We ate all the snacks we brought with us in our blue canvas backpack while we watched the game. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the stadium was packed. On the way home, we played catch on the train in our seats that faced each other on the second level. We talked about the game the whole way home as JD imitated the pitcher and the batters. Lots of people on the train smiled at me, nodding their heads in enjoyment of us, and many commented how happy JD seemed and how lucky I was. What a great day—seven hours of trains, baseball, conversation and affection. I must have told JD twenty-five times how much I loved him, how much I loved being his dad, and how much fun I had all alone with him. By this time, his two younger brothers had been born and we were busy.
A couple weeks later, I repaired a dripping sink in our master bathroom. I needed new O-rings. There was an Orchard Supply Hardware near our house. I once heard that taking one of your kids along when you run out on errands is an easy way to spend some one-on-one time together. This time, I took JD. I strapped him into his booster seat in the back of Mom’s Champagne-colored Durango, and off we went. We were about a mile from the house when I happened to look in the rear view mirror. I noticed JD wore his Giants T-shirt and hat that day.. I read somewhere that verbally reinforcing memories was a good thing to do with young children, a way of revisiting the experience to keep it alive in your child’s mind. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try it.
“Hey buddy, I see you have your Giants T-shirt and baseball cap on.”
“Who gave those to you?” I asked, pretending not to know.
“You did, Dad.”
“I sure did. I love getting things for you and being with you, Son.”
“I love being with you too, Dad.”
“Do you know why I bought those for you?”
I expected him to say, “For my birthday getaway.” Then I’d talk some about how great it was.
Instead he shot back, “Because you love me sooooo much.”
I felt astonished. I thought, He’s only four years old and he already knows the reason I buy him things and enjoy being with him is that I love him so much.
I had somehow been able, in just four years, to implant that knowing, that secure knowledge, in my son’s soul. He knows and feels his dad loves him. I wish I had known that about my father at JD’s age. As we drove to the hardware store, I still missed that feeling. I felt sad about the hole in my heart, the not knowing I’ve lived with all my life—the sense that my dad didn’t love me. At the same time, I felt happy and fulfilled about the security my verbal affirmation produced in my son. I knew that was a gift that would last his lifetime. My daddy loves me. There’s nothing more important for a young girl or boy to know and feel.
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