The first time you smiled for me

There’s no rulebook available to study to prepare for the way we met; no guidelines, no Cliff’s Notes, at least that I’m aware of. It was bound to happen. It was bound to be awkward. And as the only adult between us, it was largely up to me to figure out a way to make it work for both of us.

It’s not hard to see things from your perspective.

I was an intrusion upon your reality and the things on to which you were holding dear; the love and attention of your mother, the hope that she and your father might get back together again. I was a threat to those things, and you didn’t know what it would mean for you.

So I kept a respectful distance, doing what I could to support your mother in helping you… teaching you… counselling you… playing with you… all the while maintaining an absolute respect for the position of your father. It was, I reasoned, the best way to keep all involved parties happy while fulfilling my personal hope that I will, one day, be afforded the same courtesy.

Things didn’t quite work out the way I hoped. We antagonised each other frequently by day, and by night you would wake several times through the evening, asking for company to fall back asleep. We’d lost count of the number of consecutive days of broken sleep we’d had, but were determined to power through what we perceived was a phase; we thought you’d eventually come around.

But you didn’t. The unbroken sleep affected you worse – we could see it in your behaviour at school, your attitude towards other people; and our clashes were only escalating.

At some point, some hard life experiences reminded me that this wasn’t working, and that I needed to stop and rethink things entirely.

It was, I reminded myself, up to me to make this work for us.

After some reflection, I decided that you needed me to be more of a father figure in your life. And in spite of my personal belief in respecting the position of your actual father, I needed to lean hard into the role of a father figure for you.

So I took the time to sit down and ask myself, “If this was Harry, how would I approach things?”

With that, I changed the lens through which I saw you. I spoke to you as my own. Taught you as I would teach my own. Shared with you as I would my own.

And slowly but surely, you came around. I remember the moment, too. I taught you that life as the eldest child will often be unfair, and when I reminded you of that lesson a few days later, you had a look on your face that told me you didn’t expect that little pearl of wisdom to be so right so quickly.

Since then, I’ve watched you thrive and open up to me. You’re not afraid anymore. And you’re sleeping through the night. We started playing videogames together, watching movies together, learning how to cook together… You even started hugging me (I’m not much of a hugger, but I do it for you).

I took this photo of you at the birthday party of a family friend. You were high up in the trees, while I was capturing some fly-on-the-wall moments between you and your mother from a distance of about 25 metres. But you spotted me anyway, pointing my camera at you. And for the first time ever, you smiled for me.

I remembered this moment because in every photo I’d taken of you prior, you weren’t afraid to put your disapproval and sometimes disdain for me on display. At the time I thought, “it’s okay, we’ll laugh about it one day”.

But here, I see more than a smile. I see that you are relaxed. There’s no tension in your face or your body. You are, as I’m still not quite used to acknowledging myself, much more comfortable and at ease with me, and the idea of me being a presence in your life.

As I said from the beginning, there’s no rulebook for what I’m doing here. But I think I’ve done something right.


One thought on “The first time you smiled for me

  1. It’s, never too late, to, start, being an, active parent in your child’s life, and, because of the way we were, socialized, we feel, odd, in the way our children want us to, interact with them in, but, all we can do, is, love thrm, unconditionally, teach them, right from wrong, znd, hope that, they will, eventually, for give our, absence in their, childhood, then, we will be able to, reconnect with them, on a, fresh new, level, to, start over, as, parent-and-child, again.

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