Everyone says you look like your father.
It’s true, Austin. Photos of Shawn at your age show not just a resemblance, but an image so similar I almost always have a moment when I think it’s a photo of you. The the shape of your eyes and the way that you smile and the size of your head and so many other features about you look just like every photo I’ve ever seen of him. Even the way that you hold a pencil is similar, as is the look in your eyes when you focus.
Maybe this is why when he died, I worried the most about you. You were just six years old, and you were so quiet in your grief. For a year, you crawled into my bed almost every night, putting one arm around me. I never knew what else I could do except remind you that I was there for you.
Like your father, you can be quiet in a group. Sure, you like to be with your friends and you can talk easily with your siblings. But you don’t need to be the center of attention. You can watch Tommy demand an audience as he does a funny dance, or listen to Claire tell a story that captivates everyone, without needing everyone to watch you, too. You can let others shine, just like your dad was so good at doing.
Since you were little, you have always been an observer. At your father’s gravesite on the day we buried his body, you were the child who put your arm around me, protectively. You likely didn’t know what it meant, but you knew it was something that would comfort me when I couldn’t comfort you. When I worked in the garden that first spring, back in 2018, you got out your own shovel and dug beside me, sometimes humming a tune I couldn’t make out. You didn’t really understand how I was healing out there, but you knew that if you were next to me, that made me feel good. When I was too overwhelmed to entertain you, you went over to the neighbor’s house and made it your second home. You somehow sensed, without me ever telling you, how to do all of these things, and so many more.
Eventually, when Chris arrived, you were overjoyed. You loved talking with him and working in the yard with him and exploring on your bike with him.
Ever the observer, you paid attention to him, too. You noticed that Chris took out the trash and cleaned the garage, helped cut the vegetables for dinner and asked about my day. You never said anything about it, and I wondered what you were thinking as you watched him work and live alongside me, with us.
One day, a few months after Chris first came into our lives, I was downstairs in the kitchen. Chris hadn’t yet moved in, and he was back at his old house for a week. I was unloading the dishwasher. Silently, you picked plates out of the dishwasher and put them on the shelves, working next to me. When we were done, you ate a bowl of cereal. You didn’t ask for any praise, because Chris never asked for any praise either. You just did what needed to be done.
Now more than ever, I notice how much you do without asking for any recognition. Every single night, you set the table, and though everyone is supposed to help you, your siblings often magically “disappear”, leaving you to do it alone. You do it without complaint. You are a child, of course, and so you whine sometimes about things that you don’t want to do, like take a shower. But for the things that need to be done for our family, you simply do them.
It is a trait that I really admire in you, Austin. And yet, I rarely tell you this.
The other day, I set the trash on the porch and asked you to take it out. You were playing with Tommy in the yard and you came over to get it. The sun was low in the sky and when you turned towards me, your profile and your quiet mannerisms reminded me so much of your dad Shawn. And then you jogged out to the big trash can without another word. As you turned back to the yard, you looked at me and smiled, and it reminded me so much of your dad Chris.
I worried about you when your dad Shawn died. I didn’t know what the future would hold for you. I worried when Chris came into our lives, and what it would mean for you as a growing boy. But I didn’t need to worry. You’re making your own way in this world, Austin, and you’re doing it by taking the best parts of your two dads with you.
Today, you are ten years old. Because of Covid, we can’t go on a fun trip like we had planned, but we can ride bikes in the neighborhood and sing happy birthday in the backyard and I can make you a big chocolate cake with ten candles. Something tells me that being with our family will be enough for you.
And in that way, you’re just like both of your dads.
Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.