A few years ago, my nephew Jake sat down for dinner with the adults on Thanksgiving Day and listened as we all went around the table telling each other what we were thankful for that year. The ole Jakester was about 5 years old at the time and my journey into fatherhood wouldn’t begin till the following year. No one had ever called me “Dad” back then, in fact all of our names were from the lone grandchild of the family, Jake. My parents were “Papa Doo” and “G.G.,” my wife was “Kee Kee,” and I was “Uncle Boo Boo.” Still am. I’ve been “Boo” or “Boo Boo” in my immediate family for as long as I can remember and once Jake graced our lives with his presence everyone called me “Uncle Boo Boo.” I loved it…I remember the first time Jake looked at me with those bright eyes and said, “Boo Boo.” It was awesome. I got to be an uncle for half a decade before learning to become a dad. Jake and I taught each other a lot. That day 5 years ago at Thanksgiving I think I said something to the effect of being thankful for family, for Kate, for us all being together…and it was special…it was a time to be thankful for family. We all raised our glasses and were about to cheers when Jake pointed out that he hadn’t told us what he was thankful for. I smiled hoping he’d say he was thankful for his mom, and he did…but then he threw us a curveball. He turned to the table and said, “But most of all…I’m thankful for gravity, because without gravity we’d all float off into outer space!!!” It was the finest toast I have ever heard. “To gravity!” We all cheered and clinked our glasses together. It has become my favorite pre-dinner toast, making cameos throughout the year and always on Thanksgiving.
Jake will be turning 10 next month and has grown from a lovable little kid into a marvelous young boy. He astounds me every time I see him! I cannot believe how fast he is growing and it makes me hug my 1-year old Dodge and 3-year old Max a little longer and harder…soaking up this stage of their lives. When I first found out I was going to be a dad I read a statistic that when women picture themselves as mothers they see themselves providing for a tiny baby, while when men picture themselves as dads they see themselves participating in activities like swimming, teaching, and sports. Basically, men see themselves as dads when their kids are older – not when they’re babies. I rejected this notion proclaiming that I would be the best dad on earth! Turns out I’m the best dad I can be which sometimes is only “meh”…and that’s okay. I’m not perfect, but I’m full of love. Jake let me learn how to have Dad-esk moments before being a dad. I learned how to change diapers, I learned how to care for a baby, I learned how to listen, I learned how to be patient…or at least pretend to be patient. Jake taught me how to love someone who frustrates you and how to frustrate someone you love. He taught me that kids don’t think like adults but adults should learn to think more like kids…because thank goodness for gravity! Jake was like my adult pre-school for becoming a dad…which is why he’s my son Dodge’s godparent.
I got to learn so much from Jake over the years.
Yesterday Jake came home from school with a project from class most likely aimed at further developing his written skills both mechanically and visualizing his verbal thoughts. He wrote me a letter for Thanksgiving. Me. Uncle Boo Boo. Stupid fat old me. The guy who asks himself daily, “What can I do to be a better dad?” I ask myself this because I fear I’m not a good dad. I ask this because I get frustrated, because I make mistakes, and because I realize I am responsible for two tiny lives…and that’s scary. Maybe that’s what makes a good dad? Maybe that’s more important than always trying to look perfect to the kids. I like to think so. I like to think that by being myself and letting my kids see me for who I am they understand that perfection is nothing more than a word, and we are all human. I tell them I love them every day, and they tell me they love me too. I can feel their love and I know they can feel mine. I love my family, immediate and extended, and Jake’s letter from school leveled me. Reduced me to rubble. Brought me to tears. Reminded me who I am. It is one of the sweetest things anyone has ever written me and there is nothing more special than feeling the love of a child, especially when it comes seemingly from the blue. Jake wrote:
Dear Uncle Boo Boo,
I love you. Thank you for teaching me how to swim. Before that I only knew the doggy paddle. Now that I know how to swim you teach me how to do cool tricks. Like that group of rocks you use to go fast under water. Thanks to you I can touch the bottom of the Lake George Club. That’s 12 feet! I can also jump off Calfspen. That’s like 50 feet. Thank you. Sincerely,
Yup…he got me. I can’t tell you how proud I was of him when he touched the bottom of the lake at the Lake George Club. I taught him how to clear the air out of his lungs while diving so buoyancy wouldn’t work against him. I sat on the bottom of the lake and watched him swim down to me, touch the bottom, then push off like a rocket to the surface! It was amazing. It was the gift of accomplishment after a summer swimming together. Jakester and Boo Boo. I also remember the first time his tiny fingers wrapped around my index finger as I fed him a bottle. I remember the first time he crawled. I remember the first time he walked. I remember the first time he did most things…like hold my sons in his arms when he met them for the first time.
Jake reminds me why I do what I do. Jake was frustrating when he was my boys’ age and I frustrated him too. He is a glance into the future and the rewards that come from making a child know they are loved. Every letter should start out like Jake’s, “I love you.” What fantastic 3 words, written out in pencil on a turkey. I love you too Jake. Thank you for teaching me how to be Max and Dodge’s dad. This Thanksgiving I am also thankful for the things that teach us about life, remind us who we are, allow us to be ourselves, and bring us together:
Here’s to Family and Gravity!
May your Thanksgiving Holiday be filled with both!
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