A few years ago, when my five-year-old son was two, we took a family vacation back to the Carolinas. As you might expect for a small child in a new place, he had a hard time falling asleep at night. I don’t remember exactly where we were, but I recently ran across this note in my journal about one night in particular. . . .
He doesn't like being put to bed in strange places. He didn’t want me to leave him there tonight. He was frightened by the dark and unfamiliar. He cried. He reached for me. I calmed him down by patting his back and rubbing his head softly. I was determined to stay there until he settled down. Soon he got comfortable enough to suck his thumb and close his eyes, so I gently began to back away from my knelt position by his side. Without even turning toward me he started to cry. I moved closer to him, offered some words of comfort, and went on to stay a little longer. He got still, I tried to back away again, he cried. I repeated this process a couple times until the simple fact occurred to me, quite powerfully, that my son's fear was overcome by my presence. I didn't have to keep rubbing his back. He didn’t need me to sing him a song. He just wanted me there. He wanted me in the room beside him. If I could get into his mind, I wonder what that was like. This room is dark and I’ve never been here before. It’s scary. But my dad is here. He is right here beside me. However dark it is, however new, my dad is here and I know he’s got me.
Do you know what a dad is to a two-year old?