11 years ago as I record this, I had just won the jackpot of fatherhood with my eldest son, Judah. I have often said that Judah fell out of the womb taking care of himself, and while the meaning (Judah has always been a very self-sufficient and easy-going child) is true, his arrival was anything but easy.
I was telling him just last night, that last night a decade and one more year ago, his mother and I hurried to the hospital to check in just after midnight, expecting a kid no later than mid-morning. When midnight came again and still no Jude the dude, we were perplexed. Also, we were trivia-less. Everyone knew the celebrities born on January 22nd, and world events thereof.
Judah was a ninja from the beginning. He snuck in behind us, then hid in the canopy until we weren’t expecting him anymore. SNEAK ATTACK!
He has all the good looks of his mother’s family and mine, and all of the emotional empathy of both sides combined. He’s like the emotional Captain Planet for our extended squad, “With your powers combined, I am CAPTAIN UNDERSTANDING!!”
He’s slow to anger, quick to deescalate a situation and always up to cheer on the team, especially when the rest of the team doesn’t feel like cheering. I’ve watched his interests and abilities expand and shift as he’s edged and then fallen full on into his preteen years. He is literally a joy to me, and while I know I tell him, I sure hope he knows it’s true.
He’s the first kid to call me ‘daddy’. He’ll be the first I have to get used to being on his own. The first that lives somewhere else full time. The first that has a house of his own, with rules of his own (as I so often remind the four kids they can have one day, if they just grow up and get jobs). He’s the first that I got to know as a “person” outside of being my child.
That line is mysterious and different for every child, and obviously everyone has personality from the beginning. But, there’s a moment when you realize “This little clone of mine, is actually NOT just me, or even some stew of what I am and what his mother is, this is another person. And he’s going to have likes, dislikes, thoughts and opinions on almost everything that might have nothing at all to do with my own.” That’s a scary moment, the monster is loose from the dungoen. But, also, it’s a triumphant moment when you get a glimpse of the future when you and the next link in your personal chain of humanity can share notes on what the hell this has all been about, and where do we try to swing it from here.
Someone to talk to. Someone to play games with. Someone to go to the movies with. But no matter how they’re alike or how they differ from you, you’ll know ALL the backstory on this one. You’re there from the ground floor. Which makes every new discovery amazing. And makes every old story a new discovery.
I cannot wait to show him films like Jaws (his young heart still can’t take it but he’s going to love those characters all so much when it can), The Godfather (He’s so much Michael in the ways Michael is meant to be and could be a hero that the tragic fall will hit him as hard as it ever did me, even if he doesn’t love the films as much as I do), and funnily enough, The Big Lebowski. 1st. It’s my favorite film, which he’s asked about a few times, and every one should be given a chance to fall in love with it. But also 2nd, because he’s one of those kids who both understands the useful application of profanity (and the inherent comical nature of it when properly applied), but also the kind of kid you don’t have to worry about repeating everything he hears or finds funny. This movies use of the more colorful parts of language will blow his (let’s say, 16-18 depending?) year old mind!
In the last year and a half or so, we've already taken advantage of this. Kelly will share the occasional 'not so child-friendly' meme or video with him alone. He'll laugh and enjoy it with us, but the real tickle is watching him crack himself up thinking about it later, while everyone else is doing something else entirely. Or even better yet, one of the other kids makes a comment that references the video, but doesn't know it and Judah will catch mine or Kelly's eye and then burst out into laughter. It. Is. The. Best.
He loves movies, and family movie nights, and even when the rest of the kids have given up to play some game (or all the games at once) upstairs, he’s still right there on the couch with me and Kelly, or even by himself if we’re doing housework, engaged and enraptured in a good story well told.
I don’t know whether he’ll end up being a storyteller in his own right, but I do know he’ll have stories to tell. No matter how he reveals them to us. I also know that I am beyond priviledged and humbled to share in the first parts of it. I hope I’ll see as much of it as is at all reasonable, and then that his story continues on for longer than mine ever would or could. I can guarantee you Judah’s story is a good one.
Happy birthday, from Dad, and all these other weirdos listening.
For now, I’m Joel, that’s his story. Or one of them anyways. Thanks for listening.