At the beginning, the world splays out in front of us, wide and open and always at least a little bit terrifying. The fear never really goes away as we age, but our world certainly seems to grow smaller over time.

My boy is nearly three, with yet another demarcation point in his life coming up as his birthday month looms before us. He seems older already. His personality flexes and evolves on a daily basis, as he seeks to sort out his part in this life and as he strives for self-sufficiency and independence in all facets of living. He shoos his parents from the bathroom so he can have “pribacy” while he takes care of business. “I got it,” is his constant refrain.

Parental help is anathema to his very philosophy of life. After all, he can dress himself, thank you very much.

To a certain extent, I’m grateful for his ability to start taking care of himself in the smaller things, as it helps reduce the load on me and his momma. But with each new task he commandeers for his own use, our involvement lessens and our influence wanes. And with that loss of input, we come to this point confronting us now, where his personal taste in clothing and the accompanying accouterments take preeminence over any thoughts that I might have in the appropriateness of his choices.

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But it works, though. He’s ready for that wide-open world before him. His backpack is filled with all the necessities, and his hat—donated by his haberdasher-in-training older cousin—provides the ideal notions of style and practicality, all at once. His shoes, filled with ever-growing toddler feet and a veritable light show shrieking outward from the sides, are sturdy choices when facing the rough paths that he will soon traverse.

And his shoulders are squared, strong, and not yet burdened by the struggles he will inevitably bear—struggles that will only increase in intensity and weight as the years pass and as the innocence of childhood fades away. Even now, he stands tall amidst the temporary death of winter, his small lungs sucking in breath and expelling clouds.

I have a few years left where my opinion may matter to him. A few years left where I can seek to provide guidance and wisdom and perspective. And after that? He’ll be on his own, facing down the unknown.

But even at that point, maybe, maybe, maybe—and this remains just a flickering hope in my soul—maybe on the occasional occasion in the future, he might still reach out his gentle fingers, find my open hand, pull me down close to him, and whisper in my ear that he needs my help.

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Sure thing, best bud.

Sure thing.

Originally published on the author’s Facebook page.

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Jeremy R. Summerlin

Jeremy Summerlin is a father of two very real children under the age of four and of three very fabricated offspring that he uses interchangeably for dramatic effect in his stories about fatherhood and parenting. During the day, he is a partner at a South Carolina law firm, representing employees in employment-related legal disputes. During the night, he just wants to sleep through his REM cycles without being startled awake by a child-like demonic presence staring silently at him just inches from his face. He feels strongly that his requests are reasonable. You can find more of Jeremy's writing on his Facebook page, The Summ of All Tears.