This is a tale of my three sons. The youngest is only four months old and his personality is emerging, the way those old Polaroid photos leeched up through the blackness. My oldest son is eleven and exactly like I was as a child: a rule-follower, not a risk-taker. He’s kind to his siblings and isn’t particularly rough. He loves to read.
My middle son Sam, well, sometimes I wonder where he came from. He’s a climber, adventurous, and never gives up. He will ask for something over and over and over again, even if I say no. His primary way of relating with people is by being physically rough with them: he has a game he plays with his grandpa whenever he sees him that involves punching him in the stomach as hard as he can. He finds this hilarious. If I am ever on my knees changing the baby’s diaper or picking something up off the floor, no matter where Sam is in the house, he will sense that I’m on my knees, find me, and jump on to my back. He spent all Thanksgiving weekend wrestling with his cousin.
He is five. Words that describe him perfectly at this point in his life? I’ll take Defiant, Strong-Willed, and Passionate.
* * * * *
Maile was recently reading an interview with Laura Hillenbrand, the author of Unbroken. It’s been on the NYT best-seller list for 180 weeks, and it’s the story of a man who served in WWII, survived a plane crash, being lost at sea, and then imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp.
There was a quote from the interview that stood out to me as she reflected on the subject of her book, a man named Louie.
“Defiance defines Louie,” Laura Hillenbrand said. “As a boy he was a hellraiser. He refused to be corralled. When someone pushed him he pushed back. That made him an impossible kid but an unbreakable man.”
An impossible kid.
An unbreakable man.
Sometimes I think I am way too short-sighted when it comes to raising Sammy. Too many times I want to change his personality NOW because it will make my life easier. But I think that, with him, with all of my children, I need to think about how these current struggles will someday become incredible strengths of character. I don’t want to break him now just so that bedtime routines or dinner times are quieter. I don’t want to quench his spirit just so that I can walk through the house without getting jumped on.
I want to guide him into becoming an unbreakable man.
* * * * *
Sam catches up to me as I start down the stairs.
“Dad, can you sing me a bedtime song?”
“Sammy, everyone else is asleep. If we go back in there and I sing, we’ll wake them up.”
He looks up at me.
“C’mon, Dad,” he says.
“It’s not going to happen, buddy.”
“C’mon, Dad,” he says again.
Did I mention he does not give up?
“Come here,” I say, and I sit down on the floor in the hallway, my back against the wall. He comes over and sits on my lap, facing me. He wraps his arms around my neck, puts his head on my chest, and sucks his thumb while I sing his favorite song.
After getting through it twice, I whisper into his ear.
“Time for bed, little man.”
He looks at me and smiles, then walks back into the bedroom. Sometimes he seems like an impossible kid, but from now on I will choose to remember that this will someday make him into an unbreakable man.