I have thought a lot about how we change as we grow up, but still remain ourselves. I see it in my kids as the years go by. They learn new skills, their faces and bodies grow, their thoughts and behaviors slowly shift toward who they will eventually become. At the heart of it all, their core selves never truly change. They are still them.
I am still me. I am the infant me that lay crying in a crib, wanting milk and comfort. I am the toddler me being held by his parents, feeling safe and warm. I am the boy who became deaf and doesn’t remember it, but remembers an afternoon listening to Peter and the Wolf on a little turntable record. I am the little boy drinking chocolate milk mischievously, a wide grin on my face as if I discovered a secret. I am the boy on the tire swing, the boy building a fort in the woods with his brother, the boy trudging a mile or so through waist-high (for a little boy) snow to the store to get candy bars and soda. I am the boy who loves his parents, the boy who still thinks of his older brother as his best friend, the boy who values family above all.
I am the awkward teen, the lonely teen, the boy learning what he truly finds interesting and what he truly finds scary. I am the one who dreams and the one who doubts. I am the one who laid on a hospital bed before an elective surgery, scared of dying, and wondering if the ability to hear was worth it.
I am the boy who fell into sadness, found happiness, and wondered if I would be alone forever. I am the boy who learned that changes come, good and bad, and we can shift our perspective to deal with it. I am the teen who rented two movies after school, picked up a pizza, and spent the evening alone. I am the boy who felt friendless. I am the teen that asked girls out, got accepted, then never followed through.
I am the young man who discovered friends, who dared to try, who reached out, who laughed and cried. I am the young man who looked for adventure, found some, including 2,600 miles on a bicycle over the course of two memorable trips. I am the young man who looked across the room at a girl and wondered, “What if?” I am the young man who borrowed books from her only as an excuse, who stood before her door much too long before knocking, who took an hour to get the courage to ask her out.
I am the one who married her, less than 10 months later, in love and still in love 16 years later. I am the man who thought he would be a novelist when he was younger, but the books all disagreed. I am the man who found a surprising career, which shaped him like a sword is shaped in the fire, taking a beating but becoming stronger. I am the one who went to sleep late one night after a dinner of pizza and soda and found a gift of a dream through the night, only to chase that dream down with a story to match it. I am the man who turned that story into a book, sold a few, and still carries a dream that it’ll one day day be noticed by more than just a few.
I am the husband who bought a house with his wife, who lost a job and lost the house. I am the one who walked with her, hand in hand, one last time away from the house so a family could happen. I am the husband who spent 5 years of his life with his wife building our family through adoption. I am the man who sat scared, in a small uncomfortable chair, before social workers and unfamiliar children, hoping, dreaming,wondering, and finally rewarded. I am the man with sleepless nights, wondering if the dream would be stolen before us. I am the man who sat before the judge, worried of some last minute problem, only to be flooded with happy relief at the end. Not once, not twice, but three blessed times over the years. I am the man who loves his wife even more now, after all these years, especially after we have parented together.
I am the father who gave love and had to fight with patience to get loved back. I am the one who earned it, with time and energy and energy and so much energy. I am the father who learned, who missed the early years, who is heartbroken at times to have missed those early years. I am the father who tries to be patient, who is never stingy with the “I love you” messages in voice and sign language, who is still human and still has feelings. I am the father who slowly gets angry when the kids are defiant, and sometimes barks in anger, then settles down into silence. I am the man who sits, quiet, lost in calmness, his dog tucked into the space between his leg and the chair’s armrest. I am the man who strokes the dog’s heads, feels the warm ears, and looks over to the children now playing happily over in the corner.
I am all of those. I change through the years, but I am always every me I have ever been. It’s all there, etched in more than just memories.
I look forward to meeting every future me, and I hope for the best.
You are still you, no matter how much you might change.