Fourteen years ago, I held Benjamin in my arms for the very first time. Long before then, he was already in my heart and I loved him. He was my son and there was a bond between him and my heart from the moment I heard Danelle was pregnant with him. That bond has only grown stronger over the years.
During that time, I have watched him lose many things, like baby teeth, and grow into others, such as his faith and his character. Over the past year, I have been proud of the way he has transitioned from only child to big brother to Cava. Sometimes I think it was harder for Benjamin, who found his love rebuffed by Cava more than Danelle or I experienced; yet despite such rejections, Benjamin continued to reach out to his younger sibling until they really were brothers. Nothing makes Danelle or I happier than to watch the two of them playing together and getting along.
As if that weren't enough, he is also navigating his way through his last year as a middle school student. Middle school is never easy and can often be harder than adjusting to high school. There have been bumps and heartaches along the way (those are never easy to watch your child go through, but those are the very things that will form his character). It was those moments that we, again, saw the strength of Benjamin's character, how he has a good heart and a real sense of compassion and justice. Something I've hopefully ingrained into him is that his choices determine his character.
I not only love my son, but I enjoy being around him, spending time with him, our conversations, or just listening to him - even when I don't understand what he's talking about, I love hearing him so passionate about something like science and technology. His mind does not work like mine and I love him for it. I thank God that Benjamin is creative in his own way and that he is bright and driven in ways that I never was.
We don't always understand each other, but, even then, we love each other. It's a coming together of left-brain Benjamin and right-brain Papa. Yet the thing that is great is that we can learn from each other's perspective. I cherish his uniqueness and the individuality that makes up his personality. It's not always easy, since his interests can so often be off the beaten path from those of his peers.
I'm proud of Benjamin. Not just because of his intelligence, but more so because of his integrity. He is learning about what real courage is: about standing up for what he believes in (even when he's the only one). The right way is not always the easy or popular way. I'm sure he won't always make the right choices, but he has to learn that when he makes mistakes, he has to own up to them, and take those consequences. It is how he faces those that will most deeply impact his conscience.
I am raising him to grow up and be a man, not a boy, as the world has far too many of those. I want him to be someone who takes responsibility for his actions and, one day, for his family. I want him to be a godly husband and father. Being a man is not about sleeping with lots of different women, but in loving one deeply, even when times are difficult and the marriage feels more like work than love. Love is not a movie moment. Love is a lifetime of small and often hard moments that are built around two people who are committed to God and to each other.
But for now, I focus on the time I still have with Benjamin at home. It's hard for me to think that my buddy will be in high school next year. Or that it won't be long before he will begin learning how to drive. Or that he's not much shorter than me (and he's only 14) and that, it won't be long, before he'll be taller. There are so many challenges, joys and heartaches, and moments when he will grow not only physically, but, more importantly, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.
It's a hard time for kids growing up because they are being forced to grow up much too quickly with things they are not emotionally ready for. There is so much more thrown at them at an earlier age than when I was a kid. To prepare him, I talk to him, explain things to him (even when it's uncomfortable for both of us), pray with him, and just spend time with him. All of these will, hopefully, only help us to grow closer as a father and son.
If the first fourteen years are any indication of who Benjamin will become he will go from being an awesome kid that I proudly say, "That's my boy," to a man I can point to and say, "That's a man after God's own heart."
Benjamin, I love you more than you will ever know and more than I can ever attempt to explain in inadequate words.