It’s not like I’ve been Dad all my life.
I mean, maybe, in some regards, I have been. I was the oldest of two boys, and the band-aid and bridge between two parents who let a relationship linger far, far too long. Still, I’m not a parent. Care-giver, people pleaser, put-them-first kind of guy, yes. That’s me. I still have no actual children of my own.
But I do have David.
He’s sixteen years younger than I am, and in many ways, is in my heart the way most people who are important to me are. I put him first sometimes, I do what I can to make his life better, giving what I can whenever I can if it benefits him or lifts him up in any way.
Still, this relationship is unlike my others in my past. There’s a certain level of boundary line between him and I that keeps things vibrant, balanced, and moving in a healthy direction. I have learned to reserve more of me, more of my energy and time, and simply let David figure shit out on his own, or come to me on his own accord when things are fuzzy or he needs to get something off his chest.
I don’t find myself jumping through hoops to please him. I don’t put all of my self aside the moment he walks in the door from his day at work. In fact, when I do start doing that, I can feel my whole personhood changing in a way that is now uncomfortable and antithetical to how I live my life these days. I know what resentment feels like. I know what being taken advantage of feels like. I know how to stop those feelings dead in their tracks, pivot, and let go, more than I ever have.
For the first time in my adult life, I don’t feel like I need love like this in my life to validate who I am and how I exist.
David, every day, gets to make a choice to be with me, or not. Every single day, he’s given latitude, without pressure from me or my life, to live his life as he sees fits. By giving him this space to breathe, to be his own person, and to make and enact changes for himself that work for him, he is able to grow and change on his own accord. This, as it turns out, is a really new way for me to show how I love someone.
I’ve learned this the hard way. I’ve spent many, many years trying to contort myself into the lives of the men I’ve fallen in love with so that I could become irreplaceable to them. This is how, for me, I earned their love and devotion. The more I was needed, the more I was loved. If I ever felt a guy slipping away from me, it was my fault for failing to see or change enough to meet their needs. It was always my fault, and I would spend so much time and energy (and deep-dive into alcohol in the process) beating myself up over my “failures.”
I can’t say that it’s always easy to remember these lines and spaces between us. Usually, though, if I take a solid deep breath and notice the familiar feelings of “being taken advantage of” or “being taken for granted” – hallmarks of the start of resentment, that moment I decide to change for someone else – I can, and do, catch myself. The more I practice pausing and reflecting in the moment, the easier it becomes.
Boundaries are healthy. Knowing the limits of your personhood and setting lines that cannot be crossed is important. Defining yourself for your SELF, and not through the views and refraction of others and their perceptions of you, is one of the most life-affirming actions you can take.
Take it from this Dad. Your Sons will appreciate it when you give them space to grow on their own.