My son turns 15 in a week and a half. I am not sure where this tall and lanky, mustachioed, slightly taciturn young man came from. I can still remember when I held him at the hospital and his feet fit in the palm of my hand and his head didn’t quite reach my elbow. This young man who will be driving soon once, as a toddler, would chase our cat through the house screeching and burbling joyfully. The years seem to evaporate. We learn the lessons of how to be parents and to enjoy our lives while at the same time the years whistle by like a bullet train. I am convinced there is a Doppler effect in our existence and it is that moment when we realize that our child or children have grown and barely needs us any longer.
My son lost his mother when he was 12, after an 8 year battle with cancer. There was never a time in his young life when she was not sick. And thus I believe he was relieved that her suffering ended 2 years ago. But it is still a horrible thing for a young boy or girl to lose their mother.
I have found over these years since his mother died that it has been crucial to have very open communication, and not to push things too far. Thus after his mother died, despite my grief, I instituted a policy that when he came home from school at the end of the day he had to spend at least 15 minutes telling me everything that happened at school. Not down to the smallest detail, but just each class at a high level. He resisted at first, but I think he found the act of simply pouring out his day to be a sort of safety valve. And through this telling of his day it allowed us to have further open communications on race, politics, proper behavior, etc. To the point where today it is very natural for us to talk about almost any subject no matter how controversial. We are a Muslim household and hold our belief strong – in some respects Islam is what helped he and I get through all those terrible years. But during the rough transition if he resisted doing his prayers on a certain day I learned to have patience and forbearance and leave him alone. On days when he was comfortable he would do his prayers and I felt this was good and to not push him. Moderation in all things.
I also went out of my way to spend extra time with him. Whether this meant throwing or kicking a ball, or going to museums. The key was to get out of the house as a father-son team and do things together, even if we did not talk about anything of substance. I believe that it was because of these things that he was the one who pushed me to start considering meeting people again. I never asked him, but I believe that he felt the need to have a female presence in his life again and this is why he broached the subject to me. And it was through my slow reintroduction into meeting people and being open to relationships again that he learned how to respect women and deal with them in a respectful way.
And so it is into this situation that I finally met and fell in love with a new person and was engaged. And now we are navigating this rebirth in my life. A new chapter that I hope will be a happy one. How is my soon-to-be 15 year old taking it? He does not have much to say being a typical teenager, he communicates in grunts and growls mostly. But I have been very open with him throughout this process and he seems genuinely happy for me. I have gone out of my way to stress to him that nothing changes the love I have for him or that I have for his departed mother. That does not change, only the dynamics of a new family. And he has largely accepted this and is moving forward just we all are. I am hoping that his apparent happiness and contentment will help carry him through. In only a few short years he will be away at university and thinking about his own future career and family.
His mother would be very proud of him. And I am eternally grateful for him and for the chances I have received in this life.
Editor’s note: Alan Howard is an Operations Manager with a Silicon Valley-based Fortune 500 company. He works closely with Islamic organizations both in his home state of Georgia but also nationally. Doing interfaith work and community work are very important to him. His views are his own.