I love my son David.
He turns 2 at the end of this month, and he’s brought so much joy into our lives. If you meet him, you’d understand.
When I first learned we’d be having a son, I had so many hopes for him and for our relationship. Having read so many books on fatherhood while constantly pondering the kind of man and father I longed to be, I was going to father the next great son (aka Jeremy Lin). Just kidding, but sorta true.
Now that I’m two years in to the fatherhood journey, it’s been so unbelievably joyful for me.
However, it hasn’t been quite what I expected.
You see, David loves me, and I totally know that to be true. He gets super excited when I come into his room every morning, and he squeals with delight when I come home each day. He promptly gives hugs and kisses whenever I ask, and we eat breakfast together almost every day reciting memory verses, the Lord’s Prayer, and Toy Story.
But compared to my wife Tina, I am second.
It’s not even a close second, it’s a distant, unequivocal second.
I’m pretty sure if you were to ask David who he wants to play with, 10 times out of 10 he’ll say Tina (unless I’m given an ipad and Tina is left with a Calculus textbook then he might choose me 1 out of 10 times).
Tina is an unbelievable mom so it’s not surprising that this is the case, but I’d be lying if I said I expected this dynamic.
I thought I’d be my son’s hero and I had every intention of fulfilling his (or my) wish to be exactly that.
But if given the choice between me and umma (Korean for mama), David would choose to be with umma and play with umma and read with umma and shoot baskets with umma 10 times out of 10.
The sting of this reality cut deep when David couldn’t really talk but his gestures were clear signs of preference. But now that he can easily articulate his wishes with signs and words, the rejection pierces to another level.
I hate rejection.
Having often felt overlooked as the youngest in a family of four and marginalized as a smallish Korean-American growing up the pangs of rejection touches some of my most vulnerable wounds.
When triggered, these wounds can set off all sorts of reactions, ranging from overwhelming grief to hurt to anger.
I hate rejection.
To feel this way when it comes to my son hurts more than I thought it would, not so much because it’s different than other feelings but because it was so unexpected when I thought about fatherhood.
Of course I’d feel rejected by Tina some, and surely if I had a daughter there’d be things I wouldn’t understand and therefore feel out of place.
But my son?? Never would I have expected this.
The saddest part for me is my reaction to whenever the feelings of rejection come. Every time he jumps out of my lap when he hears Tina wake up or every time he runs into her arms when he senses danger, a sensor inside my heart erupts with pain.
And that pain often leads me to a place I never thought I’d ever go with my son.
I leave the room.
I check email.
I watch TV.
I work on something that I really don’t need to work on but “who cares because no one wants to be with me anyway.”
It takes everything in me (and really, something supernatural) to react a different way.
I can almost hear the conversation raging inside my head with one voice saying, “abandon him, he doesn’t want to be with you,” while the other counters, “stick with it, he may not want you but he needs you.”
Memories of my own wishes as a child re-emerge – longings to be heard and seen, and held, even though everyone thought I was okay on my own.
The battle goes back and forth, rumblings of self-talk zooming through neuropathways jostling for an upper hand.
I hope one day these battles will cease. I pray to God that one day these battles will cease.
Until that time comes, I’ve resolved to keep walking back into the room where my son is usually bouncing around with his beloved mama speaking with an unbridled joy. I kiss his forehead and whisper the words, “I love you, David.”
And off he runs back to umma.
And I stay.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us. 1 John 4