My son turned fifteen this weekend. Fifteen. That’s five-and-half thousand days he’s walked this earth (well, walked and crawled), and with a few small exceptions I’ve been there with him for every single one of them. This doesn’t by necessity make us close, but it makes us … well, something.
There’s no connection in my mind between the helpless, crying, infantile baby that came into the world fifteen years ago and the moody, sarcastic, increasingly self-aware teenager that thinks swearing is cool but doesn’t quite know when it’s appropriate. These are two different entities, and frankly I’m not sure I really know either.
My memory of his life is sporadic – fleeting moments in time, stuck in my mind like a photograph without context. I know he was once six – and twelve, and many other ages – but I don’t seem to be able to draw a line connecting these moments to each other. Like each memory is of a different person, one who no longer quite exists.
At the risk of being a cliché, it makes me wonder what I was like when I was fifteen. Where was I? What was I doing? What did I think? Fifteen was my sophomore year of high school; it was a summer of forgetful abandon. It was a year of adventure, of climbing and mountaineering, of school and exams and friends and excitement.
It was also my last year of happiness.
The following year, my junior year of high school, was the first year I learned depression, and I’ve never forgotten it since. By the summer of sixteen, I was catatonic in my room, drinking with my goth friends, staying up all night with candles, and cutting my arms. And it only got worse from there.
To some extent, I wonder what fate awaits my son. Will this be his last year of happiness? Will he succumb to the deep, numb despair of depression? I really can’t say, of course – the future is the future, and I’ve never really been good at predicting it. But I can see that he is, in many ways, a stronger person than I was at his age. He cooks, he cleans, he reminds me to take my meds, and he can’t stand how dirty I let my car get. He’s responsible, has a girlfriend, and frankly doesn’t get into much trouble at all. These are all things that were not true of me.
In fact, reflecting on that past fifteen years of my own life, he’s more of an adult now than I ever was – and more so than I am today. While I mope in bed and struggle to get through each and every day, leaving dishes and laundry to pile up, he actually takes care of things around the house. He doesn’t enjoy it, but it does it nonetheless.
Fifteen years ago, I was a scared, naive, miserably depressed kid who didn’t see a path forward in the world. Not that many young adults do, but for me, the end was visibly near. I was on a speeding train of mental turmoil, rushing headlong toward the abyss with no bridge and no brakes. What I’m trying to say is that without my son, I may well have tried to kill myself.
But I didn’t. And whilst I’m certainly not ‘better’, I survived. I mean, that’s probably as much as I can say for myself, really – I survived. It’s up for debate if that was worth it or not, but the point is, I’m likely alive because of my son. So there’s something.
We share interests – a love of movies, Lord of the Rings and heavy metal music, for starters – and we talk. I’ve never been secretive about my mental health with him, and I hope he doesn’t resent me for it; he talks to me (on occasion) about the things that trouble him, and I hope he continues to.
What I see when I look at him is no longer my child. He is no longer helpless. I mean, I may never have really come to terms with a person in the world being my descendant, but the point is that he is a young man, whole and independent, with thoughts and opinions that are not mine. He is a good person, and whether through my actions – or lack thereof – or not, I believe he will become a good adult. I have faith he will become a hard-working, functional member of society. And I guess I really couldn’t ask for more.
What I see is simple: my son is a better person than I am.
I couldn’t be more proud.