Little Blake smiles and hands me his backpack as he steps off the bus. Then, he marches up the driveway as fast as his toddler legs will carry him, pushes open the front door, and steps inside. He shrugs off his coat and drops it with relief. He looks around from side to side. “Where’s daddy?” He asks. When entering the house, one of his latest favorite things to do is exclaim, “Daddy, I’m HOME!” If able, Dad comes out and they talk about his school day.
As we both work remotely, Blake loves coming home to the two of us. Sometimes the bus drop-off is timed with Josh’s lunchtime, and we all eat together. This working-from-home season has been especially sweet as Blake has taken to wanting to be “like daddy.” I work very part-time, so I’m usually on deck for Blake time most of the afternoon. But, when I have a call or last-minute meeting, he’ll get to do a craft or show in Daddy’s office. He often will climb into Josh’s chair, put his little hands on the keyboard, and say, “I want to work.”
Since Blake is so excited about the concept of working, Josh began referring to Blake’s room as “Blake’s office.” And Blake loves the label. He will say, “want to play in Blake’s office?” and excitedly close the door to “work,” aka play with his toys. And since learning through play is a toddler’s most important job, the phrase “work” is accurate.
A phrase surrounding Blake’s office that I wondered if I would ever hear was finally uttered mere hours ago. Blake began by stating that he wanted to play in his office. “Ok, Blake, can Mommy come too?” I asked. “No, Mommy, just Daddy!” He emphasized as he shut the door.
At three years of Blake’s life, I’m over the moon excited to see this bond between father and son grow. Blake always displayed a strong preference for Mama. Using a mix of gentle and intuitive parenting, Josh and I felt it best to honor Blake’s signed requests whenever possible.
Blake had a hard time feeling secure in the world for his first few years of life, as he was often misunderstood, and only our small circle of close family could sign his words with him. I found if I pushed something too hard, Blake would dig in his heels and resist more. Sensing too much pushing would backfire, we found ways to still give me breaks. I could see on Josh’s face how frustrating it could be, how hard he tried to forge that relationship, with a sometimes reluctant Blake. We intentionally made dad a part of daily routines, such as drawing the bath, brushing teeth, and spending the first hour together every morning since they are both morning people, and I often need to catch up on sleep.
We wanted the relationship to develop organically, as they made special memories and Blake grew to see himself “like Daddy” over time. I never wanted their bond to be coerced or forced. After about 15 months, we sensed Blake would be ok for longer periods without me. We tested the water with me taking an overnight staycation at a nearby hotel. They did great. The next year, I took a four-day trip with my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. On those weekends when I was away, Blake always had fun with his Dada. They tried new activities, played the guitar together, and made father-son pizza a tradition.
Slowly, I could see the beginnings of a friendship emerge. Mama may have typically been first in Blake’s book, but Dada (now Daddy, since Blake’s words and vocabulary exploded around age three) was a close runner-up. He was even preferred over me for things like climbing on the playground or playing catch.
I was absolutely floored, though, when for the first time this week, Blake requested that it be Daddy who put him to sleep. This is it, the season I’ve been waiting for. Just Daddy seems to be a new theme. A little surprised, I went to take a hot bath instead. Blake’s room shares a wall with our bathroom, and as I relaxed with the scent of lavender salt, I could hear them playing ice cream shop and coming up with fun rhymes together. This is something I can get used to.
I’m already picturing the father-son fishing trips, shared sports like skiing (Josh is planning to be the lead on this in a couple of weeks), and so many other treasured times just the two of them. This means I relinquish the role of the preferred parent. Josh is and has always been a wonderful father, and I’m so happy Blake recognizes that too. Cue Etta James’ At Last on full volume. Now “at last,” mommy is allowed to live her best life as half of two equally chosen parents. Here’s to their father-son bond.