It was forever ago, when you stood out there on the front porch. Our dog was new to us, and we had yet to anticipate all the ways that she would bring joy and havoc into our lives. This was a havoc time. You were waiting to go get into the car, anxiously awaiting a trip down the stairs, and little did you know that the trip would begin so abruptly. The dog shot out the front door, as was her custom at that time, and knocked you off your somewhat precarious perch on the top step. From the doorway, I watched as you fell, in slow motion. Cartwheeling with a look of utter surprise on your face. With each thud I felt my competence as a father slipping away and I wished for arms that would stretch out impossibly from my shoulders to catch you in some superhero way. Mere seconds became hours as all the things I might have done to keep this from happening scrolled up in front of me. When you finally came to rest on the next to last stair, looking up at the sky, you didn't make a sound. That meant that I had broken you for sure, and I would never be forgiven by anyone, least of all you.
But you did. Even with a great big bump on your head, you forgave me.
Since then, we have all been more careful on those stairs. You're a lot more steady on your legs than you were way back then. The dog is less prone to vaulting out onto the front porch simply because she can. We've all grown older and, we hope, wiser. One thing hasn't changed: My wish that I could keep you from tumbling from great heights, or if you do, that I could somehow cushion that fall. I don't hold your hand to cross the street anymore, but sometimes I feel like I should. That's because you're my son, and I don't want any harm to come to you. Whether it's a bully at school or a missed opportunity or a jet-propelled dog, I want to keep you safe.
I also know that, just like that day so many years ago, I can't always be there. It's part of growing up for both of us. Thank you for these first thirteen years, and be careful on those stairs.