“Look at me” read the newly delivered text to my cell phone. It was from my youngest son Baylon. I looked up only to find him perched atop the large slide at the peak of the playground. His text to my phone, along with his position on the playground, only served to affirm the greater message lying deeper beneath the surface. “Look at me daddy, notice me!” It is one of the greatest requests I can receive, to have my children captivated by my attention. “Look at me daddy.”
This attention-grabbing statement has been echoed by all three of my boys throughout their journey through the wonder of childhood. Longing for my attention and affirmation, and believing me to be the center of their world, with passionate zeal, they cry, “Look at me daddy, notice me, watch this!”
“Look at me as I slide down this slide!”
“Look at me as I jump into this pool!”
“Look at me as I hit this ball!”
“Look at me as I walk across this stage!”
“Look at me as I receive this award!”
On and on, as their childhood progresses, the cry continuously springs forth, “Look at me daddy, watch this!” But before long, they are vaulted into the world of teenage self-awareness. I am slowly becoming less relevant and less critical to their need to be seen. It isn’t that they still aren’t crying “Look at me, watch this!” It’s just that I find myself in competition for their cries to be seen.
My boys are developing friendships and relationships outside of the bubble of our fortressed home. Social media begins to matter. For the first time, the opinion of the girls begins to matter. Peer pressure will take its stake in the competition. Coaches, teachers, bosses, all get thrown into the mix. “Look at me, watch this, notice me.”
I must allow for some degree of this exploration as the normal passageway of life. But I also must remain steadfast in my availability to keep my gaze upon them, lest they seek to have someone else or something else notice them in a way that leads them down a path to destruction. Many a young teen has wandered down the abyss of a dark path to seeking affirmation elsewhere, simply because they’ve noticed that their parents were never interested in responding to their cries to “Look at me,” because they were too busy with their own lives.
Many drug addictions, broken relationships, destructive habits, and premature pregnancies have all found their genesis in the moment when a parent stopped responding or simply never responded to the cry, “Look at me, watch, notice me…please…anyone!?”
Sandwiched into the crevices of these moments through the teen years will still be grand moments where the cry will be heard. “Look at me daddy, notice me, watch this.”
“Look at me as I score this basket or make this point!”
“Look at me as I get this license and drive away on my own for the first time.”
“Look at me as I go to this prom.”
“Look at me as I march across this stage to receive this High School graduation diploma.”
Pushed into my existence will be the jarring day when I drop them off at college for the first time. They likely won’t cry, “Look at me” this time, and they won’t have to cry for it. Because as I drive away, leaving them behind for the first time, I’ll surely be looking at them through tear-filled eyes and a sobbing heart. They won’t say it or verbalize it out loud, but with their posture, they will be saying, “Look at me daddy, watch me as I become an adult.” And this is where the most seismic shift will occur.
Even though I had a small part in bringing them into this world, I will have to come to terms with the reality that I will likely no longer be the most influential person in their life. At this point, I will give anything just to get one more text or scream saying “Look at me daddy.”
But along the way, while it may not be verbalized in quite the same way. There will still be moments where the cry will be heard, not so much through words, but in life application and experience.
“Look at me daddy, as I march across this stage to receive this College graduation diploma.”
“Look at me daddy, as I get my first real career job.”
“Look at me daddy, as I come down the aisle to take someone as my spouse.”
And the shift will now be complete. The little kid on the playground, now turned adult, doesn’t seem to be crying to be looked at quite as often as he once did. I would love to see you on that playground and hear your “little kid” voice one more time. I would give my right arm just to get a text from you that says, “Look at me daddy.” But at this point of life, I would settle for any text from you at all. Yet still, there will be moments that glide into our lives to lift life above the ordinary.
“Look at me daddy, I want to introduce you to your grandchildren.”
“Look at me daddy, notice my new house or my promotion.”
Still, I begin to wonder if any part of you ever still cries out, “Look at me daddy” the way you once did when we were standing on that playground that warm Spring day? The tides have shifted, and now I’m the one crying out to you my child.
“Look at me son, remember how I used to lift you above my head with my arms?”
“Look at me son, remember how strong and fast I used to be?”
“Look at me son, remember when I was your favorite coach?”
“Look at me son, remember when I was the hero?”
How did we get to this point so fast? What is it about life that overtook us with such vast swiftness that we failed to notice the power of the present at every moment? How did you grow up and how did I grow old so fast? You ran into my life and changed everything…and just like that, you had a life of your own.
“Look at me son, I’ve grown old.”
“Look at me son, my body has broken down, I’m not as relevant as I used to be.”
“Look at me son, I used to fix the broken things in your life. Now you’re fixing the broken things in my life.”
“Look at me son, you’re driving me back and forth to all my weekly doctor’s appointments.”
“Look at me son, I used to change your diapers, now you’re changing mine.”
“Look at me son, I used to hold you and feed you. Now you’re holding me and feeding me.”
“Look at me son, they’re lowering my body into a grave.”
But if in any way, shape, or form, I’ve done my job. Long after I’m gone, someone will say, “Look at him, he looks just like his dad. He’s acting just the way his father acted.” A piece of you, always in me, and a piece me, always in you.
But most of all, if I’ve done my job, there will come the moment when we joyfully embrace each other again in eternal glory, and you say, “Daddy, it was just like you said all along. The Scriptures, the Truth, the good, the bad, the suffering, the glory, the Savior.” And then I’ll say, “Yes my son, and there He is, the Savior! Isn’t He the most glorious thing you’ve ever seen?” And together we’ll look at Him…for eternity.