Just the two of us - Part 2

I never had a daughter. I don't know what it's like to buy a Barbie Doll. Or dress up as Cinderella for your little girl's princess party. Or meet some zit faced teenage boy at the front door to instill the fear of God in him . And while I genuinely miss not having those experiences, I also will never have to meet that acne covered kid, which lessens my chances of ever going to prison. And I never have to pay for a wedding. So I suppose that, while I never had a Daddy's Little Girl, best not to second guess the man upstairs. He knew what he was doing.

Instead, he gave me 3 awesome gifts.

My guys.

I will never forget that moment. It was 11:30 pm or so on August 26, 1998. The nurse's name was Ava. She turned to me, with him wrapped up in his little blanket, and said "Would you like to hold your son?" I took him from her, a little hesitantly, and said these words to him for the first time:

"Hello, John-Michael David Slusher. I am your Dad"

The next few days were an absolute rush. My Mom was the second person to ever hold him. In that moment, they formed an amazing bond that still exists even now, 7 and a half years after she left this Earth. She drove him home in her hunter green Blazer, since I wasn't sure how reliable my Jetta was gonna be and I did not want to be sitting on the side of the road with my infant son figuring out what to do next. And then the nights came. I must have checked on him 100 times every night, and often wondered what in the world  the hospital was thinking, letting us take a baby home when we could barely take care of ourselves.

I remember wondering what kind of person he was going to be? What his voice would sound like? Whether I was man enough to teach him to be man enough? The over thinking and wondering played like a reel to reel in my head, only stopping for midnight bottles and diaper changes.

He developed early, talking at 9 months and walking before he hit a year.  I watched him grow and enter school. He excelled and won academic awards. He grew like a weed and soon we realized he was going to be tall and lanky, like many Slushers before him, present company excluded.

He broke bones. Fell and got bruises and knots. He fought back in a bad environment, he called me out and saved my life, and he stood beside me as I married Little Red. He cried like a grown adult when we lost his beloved Nana. I coached him in baseball, and never missed a football game or practice. I cheered from the mat in every wrestling match he ever had.

I watched him fall in love. I watched him fall apart after it ended. I saw him struggle and tried to help him along. I gave him guidance instead of mandates and watched him catch himself. I saw him at his first job, displaying a work ethic I had tried to instill in him.

At every moment, in every moment, I was proud. And I am still a proud father because of the man he has become. 18 years old yesterday. And yet, just like when he was 8 on the little league field, or when he accepted the Presidential award in 5th grade, or when he pinned an opponent on the mat, I will still point to him and say "That's my boy!" No princess party necessary.

2 years ago on his birthday, I wrote the blog below. I have edited it a little just to make it more about today.

"Always tell the truth, say your prayers, hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears. You're living proof that dreams come true. I love you and I'm here for you" -Will Smith, Just the Two of Us

I will never forget the first time I ever heard that song. It was 1998, and I was at Grant Hospital waiting for my first son to be born. It was a nerve racking day, but I remember it like it was 5 minutes ago. Someone played the song for me and I told them that was the kind of relationship I wanted to have with my boy.  I remember holding him for the first time, looking at him, and thinking that suddenly the responsibility of showing this newborn how to be a good man was squarely on my shoulders. It was the first time in my life I ever felt really grown up.

Through the years, I have always tried to maintain that kind of relationship with the guys. I really had 3 examples of what a Dad should be. My birth father was never there. The monster showed what it was like to parent with fear, torture, abuse and hate. And My Dad taught me how to be firm yet fair, and how to be a real Dad.

 I have done my best to follow his example. And today, 18 years and one day since I first heard that song, since I welcomed John-Michael David Slusher into this world, I look at the man who stands before me now. Respectful. Polite. Outgoing. Caring. Compassionate. And I think to myself, "Yeah I am doing it right." Well with a tiny bit of help from Little Red that is.

When he was younger, we listened to the song many times together. And he would always say the best part was coming up right before The Fresh Prince says "Daddy loves you, Daddy loves you, for the rest of your life." I loved that. And even though he now grown, I still hear those words and tear up every time I hear the song. He told me two days ago, the day before he turned 18, that he hears that song every time he rides with his friend Jonathan. Its the only CD his friend owns, and the CD player is the only part of the radio that works. Glad to know he has the same memories I do!

John-Michael David:

It is my absolute privilege and honor that I get to be your Dad. You and your brothers are the greatest joy in my life and my inspiration. Everyday I thank God for blessing me with you all. You make me proud, and I stand in awe of the person you have become. Thank you Son.

"Always tell the truth, say your prayers, hold doors, pull out chairs, easy on the swears. you're living proof that dreams come true. I love you and I'm here for you"

"Daddy loves you, daddy loves you, for the rest of your life"

Happy Birthday Son. Day # 6576 of being your Dad, and it is still good to be me!


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