"Carry me, daddy!"
My son, all of 5 years and 50 pounds, did a little dance in front of me, waving his arms in the air, insistent that I bend down and let him climb up onto my shoulders. It was a place of great comfort to him in his early years.
With his hands firmly clasped around my forehead as if to stay, "I'm steering now, I'm in charge."
There was no better place to be than up on daddy's shoulders, surveying the wonderful world from a place of majestic height.
And security. It was always safe up there on daddy's shoulders.
That day, my son's playful plea came while we were hiking a dusty trail on the top of Silver Mountain in North Idaho, where we'd come to ride the gondola and chairlifts during the warmth of summer. I didn't tell him the place used to be called Jackass. He would never stop giggling.
We were over a mile into our hike, and my son had already walked and ran and skipped for hours. He'd even jumped in a bounce house back at the lodge. Now his little toddler legs were tired and it mattered not that mine were as well.
When I heard the words, "Carry me, daddy," I gladly did as I was told.
I could never have imagined the sudden emotion of dread that came over me after he climbed up and settled into place.
An unwelcome voice quietly grunted from my subconscious, "He is too heavy now."
Immediately, I knew that this was the last time I would carry my son on my shoulders. I just knew it. Even though you can't always be aware of "lasts" with your kids, this one felt final because he was in the middle of a growth spurt and he had passed the point of no return as far as my muscles were concerned.
With each struggling step, I covered my grimaces with smiles. I wanted to remember all of this happy time. Would my son remember it too?
Here's what I did not know: That I would never stop carrying my child.
When your children are newborn, so light and precious that you never want to put them down, you have no idea of the burden that is to come, and just how heavy it's going to be. Nobody can truly warn you about it.
My son is a teenager now. Almost an adult. And, even though he has not sat atop my shoulders in a dozen years, I feel the weight of him there.
The weight of his worries and his fears. The weight of his struggles and accomplishments. The weight of his journey from adolescence into adulthood.
It's monumentally heavy, and I feel every ounce of it.
You will say that it is not my weight to carry.
And you would be right.
But how does any parent not empathize with their children each and every day? So, yes, of course, I have that weight bearing down upon my shoulders just as sure as when my son was a toddler and he looked up to me to say, "Carry me, daddy!"
As he has moved through the teen years, dealing with all of the emotional and physical changes that come with them, I have watched him and felt almost paralyzed by the weight of his responsibilities.
My son doesn't know why I am so tired. Why I stoop a little lower and move a little slower these days. He doesn't know how much I work each and every day to keep my mouth shut so that he can figure things out for himself and carry the things that weigh him down without my help. Even though I'm feeling every painful step right along with him.
He thinks I'm just getting old.
I hope I've taught him well. I hope others have too. He's very close to adulthood now, preparing to go away to college next year. Where, hopefully, he'll develop brand new muscles to carry all of his burdens through life.
Even when he's away from home, I'll still get up each day and feel that heaviness that only a parent can know, and I will think of him. Maybe I'll begin to feel lighter as he grows and changes on his own, and I am reassured that he can face life's challenges with all the skill, strength, and confidence that I know he possesses.
I will always carry my son. I will always feel his weight upon my shoulders, for as long as I live. I'm used to it now. I like that it's there, even on the days I wish I was free from the worries and strife that go along with parenthood.
Like gravity, it holds me to this world, the one that has defined me as a father over the past 18 years. There is a certain sense of comfort and security in it. Without the weight of my children's lives, I might just float away.