My path to fatherhood was anything but conventional. It began at a garage sale. I was helping my mother with another round of liquidation when I met a charming woman interested in buying my childhood rocking chair. We talked for a while and I learned that her daughter, who had recently moved back into the house, was expecting a baby. The rocking chair was for the child.
Two years later, I was playing catch with a friend outside my parents’ house when a passing car slowed and then stopped beside my buddy. He spoke with the driver and then waved me over. Turns out it was the woman who had purchased my rocking chair. As I bent down closer to chat, I could see that she was not alone. Sitting next to her was her daughter and, in the backseat, a little boy.
It took me a few seconds to make all the connections when I caught my first glimpse of Gabrielle’s brilliant sparkle and adorable nervousness. I was excited and curious and wondered what exactly was happening. I turned and took a closer look at Leo. He radiated a calm innocence. Our eyes met and I felt an unexpected connection with him. After they left, I couldn’t help thinking that something very special had taken place. It seemed as if fate had intended for us to meet.
The three of us began spending more and more time together, though time alone with Gabrielle was limited. I became jealous of how much attention Leo received from her and found myself telling Leo that he had to be patient and wait his turn. He had to share mom. Can you imagine? Gabrielle would just laugh and remind me that I was negotiating with a two-year-old. The fact is that I was a man in love with a woman with a child and this needed to change. If I were going to be dad I would need to develop my own relationship with Leo.
So I made a conscious effort to give more hugs, roughhouse and play, and read to him at night. We went to the park, the beach and restaurants on our own. And when I felt that his behavior was unacceptable, I might put my foot down, albeit gently, to establish my authority and set boundaries. Over time I could see and feel our bond deepening. We had each other, and I soon recognized that I was a man in love with a wonderful boy.
Leo loves to give pats on the butt. He roars a lot. And if Gabrielle and I are hugging, he runs over and squeezes in. He is a talker like his mother, but when I tell him to pay attention, he listens. He says he looks like me, which makes me smile. Naps never happen unless he is lulled to sleep riding in the car. And he makes me proud when he offers to share his treats without anyone asking. He is the little man who keeps me going and whenever anyone asks how he’s doing I simply reply, “Leo is a champ.”