Who stole my beautiful moment?

Normally our three-year-old is still asleep when I leave for work in the morning. One recent morning, he woke up before I left. As I was picking out a tie in the bedroom closet, he walked in and sheepishly asked me if I were going to work. I told him I was.

“You shouldn’t go, Daddy,” he said. “I’ll miss you.” His head was down, so I couldn’t see his face, but I could hear him sniffling between his sentences. He was crying.

I dropped to my knees and gave him a hug. He held me tightly. “I don’t want you to go,” he sobbed into my ear.

Beauty and sadness are first cousins. They often come as a pair. This was our beautiful, sad moment – beautiful in its expression of affection, sad because neither one of us wanted me to have to go to work. Sadder still because I had to go.

But I have dealt with the sadness born of having to go to work every day for more than 20 years, so I was able to look past it (just like I do every other morning) and enjoy the beauty of a boy wanting to spend his valuable time with his dad.

Beauty is fleeting, especially after it has been shorn of sadness. Our beautiful moment started to decay as soon as my wife entered the bedroom. My son and I happened to be sobbing it up like madmen just a few feet from where the baby was sleeping in his cradle. Being a mother, my wife is the guardian of silence within earshot of the sleeping infant.

“What’s all this racket? Don’t wake up the baby!” she demanded in that urgent, motherly whisper that is specially designed to be heard loud and clear by non-babies while skirting the infant ear altogether. “Take it out in the hall!”

A mother, of course, has no time to weigh the nuances of a father-son moment when she is shooing disturbances away from her sleeping baby. That much is clear.

My son and I picked up our hug and removed it to the hallway. Our beautiful moment had been relocated, but it might still be salvaged. I took up the mantel of salvation by explaining, “I have to go to work to make money so we can buy groceries. Work pays me so I can buy food for us.”

Every payday, Daddy sets off down that lonesome track to bring home his sack of groceries. (Photo: Marion Post Walcott/US Farm Security Administration)

“No,” the sweet little guy insisted. I heard his disagreement as proof that he would rather go hungry than have me leave him. It was actually the noise of the cracks in our beautiful moment spreading toward the shattering point. “Work pays you so you can buy toys.”

“They don’t pay me enough to buy food and toys,” I explained.

“Then we can just buy toys,” he replied, now completely comfortable with the notion that Daddy had better get himself off to work before he got his toy money docked.

Our hug dissolved of its own accord. Economics had won out over sentiment. Parents have to work in order to afford toys for their kids. My son understood this now, and he wished me well.

Beauty is fleeting.