“Life With Charlie” chronicles the adventures of Darren Mattock and his boy-wonder, Charlie, as they navigate together the daring and darling world of fathers and sons.
Last week in my introductory ‘Life With Charlie‘ post, I touched on my experience of ‘becoming dad’, how fatherhood has changed me and how I do life with Charlie as a single dad. This week, I want to tell you about this boy wonder of mine.
Before I do, it feels apt to share one of the parenting insights that now shape my understanding of and philosophy on this incredible journey. I believe that our job as a parent, right from the very first moment that we meet and are joined by our babies in this life, is to discover who we have been gifted. I’ve been intentional about diving into this journey with love, curiosity, wonder and awe. I know that this is the gateway to knowing how to be with him, nurture him, love him and guide him as a parent to thrive.
Charlie has an amazing imagination and spends a lot of time in the creative realms of imaginative play — physically, emotionally, mentally, and even on a soul level. He is a master at building a world, creating characters and developing plots, story lines, adventures and battles. We spend a lot of time sharing this space and place together. I watch his TV shows with him so I get to know the stories, characters, personalities, traits, skills, abilities and so on. This is where he gathers his creative material. Then, when we play, we’re speaking the same language. He doesn’t need to explain anything in a complex or complicated way.
We even take this play outdoors with us. Over this summer we’ve been blessed to live near the beach. During the school holiday break we would often head to the beach to swim a few times a day. We somehow came up with a ritual of having a battle each time we went. As I was helping Charlie get ready to go he would excitedly ask me what characters, weapons and abilities I was going to use, and share the same with me. These rituals are important to him, to us and our connection. They are part of the glue that bond and fuse us in a deep, rich and powerful way.
I realize as I write this that the rituals we share are a beautiful insight into who Charlie is.
Another is our morning wake-up and post wake-up ritual. Charlie is a master at waking up full of light. He has a beautiful and remarkable knack at welcoming each new day with openness. Even if the day before had testy moments or ended on a rough note (we most definitely have our moments, days and passages!), he will wake and beam his love into our first waking moments. We often spend time talking and cuddling in bed before we get up. He is an early-riser so often we share this space in the quietness of the pre-dawn dark. I count my blessings every time our day begins like this as I observe myself smiling inside out.
When we do get up, the very first thing I do is head to the kitchen to make a coffee. Cha knows the deal. During the school holidays, Charlie decided he wanted to learn how to make my coffee. So one morning boy sat down with me and wrote out a step-by-step guide for himself to follow. It’s stuck to the fridge by one of our magnets (another ‘us’ ritual is we collect fridge magnets from our holiday destinations). Cha really only plays a hand in one part of my coffee making process – he plunges it when ready. Dear boy will always say, “This morning, I’m going to make you the best coffee ever!” Then with real care and focus, I watch him as he slowly extracts the coffee. The other day he made my coffee geek soul proud when he exclaimed, “Look at that crema, dadda!”
Boy often wakes hungry. So I will make him breakfast at the same time my coffee is being made. Once I have my coffee and Cha has his breakfast, we sit down together to play a Lego game. This is when we dive into adventure land. I give Charlie complete autonomy in creating the plots and stories. I offer my input and ideas when I feel it will give to him and our play. To give him a sense of my engagement, interest and excitement. Boy has a remarkable memory and way of creating original elements to every game we game.
Well, now he does. As a two year-old, when he began practicing this passion and craft of his, of course he wasn’t as developed and sophisticated in his communication, ideas and abilities. It has often felt like a labour of love, saying ‘yes’ to all of this game play with him. Yet now I feel that I’m reaping the awesome rewards of having said ‘yes’; intentionally encouraging and supporting this to be part of how we do ‘us’ and nurturing this huge part of who he is.
In the early stages of my work with dads in the fatherhood space, I came across the quote, “Kids spell love T.I.M.E.”. It has been one that has stuck with me and has in many ways influenced how I am as a dad and parent. These rituals we share feel like epic and meaningful ‘I love you’s’. For both of us. Intentionally prioritizing the time and space for us to share them is what makes that connection and exchange possible. I haven’t made a greater investment of my time, ever.
What else can I say about boy now briefly?
Charlie is feisty, ridiculously strong willed, can be stubborn to the point of insane, and has the capacity to argue with rock-solid logic that either breaks me with crazy, laughter, or both.
He is a cheeky comedian. Boy has always just ‘gotten comedy’ and continues to impress me with his knack for context, timing and delivery. We laugh a lot together! I have the laugh lines to prove it.
To balance the intense elements of his personality, Charlie is very sensitive (like me), deeply empathetic and is a total love monster. Cha is incredibly thoughtful, is a big giver and a generous sharer. I’m often struck by his random acts of love, kindness and generosity. He teaches me so much about these highest of human qualities, which I’m grateful for.
While Charlie’s imaginative worlds are often occupied, he doesn’t ponder the moon, stars, planets, other countries, different places and races. Some of us dream about place, people and things far away. Not Cha. The fullness of his life is right in the small circle of life he shares with family and friends, up close. Boy loves fiercely and is a master at relating to those who share his life in the real world.
There are no words that can adequately capture how I feel about being at the centre of his Universe and having the gift of him being at the centre of mine.
Darren Mattock is the Founder of Becoming Dad, an online community for expectant and new fathers helping dads be the best men, partners and dads they can be, right from the start.
Photo credit: Darren Mattock.