Last night one of our birds died. My heart is still hurting. But not for the bird…

Dear Son,

Harvey died. Yes, I know that was abrupt. But the fact is, you’re five years old and sometimes ripping off the band-aid quickly is the only way to do things.

I asked you if you wanted to say goodbye to him. Of course, you did. So, I walked you to his cage where his tiny lifeless body lay. Your youthfulness shown bright as you said, “Bye, Harvey!” in that sing-song voice that implies that you’ll see him tomorrow. Then, when I gently picked him up from the cage and placed him in the box that would become his final resting place, you stopped. And when I put the paper towel over him…I heard the hitch in your voice. I saw the tears begin to well in your eyes.

That’s when I knew you knew. That’s when the innocence in your voice gave way to that realization that you would never see Harvey again. The days of watching him jump around his cage screeching and whistling were gone. The next time you refill the water dish, that blue and white jerk of a bird wouldn’t jump around the cage like an insane monkey chittering and scolding you for getting too close to his cage.

Yes, son, Harvey was a jerk.

Yes, son, Harvey was a jerk. There’s no nice way to say it. He was not a nice bird. But, he helped your dad get through some pretty dark times. I guess that’s why I kept the cantankerous little jerk around. From the day I bought that bird, he wasn’t one to want to be touched. There were a couple of weeks in there when I thought that he and I could be friends. He would sit on my shoulder while I wrote. He would even let me pick him up. Then, one day, for whatever reason, he freaked out when I walked near the cage. Not unlike he was prone to do on random evenings when I would run into the living room to make sure something wasn’t attacking the cage only to find Harvey freaking out while Dart looked on in what I can only imagine was birdie-disbelief.

From that day on, he was a biter. I’m not sure, but Harvey might have been insane. Perhaps his spastic freak-outs were caused by him hallucinating? I don’t know. And science isn’t to the point that we could have ever really found out. Sorry, I digress. The point I’m getting at is this: Harvey was a very hard bird to love. And he got even harder to love once he turned Dart to the dark side. Yes, Dart used to let us pick him up too! But, after a couple of freak-outs, Dart was convinced that the people he once let touch him were probably monsters. Monsters with food, but monsters nonetheless.

And yet, you loved that bird, son. I know you did, because the amount of pain the poured from your eyes last night hurt my heart. I was sad to see the bird go. But, I didn’t cry until you did. There was so much pain that I had to take some of it on, to try to help you. Your heart is so big. Your love is so powerful. Yes, you are only five years old, but when you say you want to become a zookeeper when you grow up…I believe you just might. You have a deep and unabashed love for animals that is powerful and amazing. We take you to a theme park and you don’t want to see the rides, you want to see the animals.

When we went to the Smoky Mountains for vacation, we went to a ‘wildlife encounter’. It was horrid. The condition the animals were kept in were straight out of the 40’s. It was all concrete. And you, at four years old, knew that something was wrong. You wanted to know why the bear didn’t have any grass to play on. Your heart was with those animals from the moment you saw them. It broke my heart to have to try to explain to you that some animals don’t get treated very well in captivity. We walked away from the ‘wildlife encounter’ sad, and more than just a little mad. That was months ago. And even yesterday while driving home from school, you brought it up again. Even months later, you’re still concerned about a bear you saw for 10 minutes in a concrete enclosure three states away.

Even if it is over the loss of a butthole bird that was really hard to like.

I know I’m rambling son. But, I’m your dad and that’s one of the perks of the job. The downside of the job is watching you hurt, son. Last night as you lie in my arms I could feel the heat radiating from your head as your little body shook with sobs. And, the only thing I could do was say that it was okay to hurt. For no other reason than the hurt meant that you loved him. And that was a good thing.

This really is one of the crappier thing about being a parent: Watching you hurt and knowing that all I can offer is hugs, kisses, and the reassurance that it’s okay to hurt.

It’s crappier still to know that there will never be a moment in my life when this won’t have the possibility of happening again. There won’t be a magic time when your pain will no longer be my pain. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I have always been here for you. I’m here for you, now. I’ll be here in the future. And, if it means years of sharing your pain in order to keep your heart as big and gracious as it is right now…then bring it on. There will never be a moment in your life when I won’t be willing to stay up late at night and cry with you. Even if it is over the loss of a butthole bird that was really hard to like. Because what’s important to you, is just as important to me. Please, don’t ever forget that.

I love you,

Dad

 

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