“Happy to see you, dadda.”

One of the things I’ve learned during my 28 months as a parent is that you can’t explain it to anyone who hasn’t done it. I’ve done my best to avoid giving any advice to future parents because even if the advice is completely on the money, it more or less goes out the window when that kid shows up. Everything goes out the window.

I’m sure at some point someone tried to explain to me how emotional having a child would be, or how those emotions would sneak up on you and over take you when you least expect it. But it’s impossible to comprehend what that’s like until you go through it yourself.

Appleseed (what I call my son online) and I were playing at his train table. I’d been to the gym earlier and I was pretty wiped out, so I laid down on the floor. Instead of grabbing my hand and telling me to get up and be Gordon (I am Gordon, he is Thomas, my wife is Emily), he laid down with me, kind on top of me at first, then down next to me, then he crawled back up on top of me again, all the while smiling.

And then he said it.

“Happy to see you, dadda.”

I could barely form thoughts, let alone answer.

He said it again.

“Happy to see you, dadda.”

But he didn’t say it as if he was waiting for me to say it back, he said it again as if he wanted to make sure I heard him, that I understood what he was saying.

“I’m happy to see you, too, Appleseed,” I said.

We rolled to the side and I looked up at my wife, who was sitting on the couch watching us. She saw the look on my face.

“I know,” she said. “He said it to me the other day and I couldn’t believe it.”

Appleseed shows us that he loves us all the time. He’s a happy kid. He’s a sweet and affectionate kid. Every day that I pick him up at school, he sees me and runs towards me, yelling “daddy!” and giving me a hug. He’s even more affectionate with his mom. He loves us and he shows it.

But there’s something different about hearing him say it (even if he didn’t actually say it).

His affection for us has always seemed, to a certain extent, like an extension of the fact that we take care of him. Of course he loves us; we made him. We feed him, clothe him, entertain him. We are the center of his universe and he is the center of ours.

Hearing him say that he was happy to see me, though, seems like an independent thought. It’s as if he is expressing something that he feels that is separate from our relationship up until now. I didn’t have food in my hand. I wasn’t giving him a Paw Patrol toy. I didn’t just tell him he never had to brush his teeth again. I was lying on the floor. He could have just ignored me, really.

Instead he decided to tell me that he was happy to see me.

When people talk about such moments, they generally describe how it affected their heart. It melted or it broke or something like that. But the truth is that it felt like a section of my heart that I never even knew existed suddenly came alive. This boarded up room that had never been used was opened up and feelings I never knew I had suddenly circulated through my system.

There have been a lot of rooms like that, and Appleseed keeps finding new ones to open. The flood of them is sometimes more than I can bear.

He was happy to see me.

I know because he told me.