Chatting with my son before his baptism

My 8-year-old son and I were at McDonald’s. It was just
after 11 a.m. on a Saturday and he was in his blue soccer jersey and black
shorts. He had a game in an hour. He was eating an ice cream cone and drinking
a root beer. I was eating some chicken nuggets.
That evening I was going to baptize Tristan into the Mormon Church,
and so I took him out to McDonald’s (his suggestion, not mine) to chat about
his baptism.
“Are you nervous?” I asked.
Tristan looked down at his ice cream cone, then he shrugged.
He does this a lot now. A year ago I couldn’t get him to shut up, but ever
since he turned 8, he’s been much more withdrawn. He doesn’t like to get his
picture taken, and he doesn’t like to talk about anything outside of his favorite
video game, Minecraft, or farts.
“It’s okay to be nervous,” I said. “I was nervous when I got
baptized. That’s why I brought you out for ice cream. Just the two of us so we
could talk about all this.”
I told him about how Jesus was baptized by immersion, and
that is just how he will be baptized. I told him that I was baptized at 8, too.
By my father, and that I was really nervous to have all those people watching
me. “It felt really scary because I didn’t really know what it all meant.” Then
I told him about how he will be taking on the name of Christ, and how that
means he needs to think about that and act accordingly. I told him a bunch of
stuff that he already knew from Sunday school. I was trying to make him feel
comfortable. To understand what all this meant. But I suppose it’s what I
didn’t tell him is what I was really thinking about.
My father left my family when I was 9, less than a year
after my baptism. When he baptized me, he was high on Vicodin. His addiction to
painkillers would kill him ten years later. He was having an affair on my
mother at the time. I didn’t know any of this at 8. I knew that when he came
into the font to baptize me, he was stumbling. I could see that his eyes were glossy,
and when he spoke, his words were slurred. I recall discussions between family
members about my father’s addictions, and I remember not fully understanding
what it all meant, but feeling anxious about it and wondering if he should be
baptizing me.
It is only in hindsight that I fully realized my father
wasn’t, according to the standards of the Mormon Church, worthy to baptize me. I
struggled with this for years as a Mormon. I didn’t know what to make of it. I
didn’t know if it meant my baptism was void. I know now that isn’t the case. My
father’s sins didn’t change a thing about the ceremony.
I often think about my father, in that moment, struggling to
walk into the baptismal font. Then I think about my own son, and how badly I
want to be a better father than the one I had, and wonder if I’m doing it
right. And I suppose that’s what I was trying to do at McDonald’s with my son. I
wanted him to understand what he was about to do, and for him to know that I
loved him and cared about him, and that getting baptized was a good thing, not
a scary thing. I wanted him to know that unlike my father, I felt worthy to
baptize him. And that I would never abandon him.
But I didn’t know just how to say it, so I just told him the
basics. I told him about baptism, and what it means, and basically said all the
same stuff he’d been hearing in church for the past several years.
Tristan finished his ice cream cone and asked if he could
have one more. I still wanted to talk with him, so I bought him another. Then I
said, “I just want you to know that I love and care for you. I’m excited to
baptize you, and I want you to be excited, too.” I went on, telling him that I
was worthy to baptize him and he didn’t need to worry.
He gave me a really confused look. Then he said, “I’m not scared,
really. I just don’t want mom to take pictures.”
He took the first bite from his second cone.
“So you are not worried about any of the big stuff,” I said.
“You just don’t want Mom to take your picture?”
He nodded vigorously. “I just don’t like my picture taken.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I just don’t like it.”
I laughed. “Well…” I said. “I’m not sure how you are going
to get out of that. Your mother really wants pictures.”
Tristan rolled his eyes. Then he took another bite from his
cone and said, “I know.”
I didn’t have a very good father, and it has caused me to
worry about some really heavy things with my kids. And as I sat across from Tristan
chatting about how he doesn’t want his mother to take pictures, I realized that
he really didn’t have the problems I had growing up. Taking pictures was his
biggest concern right now, and if that was all he had to worry about, than
maybe I was doing an okay job as a parent, I do this a lot. I project my own
pain, experiences, and fears onto my children.
“We better get to your game,” I said.
As we walked out to the car I said, “Do you feel less nervous?
Did this chat help at all?”
He shrugged. Then he gave me a hug and said, “Thanks for the
ice cream.”

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a
charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky
little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father
left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and
husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good
Morning America
, The New York Times,
Washington Post
, The
Huffington Post
, Scary
, The Good
Men Project
, Fast
, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and
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  • Beautiful! I can imagine that talk will be meaningful to him, even if he doesn't show it! I might be in trouble if my son grows to hate his picture taken haha.