I hit the sheets early last night, my body battery a bit low after staying out late (by my standard) on Saturday night and up early Sunday morning. An early to bed and early to rise type, my friends often kid me in the evening. “What’s your gauge?” they ask. If it’s past 9 PM, then the gauge is likely inching closer to empty. My dad is a gifted nap taker, I have the gift of falling asleep before my head hits the pillow. However, I also suffer from sleep apnea, so if I opt out of using the CPAP, I don’t usually get restful sleep. Last night, though, when I got home at 10 I walked straight from the front door to my bed. In my 1000 square foot condo, it’s a short trip. By 10:01 there were large Zzzzzzzzs over my head.

The loud boom of something hitting my front door, followed by the bang of the door opening suddenly, woke me suddenly from my revelry. I heard loud clumps from tennis shoes stomping on the front hallway floor, a duffle bag thrown into the living room. Instead of panicking, afraid that the police had mistaken me for a drug dealer, I simply pulled the covers back.

“Welcome home” I pronounced sleepily.

My son had arrived home from college, unannounced, as is his habit. I was expecting him tomorrow, but he decided he would rather finish up the semester from home. It was OK. Except for some Christmas wrapping paraphernalia littering his bed, the house was ready for the invasion. On top of that, I have today and tomorrow scheduled as vacation days. I don’t take a lot of vacation time. I rolled out of bed, half awake, pulled on some shorts and a tee shirt, greeted my boy. I cleared the Christmas cheer off of his bed as he ventured back outside to bring in the rest of his stuff, grabbed my laptop and a few files from the desk in his room. When he returned, I caught up a little with him, then told him I would see him in the morning as I shuffled back to my room. I closed the double doors to my bedroom behind me, something I will have to get used to doing for the next few weeks, the isolation necessary if I am going to get a proper night’s sleep.

He’s home. His routine is different than the haphazard childish chaos that existed just a few short years ago. This morning, he emerged from his bedroom, plopped down on the couch next to me, MacBook in hand. I watched him check emails, a large Yeti filled with strong coffee in one hand, then start prep for the online final exam he had to take in a few hours. The emails were correspondence for the internships he is considering, even though he has accepted an internship with the company I work for. The kid is networking like crazy and it’s intriguing to observe him at work. I am proud of him. In the three years since he graduated from high school, he has made huge strides with the motivation he has for work and school. Barely able to make the grades in high school, he is flourishing as a college student, even making the dean’s list last semester. I am impressed with the confidence I see as he talks to people, even as he talks to me.

It’s refreshing. Just a few short years ago, he was a confused boy, a bit messed up from the separation and divorce he had to deal with during his senior year of high school. The boy has become the man he needed to become. Even better, our relationship has become a relationship, with respect. If you asked me a few years ago if that was possible, I would have laughed at you. Now, he calls me, asks me how I am doing, seeks me out. We sit and talk, spend time together. Last summer, we were the tennis doubles team that everyone in our condo association league feared.

So, instead of dreading my son living with me, I enjoy it…. as long as it’s temporary! Frankly, I like living by myself, enjoy my own routine and neat, tidy home. But it’s OK to have my peaceful, comfort zone existence interrupted by my son. He’s getting used to me, as well, comfortable living with me now. We both have had to adjust.

One more note — tomorrow I get to meet my daughter’s new boyfriend. I don’t need to have a loaded shotgun ready or bring out a knife to sharpen while I am talking to him. The intro will be via video messenger. My daughter lives in another country (Turkey), thus the video. She is excited for me to meet him, a sign of how different this boy is than the ones the preceded. When I talked to her recently, it was really obvious that she has the M word in mind, even strongly hinted that to me. Like my son, my relationship with my daughter has matured, and she is confiding in me about this boy. Introducing me to previous boyfriends was a fearsome task, which I earned over the years. To see her eager to introduce him to me is also refreshing. I am looking forward to it. I will roll out of bed at 6:30 tomorrow morning, share my coffee time as I talk to them both.

This stage of fatherhood is good. I like it. After the divorce, I was afraid that my relationship with my children would be strained, possibly permanently damaged from what I feared as them considering me the bad guy. Kids are resilient, I know, something I was told by my friends. They will come around, my friends told me, as I am their father and have been a good one for them. When I see my kids coming around, I sense myself escaping from that big hole that I felt like I was sitting in. It feels good.

Christmas looks all right, even as the pandemic threatens to put a blanket on everything. I’m smiling.