Rachel Toalson


When I see you rocking him to sleep in a dim-blue hospital room during early morning hours, silent but for the soft slumber-breath of his exhausted mother

When I see you washing dishes and cleaning house and folding laundry because your work-weary, child-weary, sometimes-just-life-weary wife needed a break

When I see you staying up into the dark hours to get done what time didn’t allow in the light hours because the needs don’t sleep like the sun

When I see you at the pool, urging them to find their courage, teaching them to use their legs, holding three who clutch at a chest they call safety

When I see you unloading a packed car by yourself at the zoo, pushing a stroller, holding a hand, turning your head to ensure the one falling behind catches up quickly

When I see you bearing the southern heat to toss balls to a child who hasn’t quite learned how to throw without hitting you places you’d like to never be hit, ever again

When I see that tiny hand wrapped around your finger, two explorers in a world of green and wildflower-purple and tan-spiked cacti

When I see you standing like a statue, a human jungle gym with monkey bars for arms and fire poles for legs and a dome mountain for shoulders

When I see you matching step with her, walking her right up to the door of her classroom, kissing her just outside and sending her in where you can’t be

When I see you declining that promotion or title or increase in salary because it means more time away from your family, and this treasure is one you’re not willing to lose

When I see you bumping elbows at a table, creating masterpieces from the crayons and markers and watercolors that stain their mouths and hands and shirts

When I see you laughing at corny jokes and making up your own just to hear them giggle

When I see you offering your lap for night-night stories, lying beside them to tell your own, listening to the tales of their imaginations

When I see you kissing the book-bruised eye and the sidewalk-scraped knee and the table-corner-busted chin

When I see you laying aside your phone, closing your laptop, turning off the television set to talk through their wonderings and rub their chests with courage and whisper love into sleepy ears

When I see their smiles, matched by your own, at the moment the front door whines open and you walk in after a long day away

When I see you jogging behind her on that no-more-training-wheels bike, letting go so she doesn’t see, guiding her one more step forward in this journey toward independence

When I see you draw him to your side and tuck him beneath the fold of your arm during that scary part of the movie

When I see you pulling him aside to talk about his not-so-great-attitude, to help him find a better way of expression, to teach him what it means to be a courageous man

When you slide down that didn’t-used-to-be-this-small slide because she’s just a little too afraid to go by herself

When I see you dress up like a pirate for his Treasure Island birthday party and read pirate stories with your comedic pirate voice

When I see you fighting for your country and the ones you love most of all, sending your letters, sending your prayers, sending your love across the miles

When I see you affirming that he is more important that a lost game or his not-quite-best performance or that jumbled try

When I see you standing beside her through her first heartbreak, her first best friend brawl, her first cut from the team

When I see your smile as you watch him walk across the stage, as you watch them turn the tassel, as you watch him wave to you, his family in the crowd

When I see you moving more stuff than she’ll ever fit in that tiny dorm room and then hauling it all the way back home to sit in her old room for an indefinite period of time, maybe even forever

When I see you giving your life yesterday and today and tomorrow because he is your son and she is your daughter, I can only say: Thank you.

Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your example. Thank you for giving your life so you can build a new life. You are a hero. You are significant. You are a force of inspiration, hope and love in a world that desperately needs it. 

May you always remember the value of your courage and your power and your presence in the lives of those who call you father, papa, dad.

Laura Olsen

Houston, TX