The other day I was at the park with my four year old son, Connor, another dad and his two kids. We dads were keeping an appropriately watchful eye on them as they raced and scaled their away around the jungle gym. Simultaneously, my dad friend and I were in a deep discussion over the Jekyll and Hyde nature of England’s soccer team from the World Cup to the European Championship when my son shouted to me.

“Hey dad!” he hollered, “Watch this!”

Connor then hopped on a swing and began to pump—propelling himself higher and higher in the air. This was a first, and I was duly impressed.

“Wow, Connor,” I gushed, “That’s terrific! I’ll never have to push you again!”

Then the other shoe dropped.

“Oh my God,” I gasped to myself, “I’ll never have to push you again.”

When our kids come into this world, they are dependent on us for their survival. As they grow and learn they become less reliant on us for their mere existence and more for guidance. Eventually, on a basic human level, they don’t need us at all.

I love being a dad more than anything in the world. I take such pride and joy in my children that it would be very easy for my identity to solely evolve from being a father. But one day, it will all be taken away from me. Oh, I’ll be the proudest father until my last breath, but my children’s need for their world to revolve around me will be fleeting.

I’ve heard it said that the toughest part about being a parent is letting go. Indeed, I would argue that grown adults who still have issues with their parents feel like that conflict is borne out of the parents treating their forty one year old like he was thirteen. (As one spiritual teacher once said, “If you think you are enlightened, go visit your parents.”) Those parents, God love ‘em, have never really outgrown that stage of “you need me to survive.” They need to be needed or else that self identity will be whipped out from under them, and then what? On one level, it drives me nuts. On another level, I know that accepting that my children no longer “need” me will be my biggest challenge as a dad.

For the sake of my children, I am up for the challenge. I just didn’t think it would begin when my son was only four.