When Mitch was a small child he always stuffed in his pockets two toys – one was a figure of a little boy with a ball cap and backpack and the other was a man wearing a hard hat and work clothes. To baby Mitch, this was a symbol of him and me. For a season he never went anywhere without them and I have taken many photos of him kissing this miniature daddy with his tender little lips. Whenever he kissed this little dad I would quickly snatch his little guy and kiss it with the same tenderness he did mine. We would both smile and giggle and then he would reach to me and give me a big real-life hug and kiss. Those are the best. My heart would melt to see this little boy overflowing with love even during his youngest years. 

I love this photo with all of my heart. On the surface I see a loving boy with emblems of his heart and identity. I love it because it tells a story of childlike love and innocence and what it means to belong to something and someone. 

But if I look carefully, this image tells a story within a story. I also see Mitchie’s chubby little arm stained with marker and paints because his mother always preferred giving him an experience rather than pacifying him with some entertainment source. She could have taken the easy road a million times, while nobody was looking, and sat him in front of a movie or video game. Instead she always went to great lengths to give our children growth-promoting experiences. Every night she would collapse with exhaustion, wondering if she had done enough. In the mirror she probably saw a tattered mother unsure of herself. But through my eyes, I saw a hero.

This image is special to me because it contains two portraits of love; one between a boy and his father and another between a mother and her son. When I set out to have a family I knew I would love, but I never knew I would love like this – and I have fallen in love with love.

I don’t carry two toys in my pocket as emblems of my affections, but I do carry my son in my heart and soul. And for as long as I live I will remember this story within a story; and I hope that when I die my arms and hands are stained with marker, paint and dirt from serving and loving my wife and children. For if I have loved, then I have truly lived.