Dad Files: The First Time My Kid Said “Wheeee!”

The boys are big enough now, at one year old, to take out on the town. So the other day, me and Lisa took Eli and Jack to a nearby park, on Washington Avenue, with a bouncy, fall-safe surface and swings that include back support for toddlers.

Lisa has a thing for swings. Throughout our dating and married life, when the opportunity presents itself, she insists on clambering into a swing for me to push her. So the swings were our destination, Lisa pushing Eli, me pushing Jack. I am starting to think I show promise at this dad thing. I am goofy, gentle, goofy, affectionate, goofy, patient and goofy. But my wife is a brilliant mom, and the boys can hardly look at her without smiling. So, while I stood there just pushing Jack she talked and got the boys babbling back. “Whee!” she said as she pushed Eli, and before long Eli started calling, in little gusts of breath, “Wheee!”

He smiled contentedly as he reclined in the swing, repeating “whee,” which now stands up there with “Da-Da” and “ma” as the third word he has ever spoken. And I had to stop myself from crying.

Overall, before the boys were even born, I considered myself pretty lucky in life: I am healthy, I love my job, my wife is my best friend, and I’ve generally felt like, since I turned 30, life got a little better with every passing year. But, prior to the boys, the pleasures of life were largely familiar to me. To be clear, eating a delicious pizza is very different than, say, reading a great book, but they can be measured on the same scale, say, from 1 to 10. When Eli said “whee,” that first time, I started to cry because I was overwhelmed. I’d never felt this much joy, in so concentrated a fashion, and merely by observing someone else in a happy moment. And to put this feeling in perspective, I needed an entirely new scale, a new unit of measurement.

We took a long walk the next day, to get ice cream. I pushed the boys in their stroller, fast fast fast, and though no one else had used the word Eli started to call, unbidden, “Whee! Whee!”

Maybe an hour later, after ice cream and the trip back home, he sat on his butt, playing idly with a pair of rubber blocks, and called, smiling, “Wheee! Whee!”

Just days shy of his first birthday, Eli had learned to apply the third word in his vocabulary not just to the rush of motion he felt on a swing or in a stroller but to moments of happiness. And he was not afraid to use it.

I cried twice that second day, without holding back. And I wasn’t just crying over my son’s happiness. I was crying because I was experiencing something important. Because I was learning that, when we are as unencumbered as a one year old—before we are self-conscious enough to stifle our feelings, before we are buried in responsibilities so deep that we spend most of our time thinking about what’s next as opposed to right now—the pure unfiltered experience of “whee!” is available to us.

I cried because in this little exclamation my son made that experience available to me again. With the little gusts of his breath, he blew all my shit away—my bloated self-importance, my concern with my next appointment, my preoccupation with tomorrow—so that I felt free; so that every time he uttered this one word I simply felt—without any concern, or care, at all.


Steve Volk is Philadelphia magazine’s senior writer. A new dad to twin boys, he blogs about the ups and downs of modern-day fatherhood on Be Well Philly. Read the series from the beginning.

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