"Hey buddy, can I have a hug?"


He wrapped his arms around my neck, and his shoulder dug into my throat a little. He does that a lot--it's uncomfortable, but I like that he hugs me tightly.

I looked down at him, and for the millionth time I'm struck by what a beautiful child my son is. "You're a handsome boy, you know that?"

"Yeah," he said, "I know that."

I remember being a child and having my parents or their friends tell me that I was good-looking. I think I must have had the same casual confidence about my appearance when I was his age, but, for the life of me, I can't remember it.

When I was eleven a bully told me that I was ugly, and that's how I've seen myself ever since.

It's odd: I can't even find it in me to be angry about it anymore. I mean, what eleven-year-old has the perspective to see how devastating he can be to someone else's self-image, or how long-lasting the effects can be? I can't believe that any of them knew what they were doing.

And I have a good life. I have a wonderful family who I love and who love me. I'm successful at my job. I have a nice home filled with nice things, and I have the wherewithal to fill my spare time obsessing about things like single-malt Scotch, or visual art, or finding out which kinds of oolong teas suit my preferences the best. That I never feel sexy is a fairly minor inconvenience, all things considered.

But still, it's not something that anybody should have to go through. And when I chuckle at the conceit in my four-year-old son's voice when he says he knows he's handsome, I also can't help but think: he really is a beautiful boy, and it would break my heart if some day he couldn't believe it when someone told him so.

It's silly, I suppose, to worry about something that probably won't happen, but that's parenthood for you.