The hardest thing I have to do every day isn’t job-related. It isn’t about getting up in the morning, or about paying bills, or any of that other stuff you’d think is normally associated with “most difficult item on my to do list.” No, the hardest thing I have to do every day isn’t what I consider typical.

It’s having to say goodbye to my son for the day.

It’s hard to explain if you’re not a parent. It’s become pretty cliche to say, I know, but it’s true: you don’t understand until you have one of your own. I sure as hell didn’t, but I do now. My son is my greatest contribution to the world, my biggest achievement, my driving force. None of the above made sense to me a year ago, when I was just plain old Shahrouz. Now I’m Shahrouz, dad. And those three letters make all the difference.

I work in San Francisco and live in San Jose. That’s roughly 45 miles, which I travel by train. Round trip that adds close to three hours to my day. The commute is bad — I only really get to see my son for an hour a day — but that’s not why I bring it up. I’ve been noticing lately, especially as my son has become what I playfully describe as “more interesting,” that on my commute home, as I’m sitting on the train, checking Twitter or playing some dumb game on my phone, something has started happening to me: I get excited.

It starts with a flash in my mind of a picture of him my wife may have sent me that day, or the day before. And that’s usually all it takes; I sometimes wonder if the people around me on the train wonder why I’m inexplicably grinning like an idiot, but my self-consciousness usually fades pretty quickly because by this time I’m halfway through a video of him giggling and my grin has taken over 80% of my face.

The closer I get, the more excited I become. Because I know the moment is coming. The moment I wait for the entire time I’m away, the anticipation growing from the second I leave him in the morning.

That smile he gets on his face when I walk through the door and he recognizes me as ‘daddy.’ It’s that face I am so excited to see, and so sad to walk away from in the morning. It’s that expression that makes the growing pit of anticipation in my stomach on the way home bloom into a firework display inside my body, because you see, at that moment, when his mouth forms that familiar arc, that genuine smile I know is genuine because he’s too young to know what ‘polite’ means, it is the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.

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