I used to recoil a little bit when my parents spoke about me with pride. Their delight in me seemed foolish and naive because so much of my youth was marked by stupidity and selfishness. I thought, “If they knew some of the things I’ve done, they would stop applauding when they talk about me.”

But my parents aren’t ignorant of my shortcomings and rebellion. No, I am the one who was misinformed. I made the assumption that cheering for your kid is conditional, that the volume of parental praise should rise and fall with the child’s performance.

I balked at their generous boasting because, ultimately, I didn’t understand it.

That changed when I became a father.

When I laid eyes on my son at our first ultrasound appointment, awe stole away my ability to speak. Inarticulable pride filled my heart the moment I heard “It’s a boy.” He had done nothing to earn my affection, yet he had secured a spot in my soul as one who I would always adore without measure.

But when we learned later that day that he had a fatal condition, my inexplicable joy was suffocated by sorrow. The diagnosis promised to take away what I had only begun to experience with my firstborn. Death, it seemed, had replaced unconditional love with unavoidable loss.

Yet again, I was mistaken.

Yes, death did steal my son and countless hopes along with his life. But it could not rob him of his worth. And it did not take away his father’s love. Though my pride in him was now wrapped in pain, my affection for him would not relent.

One night, when Jillian was still pregnant with Eli, I told my dad in tears, “I get it now. I understand why you can’t help but overflow with pride when you talk about your sons.”

Parental love does not rely on reciprocation. It does not depend on performance. It does not cease when it causes you pain. And it can prevail through the darkness.

People may not understand why I continue to speak about my son. That’s okay. I don’t expect everyone to get it. But don’t be misinformed. It’s not because there’s something wrong with me. It’s because I’m a dad, and Eli will forever be my son.