Bruce doesn’t handle loss well. He learned this early in life, when his parents were taken from him on the same night. Initially, in his adult life, he handled this by trying not to get close to anyone. Of course, there was Alfred and Leslie Thompkins, but somehow, their mortality always seemed distant. Almost as though the pair of them were untouchable by time or the world's evils.
So Bruce’s life was fairly solitary, but he preferred it that way. He told himself that it kept others safer, keeping them at a distance. In reality, it was as much for his own protection as it was for anyone else’s.
That all changed when an eight-year-old boy entered his life, his home, and quicker than he could have ever imagined, his heart.
Despite what anyone might think, considering the fact that he allowed his child don a yellow cape to go out and fight crime with him most nights, Bruce was fearful of losing his son (both consciously and subconsciously). One of the many ways this initially showed itself, was in the fact that Bruce refused to leave Dick under anyone’s care but his own, or Alfred’s unquestionably competent care. A nanny or governess would be unwise for other reasons, but Bruce refused to hire a babysitter for even an hour, regardless of any recommendations. He would rather drive himself to an event and leave Alfred at home with Dick or miss an appointment and remain home himself than consider leaving his son with someone who might not take proper care of him or keep a watchful enough eye on him.
This changed slightly after Barbara entered the picture. Bruce had already come to respect, trust, and even admire Jim Gordon by the time he met the Commissioner's daughter. He soon learned that Barbara shared many of the traits that made him feel that way abut her father, and the girl quickly earned his respect as well. That was why he didn’t try to dissuade her later, when she took on the mantle of Batgirl. Many consider this to be the greatest sign he could grant her that she was deemed trustworthy. They are wrong.
Whether she realized it or not, he showed her the highest form of trust he possibly could before she ever donned a mask, by allowing her to occasionally babysit Dick. He didn’t trust most adults with his child and yet he’d allow the teenage girl to watch him unsupervised. After she became Batgirl, this had the added advantage of giving Dick and Barbara an excuse to acknowledge knowing each other in public. It gave Bruce or Barbara an excuse to seek each other out to speak in public; they could just say they were making arrangements for her to watch Dick. It also gave Bruce the opportunity to speak to Jim Gordon as Bruce Wayne sometimes, so he could express his respect for the man without people wondering how he was even aware of him. Considering this, many believe Bruce hiring Barbara to have been foresight, but again, they are wrong.
He simply found someone he could trust with his child and the rest grew from there.
Seeing that some people (other than Alfred) could be trustworthy with his son allowed Bruce to be comfortable leaving Dick with Clark occasionally. This usually occurred when they were working at the Watchtower or happened to cross paths when Batman and Robin were working a case that involved some activity Bruce didn’t want to bring his son along for. Unlike Barbara, Clark recognized the gesture for the show of trust that it was. He was happy that Bruce trusted him with the most important thing in his life, and he never took it for granted. Between that, his abilities, and his own fondness for Dick, the boy was rarely safer than when he was in Clark’s care. Dick’s honorary uncle would move planets to keep the child safe.
Still, Barbara continued to be Bruce’s go-to babysitter (whom Dick adored) until his son was old enough to be left alone.
Even then, Bruce rarely left his son home alone for long until he was well into his teens.
He couldn’t explain it, but even the concern he felt at seeing Dick face danger by his side was minimal compared to the fear he felt when he didn’t know if his son was okay or not. When they went out as Batman and Robin, Batman was always there for Robin. Bruce knew what his son was capable of, what he was prepared for. He’d trained the boy himself, watched as his skills grew and increased. He never allowed Dick to accompany him when he wasn’t sure his son could handle the threat they were facing. He never allowed Dick to accompany him if the boy was tired, distracted, or ill.
All in all, he was usually confident that his son was safe. He had more control over his son’s safety when they were together. If he left Dick alone, he couldn't be sure the boy hadn’t fallen out of the chandelier again, or been kidnapped, or caught some burglars unaware and been injured.
Even by the time the Teen Titans came about, Bruce was concerned. He knew Dick needed friends he could confide in. He knew his son was skilled enough to fight crime with said friends without his father, surrogate grandfather, or honorary uncle watching over him. He knew the other Teen Titans would die before they’d allow Dick to be killed or even seriously harmed. He didn’t try to stop Dick, but he knew he wasn’t being as supportive as he should be. He knew he was trying to hold on too tightly.
He hated the thought that he could lose his son but he also hated the thought of holding the boy back when he saw what an amazing man he was growing into.
He didn’t want Dick to feel smothered but he didn’t want him to feel disregarded either. He didn’t want to push his son away but he didn’t want to hold on to tightly either. He didn’t want his boy to feel like he was responsible for his father’s peace of mind, but he didn’t want him to think he wasn’t missed or wanted either. He didn’t want to lose Dick, but at the same time, he wanted to let him go and watch him fly.
He didn’t know how to explain it without either making his son feel bad about stretching his wings as he should, or worse, passing his fears along to the boy. He tried to express it in his actions, giving his son some slack but them pulling him in when the boy strayed too far or stayed away too long. Unfortunately, that ended up being harder on Dick than Bruce thought. His son saw it as him being controlling or dominating. As result, he and Dick fought for a while.
Bruce hated that most of all.
Finally, during a fight, Bruce referred to Dick as his son without even meaning to. He’d promised the boy, back when he’d taken him in a decade before, that he would never try to replace his parents. He’d tried to keep that promise, outwardly, at least. On the inside, Dick had been his son within the first fortnight. It couldn’t have been helped.
Instead of looking confused, upset, or uncomfortable at the term of affection -of belonging- Dick had looked like Christmas had come early. Like he’d been given everything he’d ever wanted. The fight was over quickly after that. Dick didn’t seem to mind so much when his father tried to keep him close or safe. He finally understood it.
They still butted heads, as parents and children do, but the fear that he might lose his child wasn’t as present. Bruce could let Dick go a little more comfortably, certain that his son would return or ask for help if it was needed.
He also drafted the papers to change his legal relationship to Dick from legal guardian to adopted father. He didn’t want to push his son, but he wanted the boy to know how he felt. He wanted Dick to know that was an option for them, if it was what he wanted too. He felt fairly confident that it might truly be what Dick wanted.
When he found out it was, Bruce was thrilled, terrified, and irritated. He was thrilled that his son would be legally his, even in adulthood. He was thrilled that Dick wanted to be his son. He was terrified of messing up or still losing the boy in any number of other ways. He was irritated that it had taken him so long to see his son wanted this as well. That the boy might have longed for that security for years. That his son might have ever had reason to doubt what he meant to him.
Those feelings all became manageable the second Dick signed the papers with a smile and then told his father he loved him.
After that, Bruce was just relieved. He was already dealing with all the headaches, heartaches, joys, worries, fears, and pride of fatherhood. Had been ever since he took Dick in. Being able to openly express them (in his own way) without worrying about inadvertently upsetting his son or potentially being reminded that he wasn’t legally his father was a comfort.
More importantly, the fact that Dick had wanted to be his son meant he didn’t have to worry about losing his child in any ideological sense. Dick was skilled and mature enough that -while he’d always worry for his son’s safety- Bruce didn’t have to fear his son being hurt the way he had in the beginning.
Bruce was content.
Then, he caught a boy trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile in Crime Alley one night.
He learned the fears of a father never ended.
Even when the biggest fear was realized.