<self-indulgent letter to a son from his dad to be read in the future>
Dear sweet pal,
You’re snoozing beside me this easy Saturday afternoon on Father’s Day weekend, a superb time and place to write a yearly meditation.
In a previous life before you showed up, I couldn’t have counted how many times my pals with kids discreetly and not-so-discreetly asked me, “So, when are you going to be a dad?” or “How come you don’t have kids, yet?” For a few years I fielded those kind words from my friends who considered me well suited for it, who wondered aloud why I was taking so long.
I worked hard to convince myself they were mad for giving up so many of their resources, hearing only their complaints about not having enough resources or energy to do the things they wanted to do because “the kids” have this-or-that-going-on, preventing them from participating in more selfish pursuits that required the most precious resource of all – time.
Meanwhile, I was spending mine on every indulgence: travel, people, ideas, projects, experiences, and doing all I could to satiate my learning addiction. I’m grateful to not know what boredom is, born with a “curiosity disease” (Mom used to joke) that makes me a stranger to it. Put me in a room and I occupy myself indefinitely, learning about people, ideas, the world.
While she was alive, the stories Mom
(your Grandmother) used to share about me all went like this, too, what she called a “tirelessly happy quest to learn everything” from the moment I started to walk. Like you, I asked good questions. About everything. It tuckered out most grown-ups pretty quick.
Yet, in all those years of my self-indulgent travels and learning, in the midst of so many rich experiences, something was missing.
Don’t get me wrong. I took exactly none of it for granted. It was great sometimes. Yet, somehow, it was also unfulfilling.
As that first part of my adult life went on, I grew stymied by my own modest successes in learning about the world, the people, ideas, and technology that I watched slowly but surely change a culture that simultaneously works hard against itself in an attempt to resist change.
Eventually, without any true sacrifice, without a bona fide selfless reason for it all, one day I woke up and slowly began to allow the idea in – that it all meant very little without an authentic commitment to something much larger than myself. I wanted the experience of being a parent, full-on: facing my imperfections, accepting and letting go of my baggage in order to get out of my own way and help clear a path for, well, you. I felt I’d done all there was to do in the context of fulfilling what now seems like small-minded, selfish goals.
Gratefully, many of those turned out to be important pieces of an unknown puzzle required to be a good daddy: skills, tools, and experience that I would have no way of knowing how valuable they would be in helping you shape your own tools for navigating the world.
I didn’t see it then, but I spent the vast majority of my free time those years volunteering with kid-focused organizations, mostly in community, art, and technology-based programs. Mentoring was something I didn’t even know I was doing but I sure was doing a lot of it. My wife at the time knew it and told me so with openness and honesty, even as she was firmly against the idea of having children and knew what it might ultimately mean for our relationship.
Little did either of us know that some of those experiences would lead us each to other, better worlds but not without first weathering some challenging times, people, and places. Those are stories you will ask questions about when you’re older and I’ll be ready to answer them for you as honestly and as best as I can. I can tell you we are still friends to this day, most likely because we were true to ourselves, to each other, in this way. No small thing. Few can achieve what we did during and after our marriage was over, especially in the way we did it.
Oh, funny life. The best advice I can offer you might be as simple as this: show up and do your best. Helping others realize their own potential is key to the search for finding our own.
I’m grateful for so many things, moment to moment, not least of which is this grand poobah of adventures – being your guide through this forest of life. I thought I knew what mentoring was, what true collaboration was. I thought I had an idea of how much I had to learn about patience, listening, observing, intention, and taking care of myself so that I’m able to take care of others, how to love and be loved, what’s worth sacrificing and what’s not (like spending time with you while you are young).
What I’ve learned in these recent years is astoundingly dense in contrast to any that preceded them. I’m grateful I have always preferred quality over quantity.
There was a time I presumed to be standing on the edge of understanding what was important to me. It may have been practice or it may have just been wasting time. These days, my planets all revolve around your Sun, powered by a kind of generosity I wouldn’t know I was capable of, let alone needed so desperately to make the center of my life and learning, until I first met you. Somehow, there are more authentic versions of such heavy things following me around the way breezes tumble leaves around ankles, sauntering along into the wild world with a curious mind and an open heart.
Looking into the eyes of your child does this thing, it creates these kinds of feelings. My pals were hardly kidding when they tried to explain it. Thanks to the gifts of stories they shared, I have logged every one in my mind as part of the inspiration that powers my own experience with you. No small thing. Thanks, pals.
Now, ever since you showed up, I’m invested in my life’s best work – the best project I could possibly imagine – demanding the best of everything I’ve learned so far about people, myself, art, media, learning and how to learn, teaching, writing, reading, thinking, technology, and so so so much more than I’m able to transmit in such a meager forum as this – the magnum opus of multi-disciplinary, human-focused projects I could ever make a contribution to – you.
To wrap up, this is now my definition of success. Whatever I used to care about, whatever I once thought was important is dust. Being a parent is absolutely everything it’s cracked up to be. If there is a bigger, more ultimate adventure I’d love to know what it is because I couldn’t have known how much I would love and be so overwhelmingly grateful for my role in our small but mighty world. Any and all the adversity it took to arrive at this life has been so very worth it.
I imagined a life like this from those other, challenging, seemingly far away moments and places. I imagined it, something clear but unclear, more a notion, really, a unique family situation that would honor things I effortlessly believe in (important building blocks for any dream, by the way, are that your partner believes in and values the same things as you), such as a love for and commitment to things like learning, growth, challenge, acceptance, and pursuing these together in whatever shape it might take.
Last but not least, I’m grateful I am wired so much like you, able to relate to many of the challenges you face, will face, and will overcome. I’m grateful for your step sister and brothers and the influences you all have on each other. Marielle, my love, she is an extraordinary woman. She’s made this silly man’s life complete and satisfying on more levels than I can briefly describe here. There aren’t words to transmit that well but I will keep trying.
There’s also no way Marielle and I could have known how our little blended family would make such a beautiful, complementary combination of all the things we value and love. I’m grateful to her for being such a singularly positive and uniquely loving inspiration to all of us as we realize a dream of building our wonderful life together with intention, thoughtfulness, and grace. I’m a better man, partner, friend, husband, and dad/step-dad because of her. She loves you like her own and understands how connected we are, what we’ve been through, and where we are headed.
One day I will no doubt fruitlessly try explaining all of this to you, knowing full well you will merely have to bungle around in the world until you discover it on your own, in your own time, as I did and as I still continue to do. I will likely blather on saying things like, “Sweet pal, life is what you make it. Thoughts become things. Choose only the best ones.”
I hope you never tire of hearing me say it, sweet pal: I owe you a debt of gratitude for teaching me so many things about myself and the world and sharing your big love and being such a tremendous inspiration that powers my heart, mind, and soul. I’m proud of you. I’m in love with getting to be your dad on this day and every single sunny Saturday, rainy Sunday, mellow Wednesday, manic Monday, and any regular old standard Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, wherever we are whatever we’re doing it’s exactly where I want to be.
I’m grateful for you each and every day we get to share in this world in this life. Thank you for making mine so incredibly rich. I love you.
</self-indulgent letter to a son from his dad to be read in the future>