This morning I read the heartfelt note you left for me on the kitchen counter before you headed off to school and, after a long tearful pause, decided it’s time to let you in on a secret that has taken me decades to decipher. I don’t know when you will be able to read and grasp what follows, but you are such an old soul, I suspect it will be sooner rather than later, and when you digest it, I hope you are not deflated. On the contrary, I hope you see how level the playing field of life can be and understand that you don’t need to feel dejected over not always measuring up to the standards that so-called grownups have set for you. I have a feeling you’re already piecing some of this together for yourself, but what kills me is that while you seem to understand that it can all be so riddled with dysfunction and hypocrisy, you feel pressured and compelled to contort your spirit so that you can blend in with it.
On the first day of my freshman year at a Jesuit prep school, my English professor waltzed into the classroom and with no introductory comments read aloud the following poem by Philip Larkin:
This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
The class of obnoxious teenage boys filled with so much insecurity naturally exploded with laughter upon hearing a teacher utter the word ‘fuck’ not once but twice. When the roar settled and silence ruled again, he read it a second time to make sure we absorbed it, and the words punched me in the face the way your letter socked me.
Yesterday after school you sheepishly brandished a yellow slip from your 2nd grade teacher explaining that you did not complete that day’s class work. This was not the first yellow slip I’d seen, as it had become a trend the previous few weeks, so the sight of another discouraged me. Since tickets to that night’s Wizard’s game were already purchased and a lie to divert your little brother’s attention from his being left out already cooked, I refrained from raising any kind of hell because the last thing I wanted was to attend your first NBA game at odds with each other. Instead we had a stern, relatively emotionless chat that still somehow left us both drained. When the sitter showed and we both scrambled in a frenzy about the house, getting ready to leave, we collided on the steps and hugged it out. Then you, mid-embrace, age 7, said: ‘I accept you.’
That's the one of the deepest things anyone has ever said to me and it left me utterly speechless, almost gagging on the sudden knot that developed in my throat. A phrase like that feels just too nuanced, too heavy, too soulful for a kid your age to express, and I suddenly questioned the world and myself over putting you in a position to feel and say such a thing. It really dressed me down, and I could not be more thankful for it.
It's clear this stuck like a rock in your shoe this morning, which explains the letter you left for me. It absolutely slayed me with it's endearing misspellings, your cute use of ellipses and the random colon, and I remained preoccupied by it at the office. I'm in the 9 to 5 business of relationship management, but the matter of our bond eclipsed all of that so much that I bailed early to come home and pour these words out.
At the end of the day, I realize that being a kid often boils down to winning and retaining the approval of your parents. What you might not know is, that concept is supposed to be a two way street, and too often parents falter at holding up their end of it because many of us are rudderless vessels in choppy waters fumbling both map and compass, pretending to have our shit together while behind the scenes feverishly trying to figure that shit out, perpetually afraid we're going to be exposed and hopefully one day happening upon something that ties it all together, an anchor for the whole production. Speaking for myself, I am winging parenthood and learning as I go, often from my own mistakes. I'm fucked up, and my biggest fear, which to some degree has already been realized, is that I will ultimately fail at harboring you from the rising tide of everything that composes me. If there is any truth to what Larkin penned, it's a foregone conclusion that this tide will wash over you, and your brother.
If or when it does, may this half-baked attempt at perspective enlighten you enough to know that when it comes to us parents, it's cool to respect your elders, but don't let any of us fool you into thinking we are so much farther ahead on the curve of figuring out what the fuck this is all supposed to mean or how we're ever to find balance. It's okay to stumble. We're all doing it.
I don't want to be on a pedestal; it doesn't suit me. I love being your dad; it's an honor. All that being said, sometimes I wonder if we're better off just being best friends who happen to be father-son. Perhaps if we see it that way, with no titles or labels and undertones of status, we'll just live and learn from each other and not get hung up making mountains of molehills.
So, in response to your letter, and in conclusion, since you already put it so perfectly, all I can say is: Ditto.
Love and rockets,