There is something so nostalgic and heart-tugging for me about reading a letter. Not a text or an email, but a real letter on actual paper. It is somehow more romantic if written in ink rather than typed, but as long as the signature is hand-written, it has my heart. I love to dig through old piles of random life stuff and come across a letter from long ago. It doesn’t matter who it is from—childhood friend, sibling, lost love–it suddenly takes on enormous emotional power. Maybe it is because I love to write, maybe because I really want to share my Truth with those I love, and maybe just because I often have a tough time saying just what I want to say in person. But whatever the reason, I have always been captivated by letters.
I don’t write them often enough. It always seems like such a great idea in theory, yet I never seem to make the time (I am beginning to think this is the story of my life—ugh!). So the people who have meant so much to me have not always been aware of their impact and my gratitude. I have a lot of regret about that. I have, however, developed one redeeming habit that I hope to never break. Ever since my daughter turned one—she will be six this week—I have written my children a letter on their birthdays. I just spill out what they have been up to and how I feel about them. At some undetermined point in the future—maybe when they turn 20 or 25 or when they get married or have their own child—I will give them the letters. It may sound small and silly, but gosh, what I wouldn’t give to read something like this from my own parents! I am a nostalgic guy and a natural chronicler of events. If my kids are anything like me, maybe they will appreciate what their old man was thinking about them as they moved along their journey through this wonderland called Life. So, here is what I wrote to my son last week on his big day:
30 July 2014
To my Isaiah on his 4th Birthday,
Happy Birthday, Best Man! My Prince is four years old! I suppose I am supposed to say, “Where did the time go?” But it really feels like you have been with me forever, so thinking of my baby as a 4-year-old doesn’t make the old parent in me feel sad or like I am losing time. I think what makes that the case is that you and I squeeze the most out of every day together. And we spend SO MUCH TIME TOGETHER. We are pretty much stuck together like glue—you and I—and that suits me just fine. I cherish every moment with you.
Someone once asked me if I could name the characteristic that really stands out in your personality. I told her, “He is the funniest and most fun-loving person I have ever met.” That is totally true. Once you get past your crusty-crabby state right when you wake up in the morning—you are no fun at that hour—you are the most fun-seeking, fun-having person in the world, always trying to find something to amuse yourself and anyone else who is around. That gets you into just about everything, of course. It is tough to get mad at you even when you are causing trouble, though, as I know your underlying intention is good (just sometimes misdirected!). And when I am giving you the angry Daddy look for being a little rascal, neither one of us can keep a straight face for long, because you shoot me that little glance that says, “Yeah, I am just playing the little menace role right now, but I am really just messing with you, Dad!” Then we both giggle and move on, as neither of us wants to miss the fun stuff in the next moment.
And what fun we have! One of your favorite games is “Shoot the Ball at Somebody!!!” which involves you and I getting out all of our million balls in the playroom and then throwing them at each other over and over(and, of course, laughing all the way). You also love “Dino-Fighting” which is basically just you and I pretending to be dinosaurs and wrestling each other in the yard. I may be bigger than you, but you make up for that by never getting tired. You also love to have bike races up and down the street (and yes, you beat me in that every time, too). Almost every time we go out to ride, you are totally unwilling to go back inside until you have taken at least one ride to the end of the street and back in each of your favorite vehicles: bike, Big Wheel, balance bike, and scooter. The neighbors all know to drive slowly, because you drive amazingly fast but don’t always look where you are going! It is so fun to do all this stuff with you.
You were busy away from the house this year, too. You love playing with your cousins, at Minot for Christmas but especially at Pelican Lake in the Summer. You all play together so well and have the best time in the lake and on the trampoline. Those are my favorite times of the year, when I get to bring you to a place that has always been special to me and see you love it as much as I always did when I was a kid. When you are not terrorizing your sister, you are glued to her and think she is the coolest thing ever. The zoo is another one of your favorite spots, as you are a great explorer. This Winter, you got into your first class ever: Swimming! After spending the entire first class period being held by the teacher while screaming for me—one of my toughest half-hours ever–you were a champion the rest of the way. It is such a treat to watch you enjoy the water. Just last week, you and I were the only ones in the outdoor pool at the gym right when it opened, the only two foolish enough to be out there on a gray, 65-degree morning. We had a blast, though, as always! Just a couple of weeks ago, you also got to start Soccer. And while you haven’t gotten into a Tennis class yet, you and I have spent a lot of time on the court together (most days you don’t want to hit anything but overhead smashes, which is how I know you are my kid!). It is such a treat to be your best buddy for all this.
The one hobby that I wish you did less of—but that totally mesmerizes you—is watching television and movies (your big favorites this year have been “Monsters Inc.,” “Tangled,” “Frozen,” and “The Incredibles, to name just a few). What amazes me always is how perfectly you memorize all of the scenes. And because you are a born actor, you entertain us nonstop with performances of the scenes the rest of the day, or you just throw movie lines into your regular conversation. It is genius and completely hilarious. Since just before your last birthday, you have been into superheroes. You were Superman for Halloween last year and are already trying to decide who to be this year. Superheroes, balls, dinosaurs, cars & trucks, wrestling—yeah, you kind of seem like a stereotypical boy in a lot of ways.
But you are also so unique and extraordinary. You are amazingly intelligent and so sweet, and somehow you manage to balance all of that with your superhuman energy and joy of life. I am in awe of how you can contain all of this in one little four-year-old body. It is a testament to the power of your spirit. You are surely destined for magnificent things. I can’t wait to cheer you on every step of the way. I am so, so proud of you and so wildly grateful that I get to be your Dad. I couldn’t imagine a better son, and I thank you for sharing your magic with me every single day. These are the best of times. Happy 4th Birthday! I love you more than you can possibly imagine.
What about you? Is there anyone you want to write a letter to? What do you want to say? If you feel a little weird about it–or scared or whatever–sometimes the best place to start is in your journal. Open it up and just start writing to the person from your heart. Don’t judge it; just say what you want to say. If you think they don’t know how you really feel about them—most people don’t, precisely because we don’t tell them—then really lay it out there. Say what you have always wanted to say, what you have always really wished they would know about you and what they mean to you. Who in your life do you need to deliver this letter to? A parent? Sibling? Childhood friend? Teacher? Hero? The one that got away? The one who doesn’t know they are the one? How about someone right under your roof who you have been unable to get on track with for awhile, e.g. a child or spouse? Maybe the letter you need to write is to someone no longer living, someone you never got to say all you wanted to say to. That is a wonderful letter, a healing letter. What about my habit of the annual letter to someone, whether you save it for later or deliver it each year? Is there someone you might get in that habit with?
In the end, it makes me feel better about myself—more honest and more fully who I am—when my Truth is out there and my loved ones know where they stand with me. I can feel how it deepens the relationship. Actually, that is how journaling has made me feel about me. I am authentic because of it. I know myself, warts and all. Telling on yourself—whether to yourself or to others—is the best way to rob shame of its power. Then you can just be you. Authentic, beautiful you. So, write to someone! Expose yourself and experience how liberating that is. And please, write in your journal. Give yourself the gift of a lifelong love letter.
You are worth it,