On Living A Life Rich and Strange:
A open letter to my child from an unprepared parent
Part 1, Introduction
“God writes straight with crooked lines.” – Original author unknown
Little one, you can’t read yet. You can’t stand, you can’t feed yourself, you can’t identify sarcasm, you can’t crack a knowing smile, you can’t eat fries while driving, you can’t doubt your own worth. You will do all those things, someday, and that day will come far, far too soon for your poor father and mother.
We can’t shield you from the world, even though there is a scared, wet-eyed part of me that wants to.
I can’t do that, though, and your mother and I can only do one thing, and that is try and give you the tools we’ve managed to fashion for ourselves to deal with this great, terrible, wonderful and atrocious world we all find ourselves in. They’re the tools we used, and some of these tools are like Damascus steel: beautiful and strong. Others are like flint arrowheads: crude, homemade, and usable. Some of these tools were handed to us by your grandparents, some we stole from other people along the way. They’re what we’ve got to give you, and, when the sun sets on our own lives, maybe they’re the only things we ever give you. These tools, and our Love; that’s all of it, really.
I’m going to throw advice at you, advice you never asked for. Over the course of your life with us, we’re going to teach you skills that are vital (how to read graphs and charts with a critical eye) and skills of dubious worth (how to de-bone sardines). Some of it will be practical (how to get a front-wheel drive car out of the mud) and some will be social (how to look like you belong when you feel like you don’t belong at all).
As you read this, though, please never forget one thing: I will most definitely be wrong on some (most?) things, and in these cases you will need to fashion your own tools. I hope your mom and I give you enough in this life to help you to make your own tools strong and sharp, even when the time comes for you to ditch the tools we made and handed down. Don’t ever feel like you are letting us down if you have to turn your back on the Way We Do Things. We love you, no matter what. You cannot let us down. We may expect you to be better, kinder, braver, more curious in the future, but while we may sometimes be disappointed in your actions, you yourself will never be a disappointment. Stand and fight, we believe in you. Turn and run, we believe in you. Grow up and accept our principles and our history and our philosophy and our theology; we are proud to be your parents. Grow up and reject our ideas or all we ever taught you; we are proud to be your parents. Use our tools and then make your own; don’t be afraid.
One last thing, by way of introduction: please forgive me for making parts of this letter public. I am loud, I am obnoxious, I overshare, but those stem from one small fact about your father: I am scared. I am scared that all of this will go unsaid. I fear that if I don’t write this publicly, or at least part of it, I’ll forget to tell you all these things that I really hope to tell you. I’m worried that I’ll let the day to day concerns of life make me neglect this letter, that in the putting on of shoes, the paying of bills, the washing of dishes, the Please Just Get In the Car We’re Running Late, I’ll let the chance to tell you these things pass. Maybe the social accountability of writing these publicly will help remind me to tell you. Maybe, someday, the public nature of this letter will help remind me who I was when I wrote it, when fatherhood and motherhood and you, yourself, were new. Maybe the people who love your mother and me, the people who will also love you, maybe they will remind you of these things when we are not around.
No one thing any of us do or create defines us, not the worst thing we do and not the best thing we do. We are the sum and mean of all our actions and stillness. What I write here, what I teach you, is only part of my story; what I actually do is another. What your mother does in her role as Your Mother is only part of her story; her hopes and fears before you came along is another. Your story is being written every day, and I hope that what is written here will be a useful footnote in your life.
Next at bat: Part 2 of this letter, “How to know what you know.”
Copyright © 2016 Mark Nabong