Happy Fifth Birthday, Alden and Asa!

Happy fifth birthday, Alden and Asa.  Over the past year, you have burst into personhood with burgeoning intellect, humor, and kindness.  You seem capable of anything at this point, and it is all very exciting.

I continue the tradition of writing you a letter every year.  As always, my first piece of advice is to adopt or ignore what I offer as you see fit.  These letters may just be the ramblings of a man pacing the cage.  But this is a meaningful exercise for me, so I’ve decided to continue this self-serving routine.

This year, I want to offer you some thoughts about disappointment.  As hard as you will fight to maintain perspective in situations, it is natural to feel let down when you fail or are failed.  Nobody knows this better than your father.  I have a strong memory of every time that I’ve failed myself and that I’ve failed others, to the extent I had the maturity to realize it. 

I think part of the challenge in dealing with disappointment is rooted in the concept of hope. I’ve come to think that hope and “hope talk” is empty and dump, for the most part. An exercise in giving a tired Vegas smile and dance when you should be shaking your fists.

Your youth, especially, may push you to a sense of unrealistic hope in the most improbable situations.  The sense of ambition that guides your drive for achievement and stable trajectories and to ignore the odds can put you out of touch with your humanity and the broken parts that need mending.  To be fair, that internal, guttural scream of the young for something/anything to just happen and continue happening tapers off over time.  And there will be moments that you miss that energy source in your life—that ability to feel that everything is capable of being fixed with enough effort.

What comes after that sound is just an echo?  I admit that this sounds like nonsense, but I have found that there are ways to give up on hope but not give up in despair.  That is, you can embrace, or at least side hug, the absence that accompanies any visit by disappointment.  You will become open to the alternatives that you would have never considered, including a growing sense of gratefulness that you are on this spinning, watered rock and that your trespass ledger is worth less than the paper it is written on. 

And then, over time, you will see that, where you wanted to see a perfect outcome, it is enough to see an imperfect circumstance perfectly.  You can find wonder and awe in the great unanswered questions.  You can see dignity in the horrible.  You can take up taxidermy without shame.

You don’t have to figure it all out.  And you certainly don’t need to figure it out before you are ready.  Until that time, when your head falls, your periwinkle blue eyes will see, when you have the strength to lift them, that your mother and father are watching over you with love, concern, humility, and grace.  We may even buy you ice cream, the greatest gift of all.

Happy birthday, twins.

Happy Third Birthday, Arthur!

To Arthur, on his third birthday:

My sweet and joyful baby boy, happy birthday.  In last year's letter, I set out three things that we had learned about you over the course of the then-previous year.  Those all remain true--particularly your physical presence (the red thread of your second year has been learning (and unlearning) "gentle hands").

This year we can add another item: you are a sensation.  Everyone you meet just loves you.  It is true.  Adults tell us all the time how much they are in love with you, and word on the preschool playground is that you are "in" with your peers and the "older kids."  Perhaps it is your low-slung cheeks that squeeze your mouth and eyes together when you grin.  Or maybe those Great Barrier Reef-blue puppy dog eyes.  That elderly statesman hair and swagger that you have going for you?  Whatever it is, people have an inclination to quickly fall in love with you.

I hope you continue to feel that but that you will respect your nature with a sense of humility and will use it for good.  There was a story over this last football season about a group of players who visited a middle school.  When they went to the cafeteria, one player spotted a redheaded autistic boy sitting by himself.  The player sat with the boy and talked with him.  A candid picture was taken of the interaction and sent to the child's mother, who posted the picture and this statement to the internet:

Was there a time today you felt sad? Who did you eat lunch with today? Sometimes the answer is a classmate, but most days it’s nobody. Those are the days I feel sad for him, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He is a super sweet child, who always has a smile and hug for everyone he meets. A friend of mine sent this beautiful picture to me today and when I saw it with the caption “Travis Rudolph is eating lunch with your son” I replied “who is that?” He said “FSU football player”, then I had tears streaming down my face. Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver at Florida State, and several other FSU players visited my sons school today. I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.

The best part about the story is that the interaction with the team continued for this boy, and the story did not end as a sentimental one-off.  It is, at its heart, a sign of respect for the dignity of another human being.

In today's ethos, there is a strange public battle across dozens of camps about who actually is the least these, who has been left out most.  Much of the discussion passes by faster than the Thousand Mile Tree.  But there are those who are truly left out on a daily basis for a thousand different non-reasons.  You will easily see them.  I did and do, and, all too often, I've done nothing or worse.

If you are so easily loved, I, your father, am charging you (and myself) with a sacred duty: to give back that which you did not earn.  I want to help you learn to do that.  It does not always come easily and often may seem to bear a cost. But you will find as you grow older that you will reap what you've sown, and I suspect you will then learn those intangible and mystical paradoxes of giving, yet receiving. Dying, yet living.  Meek, yet inheriting.  You will not just feel love, but you will inhabit love itself.  And that will be a sensation.

Happy birthday, son.