Dear Mom and Dad,
As I write this morning, a friend from high school is on the verge of losing her father. She’s either 49, 48, maybe has eclipsed 50. Like any time a person we know passes, a certain amount of reflection is involved–similar to the decade when I worked in the Alabama Governor’s Office and oft reminded my colleagues–“Every day is one less day we’re going to be here.” Four-year terms in office do that to you–remind you that every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year, count. (It’s shorter if you throw in a dishonest attorney general and judge.) It’s easy to forget that.
It’s not what I thought it was going to be growing up in your home.
You did so much to care for us, protect us, and prepare us for a changing world it’s impossible to ever be prepared to take on. I wish I’d known that when I was a kid–how hard life could be, but I had to find that out much later in my life and on my own.
My friend’s father is dying. Maybe there are a dozen things she is trying to tell him before it’s too late. I don’t know. She seems like the kind who would have already said much of it.
But we are from that generation where many parents didn’t say the three words we kids needed/wanted to hear the most–I love you.
I don’t know what happened to make that so, but I made up for it with my three girls. In their younger years, when they were less busy trying to figure out the world on their own, I used to say it so often they would reply, “Dad, we know!” My response was simple–“A daddy can never tell his girls enough that he loves them. Never.”
Sitting here, I realize that can go both ways. So let me give it a try: “Mom and Dad, I love you.”
For years of my life I have cursed the US Air Force for having moved me around so much as a child. I went to schools in Indiana, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, California and Alabama. With my past work for Dallas Schools and the writing program I’m in at SMU, I can now add Texas.
I still don’t feel like I have a home. Mom was always quick to quote “Home is where your heart is.” That doesn’t help either; it’s scattered all over the country.
The blessing of Facebook has helped give me back part of the youth that was taken from me. There are kids from McDonald Elementary in Michigan, Mitchell Sr. Elementary and Atwater High in California, and Jeff Davis High in Montgomery, whom I’m now friends with again because of FB.com. (The cooler part, some of them I went to school with in Michigan and Alabama, or Michigan and California.) This alone has brought so much healing to my heart–being able to see how friends from my youth turned out and to hear about their life stories, their challenges, successes and things they’re doing now.
It’s been amazing to learn how much of who we are is already in us by middle school. So many of my friends from California to this day either sound like they did then, or still act in very similar ways. I thought older years would have bent us more, but they haven’t.
This morning, I’m writing you to say a few things that need to be said again and again and again, before it’s too late.
Thank you for the love you gave me as a youngster. You didn’t say the words “I love you,” near to what I wanted or think I needed to hear, but you showed it in your generation’s own ways.
Dad, when I needed track shoes, we were in the car headed to get some. When I played baseball you coached. When the umpire wasn’t applying the rules fairly, you objected–becoming the only parent in history to be thrown out of a little league baseball game. But the point was, the rules weren’t being applied fairly and instead of letting it go, you stood up and said something about it. That’s been a good thing to have learned, and something I’ve not learned to compromise on. Some have called it “whining.” I call it speaking the truth. (I’ve been wondering how someone in one of my old jobs can look himself in the mirror having compromised on so much. I couldn’t live like that. And didn’t. And don’t. Thank you.)
Mom, we had our rough times, but great ones, too. I love you. (It gets easier to say the more you say it.) I’m sorry for the heartaches I caused, and I’ve let the ones you triggered inside me to be forgiven and to be let go. Thank you for teaching me about Mama Cass and her song Make Your Own Kind of Music, the phrase, “Life is what you make of it,” cooking, and daring to step onto a stage at age 10 and deliver my first public speech.
Dad, the point of the baseball gloves when Field of Dreams came out was for us to play catch like we did in front of the house in Kansas, or in the backyard in Michigan. I still can’t watch those ending scenes and not think about being in first grade and you and I having a catch. That sputtered out in California and Alabama, maybe it was the heat, and then the humidity. Probably it was just the elements of Cat’s In the Cradle, a song I cannot bare to listen to, even to this day.
Who knows what today will bring. Life is hard. I know that now. In part, you taught me that. Much of it, I just had to find out for myself.
Thank you for teaching me to love God. I give Him things to solve, but you also raised a hard-headed person who sometimes still thinks he can fix them on his own. Maybe I won’t ever learn to give enough to God, but he hasn’t given up on me.
If we could go back in time there is much I would change. Regrets? No.
Dad, you once told me about how you’d watch me and my brothers run cross country, even at young ages. We’d be beat red in the faces, fighting to keep going, and you said you were so proud of us because we dug down deep inside and found another gear, pushing forward to the finish line.
There have been times since when I couldn’t find that gear and just gave up. I learned the hard way that there are some things that just aren’t ever going to be. But it is joyous when miracles happen.
I’ve learned to recognize that when God wants something to happen, it does. I left so many friends behind and longed to find them, searching through the years. But when God finally said I’d learned enough in isolation from them, he opened up the lines of communication like we’d not taken a thirty-year break.
I wish as the eldest of five I’d not been so scared to tell you how much I liked a girl in middle school. I wish you could have met her then, or seen her, so that you have the context I have of how she’s still just as special today. I wish I’d learned more than how to just meet people. My worst characteristic today is that I don’t know how to be close to people because every time we tried when I was a kid, we moved in three months. It got too easy to not open up because the pain of leaving hurt so much more each time. I wish I’d spent more time in Yosemite when we lived in California. I wish….
This is longer than I wanted it to be. Ha, how can I dare say that? I could go on. There’s a lifetime of things I want to tell you about. I’m sure you have so much as well.
We don’t talk enough these days. Life makes us so busy. Can we try to fix that, while there’s still time?
Today is one less day we’re going to be here; I’d like to make it count.
–PS: Dad, handshakes are nice; firm, a look in the eye. That’s nice. But bear hugs, like you mean it, are better.