Abel has some pretty simple material needs at this point in his life - clean clothes, nutritious food, and some blocks, boxes and sticks for playing. His material needs are simple, but his need for emotional connection and belonging are profound. For his 1st birthday I decided to write him a letter in lieu of buying lots of toys. We'll make sure he has fun stuff to play with, but I hope he will appreciate this gift more when he is an adult, or a parent himself. Although I wrote this as a personal letter to Abel, I decided that I would like to share it because it fits in a theme of my writing this year - growing into parenthood. I've done a lot of growing thanks to Abel and I look forward to many more years of growing with my little man.
You’ve taught me so much in one year. I always imagined that as a father I would do the teaching and you would do the learning, but that is far from the truth. I have learned more about humanity, love, language, and myself from you this year than I have in all of my previous years as an adult. Actually, I don’t believe I became an adult until a year ago when I saw you emerge as a perfectly formed human, completely capable, yet totally dependent on me for protection and love. Until that moment, I was still clinging to my own childhood. Thank you for helping me to become a man.
Although I have been doing most of the learning in our relationship, I do hope to guide your learning as you grow. I have no doubt that you will learn language, math, social skills, reading, and athletics with ease – you have already proved to be an incredibly adept learner. What I hope to instill in you is not a set of specific skills, but a way of being in the world. Your mother and I had a beloved professor who said it best, “open your heart and open your mind”. These were her parting words to her children when she dropped them off at school, and I think they are simple words which contain profound wisdom.
Being a child is hard and growing up is a painful process. You will be hurt more times than you can count. People will do terrible things to you. You will be involved in unfortunate events that will cause you emotional pain. These things will happen to you and there is nothing I can do to stop them.
You cannot stop many of life’s painful experiences, but you can control your reaction to these events. Your heart and soul may feel so wounded and hurt that you want nothing more than to hide your emotions close yourself off to anything that may be able to hurt you in that way again. You must fight this defensive urge and continue to open your hear to the people and experiences that make life worth living. Experience the pain, but don’t retreat from it. Learn from your experiences and let yourself be open to embrace beauty wherever you find it.
Being a child is hard, but it is full of wonder. You may be hurt, but you will also be loved. Some people may do terrible things, but look for the kindness in all humanity. Unfortunate events will happen, but always focus on the beauty and good-fortune that surrounds you. All aspects of your life will contain a positive and negative element and I hope to teach you that looking past the negative and opening your heart to the beauty of life is an infinitely better way to live.
Your mind is yours. I love you unconditionally, irrespective of your opinions, beliefs, view, and attitudes. I have no intentions of teaching you what you should believe, but I do hope to teach you a deep respect the diversity of views in our world. You are entitled to your own opinion, but your opinion is the product of your unique set of experiences and circumstances. An open mind allows us to learn from others and to understand our own position in the world more clearly. Without an open mind learning is distorted and shallow.
Clutching on to a belief or view can be extremely comforting in a tumultuous world. Everything seems to be moving and changing at an inconceivable pace, so it is reassuring to anchor yourself to a fixed position in the sea of information. This can be comforting and safe, but it can also be dangerous. The world is transforming rapidly, but I don’t believe that struggling against the change is the best way to live. All life evolves. All living creatures alive today have one thing in common – they adapt to a changing world. Adaptation is the key to survival for all life, and our world requires adapting at a pace not seen by our ancestors. Change should not be feared, it should be anticipate and embraced.
Embracing change is not the same as drifting aimlessly with the current. While opinions and views should be constantly reexamined in a changing world, values can remain constant. This is the essence of what I hope to teach you in this letter – valuing an open mind and an open heart will help guide your through experiences and changes that I cannot anticipate. I believe Valuing beauty, love, kindness, and embracing the complexity and transformative nature of the world will help you to live gracefully and happily in the future regardless of what it has in store for you.
My only wish for you is that you are happy. These humble words are my best effort to guide you to that end. I’m sure that in ten or twenty years, you will have taught me a great deal more about how to live and I may have very different words of guidance for you. We are growing together and learning together. I could not be more happy to have you and your mother as partners in this journey.