One of the best things we can do for people we love is to write them a paper letter – yes, paper. Sending an “I love you” or “I was thinking of you, and wanted to say hi,” text or email has value, but giving an actual letter you wrote on paper means more. It’s like people value that little extra effort. It’s also nice receiving something we rarely see anymore. Giving a paper letter is also particularly helpful when we want to share a message we don’t want a response from because it takes more effort to look up a person’s contact to send a reply than to hit a one button. This is particularly helpful for parents struggling to reach their kids and not sure if they’re reading the texts they send.
A letter doesn’t have to be a “love” letter; it can be for anyone you want to encourage. In fact, it can be even more meaningful when we write the letter for someone we don’t want to get “jiggy with” (I think that’s what the cool kids call it) because it was clearly just an act of kindness. These letters don’t even have to be for the present. They can be put in time capsules to be opened later or hidden in a book or drawer the person will eventually open. My family is big on writing special messages in birthday cards. I’m by far the worst at this (and I’m supposed to be the writer). My wife is excellent at writing letters, and the other week she surprised me with one she hid in my book, so I would eventually find it. It was a wonderful surprise. The worst part is now I want to write one for her, but I suck at being personal, which is why saying “I love you,” always sounds sarcastic – yes, my wife is a lucky woman. Even though it was hard, I have a rough draft that’s not nearly as good as my wife’s, but at least I tried. Sometimes, that’s the most important thing – make the effort. Letters like my wife’s that say what she’s thankful for about me was wonderful to read, and if you’re in a rough patch, a letter that’s kind like this can really make you look better than the other person… I mean it can be helpful to rebuild trust. I probably should stick to being nice for nice sake and not as a “screw you” moment – my wife is so lucky.
The following is a letter I wrote for my second daughter’s first birthday with the plan to give it to her when she turns 16. My wife had me write a letter like this for my other daughter for her first birthday, so this is a second attempt at it for me. My second daughter’s birthday was three months ago, but she won’t know I’m late… or be surprised to know I finished this before her mom finished her letter. If we have a third child (not likely), I’m sure we’ll skip writing the first birthday letter because who cares about the third born? We get babied, but we don’t have any baby photos. For the record, it was a worthwhile trade off. First borns have it the worst; they have pictures, but they’re also screwed up (please don’t tell my older sister I said that).
Bonus: I ended up finding theme songs for both my girls, which is a great way to think of them when they’re not around. My theme song for Gracie is Sara Bareilles, You Matter to Me and Lucy’s is Ellie Holcomb, Mine.
Dear Lucy (at 16)
I’m hoping I remember to give this to you… and I didn’t have to make a lot of major changes before giving it. Apparently I say dumb things… but you’ll be well accustomed to that by the time you read this.
At this stage, you and I don’t have the same bond I had with your sister, but she poop-exploded on me, so that’s a connection I’m glad we don’t have. I guess I really should be thanking you for that. (Does that count as a dumb thing I shouldn’t have said?)
As you probably know, you were born at a weird time. After three months of reading in the newspaper about a virus in China, Canada was thrown into its own pandemic. Why we didn’t shut the borders to prevent the spread, I have no idea. A month into our lockdown, you were born. You’re now a 1 year old (plus a few months because I’m a procrastinator and didn’t write this letter until now), and you’ve yet to experience normal life. Hopefully by the time you read this at 16, life will be normal… it better be.
Despite the weirdness, in many ways, lockdown has been great for us. Before you were born, that month of lockdown was amazing. I got all kinds of jobs done like prepping my first Christmas book to be published. It was like you knew how good it was, however, and you decided to crash the party by being two weeks early. You definitely took after my side of the family being early since your mom’s side is early if they’re only an hour late – we’ll see who you take after. What’s funny is the day you were born, I assumed your mom was overreacting when she said she thought you were coming and she got up early to prepare while I went back to bed thinking she was crazy. You essentially helped your mom prove I can be wrong (and she’s not always crazy). Hopefully that’s not a trend you’ve continued. I don’t need help proving how wrong I can be; I can do that on my own :]
Your timing was so good, because of lockdown, at the hospital we got our own room – a dream – we were given free parking – oh yeah – and the hospital pushed us out a day early – amazing… except for your mom who was still very sensitive from her c-section and could feel every bump in the road. Fortunately, I could just turn up the radio, and it was like everything was fine. (That’s definitely one of those dumb things).
Overall, your birth represented what your first year was like: there were a few sacrifices, but it was well worth it. For instance, working from home was a tough transition for me, but it quickly became a blessing since I got to see you and your sister between clients. It was only for a couple minutes, but seeing your faces throughout the day was such a gift. What’s funny is you’ve had a number of times when you were so sad to see me go downstairs to work that you’d follow me to the basement door and put your head in the cat door and cry. My clients thought this was very cute… and made me feel like a great dad because you wanted to be near me. Another sacrifice with lockdown has been not being allowed to go many places, but we made due regularly visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake. We also made sure to get you to the Disney Store a bunch of times when stores allowed visitors… but that was mostly for me (here’s hoping you love Disney as much as I do because either way, you’ll be getting Disney stuff your whole life from me). Another sacrifice is we haven’t been able to see friends or extended family very much, but this greatly reduced the stress your mom and I felt with your sister when we were running ourselves ragged constantly trying to visit people. With Covid, we’ve ultimately had more time to enjoy us as a family, which has been a nice change. Hopefully, you’ll soon be able to visit more people because I don’t want you to end up too weird (aka weirder than me).
The one thing that has stayed consistent this year has been your mom’s complete infatuation with you. Even when she was regularly throwing up from the pregnancy, she was excited for you. Immediately after you were born, she took charge of you and has required very little from me as she cherishes every moment she can with you. Every day she’ll stop at least once and just admire you. Her only complaint is that you’re growing too quickly as she wants to hold onto these moments forever. Your birth has shown a wonderful transition in your mom who has fully embraced her role as a mother and how this has given her a sense of meaning that she never thought possible. You have brought her a happiness I’ve never seen in her before – you totally showed me up and what I could do for her. With a first-born there’s a fear of mom-shaming, but with the second, there’s no time to care about things like that, which has also added to your mom enjoying you more. She’s not only happier, she’s also stronger, which has been a wonderful gift to the whole family, so thank you. You’ve made this family better and you’ve only been here a short time.
The second child being born is a very different experience. With the first, there’s a whole lot of blind anticipation. We had no idea what we were in for, and there was a fear of how we were going to handle it. Another difference is telling people you’re pregnant the first time gets a big reaction whereas the second is more expected (or there’s relief, so the first born won’t end up a weird only-child). With the first born, you have showers and you buy fancy new things that you have to figure out how to use (or if you’ll actually use them). With the second, you’re familiar with everything, and you reuse most of the same stuff as you did the first time. The best thing about having a second child is I was actually excited for you. With your sister, it was just an idea and I didn’t know what to expect, but with you, it was this great trip down a nostalgic lane as we got to relive some of our favourite moments with a few new excitements thrown in like your obsession with playing in toilets – that’s fun; I’m trying to flush more and not let it mellow. In some ways it’s less exciting with a second born and there are less photos (as a third born, I know this lesson well), but with you, we feel more complete as a family. Having kids is actually a lot like dating. The first child is like the honeymoon phase where there’s constant discovery, which leads to excitement and chaos (and more chaos and more chaos). There are a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Your mom and I had some wonderful moments with Gracie, but also some of our worst as a married couple (as I said, there’s a lot of chaos). The second child is more like the dating relationship that has settled into a solid connection. There’s a flow and familiarity that makes the second child incredibly special in its own way (especially when there’s less “chaos”). There isn’t the excitement, but it feels right. As someone who hates dating and loves commitment and boringness, the second born phase has been wonderful.
So far your happiest time has been this past May long weekend when we walked the streets seeing the fireworks people were setting off. You were in love (hopefully that’ll be another reason to convince your mom to take you to Disney because they have excellent fireworks). Your silliest moment was being put in the bathtub for the first time with your sister. It was incredible hearing you giggle. There is something magical about hearing your child laugh, which I hope you’ll understand one day. My favourite times with you are when I throw you – it’s not as crazy as it sounds. I throw you on our bed and you go splat on the covers. When I do this, you have a giant smile and you come back for me to do it again. This started after you saw me throw your sister. I’ve even started to suplex her, which is an old wrestling move that oddly enough was what I did the only time I got grounded. When I was about eight years old, I suplexed your uncle onto the couch. Who knew that as I kid beating up my brother, I was being prepared to be a dad. When my mom found out I did this to my brother, I wasn’t allowed to watch wrestling for a night – it was a very difficult time for me, but it’s another example of timing being important; as a kid it was bad, but as an adult it’s fine.
You were named Lucy after Lucille Ball and your sister was named after Gracie Allen because they are two of the greatest female comedians of all time. You don’t have to be a comedian (although I won’t oppose it), but I really hope you can laugh and enjoy life. I hope your mom and I have given you the foundation you need to be a strong woman who has a welcoming smile that draws people in and a gentleness that makes them want to stay. My goal as your dad is to help you feel safe enough to laugh and give you the direction you need to create a life that is as wonderful as can be. I will let you fall once in awhile, but that’s because falling helps us be all the stronger and have better stories later. It’ll be hard watching you struggle, but because I love you so much, I will do my best not to smother you as I let you figure out how things work for yourself while I give a few pointers to make sure you’re safe. Essentially, I’ll do my best not to screw you up more than normal life does. One of the benefits of having an older dad is I’m a far superior dad at this age as to what I could’ve been when I was younger when I used to be more worried about trying to prove something; now, I couldn’t care less- it’s amazing. I ultimately want to help you feel the love I have for you. Instead of my old worried self, I’ve learned that God has a way of making things work out, and no matter what happens, He will be our guide; my job is to look for ways to be thankful and see the good that is all around.
My greatest goal is for you to love yourself as much as your mother and I love you. I don’t want you to be too hard on yourself or too easy. I don’t want you to have to always be a leader or a follower. I don’t want you to be given too much so you’re spoiled or not enough to thrive. I will always be ready to support you even if that means telling you to consider different options while recognizing that I’m old and being out of touch with society could mean I don’t have the best answers for you. With you being 16, my job is coming to a close, but my love never will.
With much love and prayer for you,
PS Remember that a guy may peacock with some beautiful feathers, but past the surface, that’s all some guys are – beautiful feathers. You deserve someone as wonderful as you and who will treat you as well as I do even when you get past the honeymoon phase when most guys get lazy.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)