Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
I’ve been expressing this to you without words lately, so much so that this letter I meant to write to you on Father’s Day arrives later than I’d hoped, my mind unable to produce the text by the arbitrary deadline of a Sunday in mid-June. And you aren’t reading this on the day I wrote it, and so many of these letters have been written to you before you could read at all. I write them to preserve the expression of my present feeling within the electronic framework our world created to hold our collective knowledge and warring opinions, in the hopes that you will read them one day, perhaps on a day that you need it, whether or not I’m still living at the time.
Others have read these letters before you have. That’s a detail I’m asking you to accept, if and when you ever read these. I made these letters public for selfish reasons, I admit: It’s within my nature to share the prose I’m most satisfied with having penned, and I’m rarely as satisfied with that prose as I am when I’ve been talking to others about you because being your father is the aspect of myself in which I am perhaps most confident in my intentions. Over the past four decades I’ve been and done many different things and not a single one of those things has ever been as important to me as what I get to do throughout the experience of raising you.
I watch as your encyclopedic obsession with dinosaurs fades into the background of your psyche, still available for immediate recall but no longer nearly as thrilling to you as the fever of watching your first World Cup and asking for the opportunity to develop the same skills as the wizards whose histories you begin, methodically, to memorize. The precision passes arced downfield, the seemingly impossible aerial curve of a shot on goal, the sly and playful way an attacker’s foot pushes the ball between the space of the defender’s legs. You grow especially fixated on the art of goalkeeping, spending every possible moment telling us about the fearless heroism of Lev Yashin or Manuel Neuer’s unique talent for sweeper-keeping. Your developed abilities to read a chess board prove to translate beautifully towards your vision of a soccer pitch and I marvel as you begin to maneuver the ball around and between the rush of defenders, then marvel further when you figure out what your body needs to do to deflect a ball heading towards the back of the net.
I start thinking about how to save enough money to attend as many of the games in person as we can when the World Cup is hosted by North America in 2026 as well as doing the research on what we would need to do to provide you a path towards playing at an elite level if you wish to do so. It becomes the fundamental riddle of this stage of your growth and interest level — whether or not you want to be pushed further, and how to empower that effort if that is indeed what you want. This time last year, after all, you were charging headlong into a future of paleontology and marine biology, which I’m only now recognizing has fed into your recent deep dive into the world of Pokémon.
Since you’ve been old enough to repeat the words back to us, your mother and I have told you that our most important job is keeping you safe. As you entered classroom environments and began spending more time in the company of your peers we started to tell you that our other most important job was to make sure you grew into a good person. We continue to negotiate the needle’s eye that is maintaining your competitive drive without having it become the dominant quality of your character; we celebrate your successes but are swift and sharp when we see you holding those successes over the heads of others or when your demands for higher standards begin to tilt into abusiveness. I’m sitting in your classroom in mid-May during a presentation of non-fiction stories you and your classmates have written and I watch while the boy sitting next to you keeps touching the whimsical bunny-eared headgear of the girl next to him even after she has attempted to wave him off, and when you turn to that boy and say “stop it, you’re being rude” I’m more proud of you for that than I am at the clarity and volume of your voice when you told the room the story of how you went sledding with your friends last winter.
On Saturday we take you to Six Flags Great America, your first experience at an amusement park of this kind, and you are not only brave enough to try your first scramblers and rollercoasters but compassionate enough to talk to the girl in line next to you who is weeping and trembling with anxiety about riding the Whizzer, assuring her that having her dad with her will be as much a comfort for her as having your mother and I was for you. On our last ride of the day you ask to sit in the car by yourself, and instead of holding onto you I get to watch the joy on your face as your hair whips to and fro and you scream as loud as you possibly can during each spin of the machine.
We spend the morning of Father’s Day watching the US Women’s National Team defeat Chile 3-0, and while we remain excited to cheer on the home team we’re also talking in vibrant tones about Chile keeper Christiane Endler, whose fierce play in the box denied shot after shot from the dominant American offense, who got so deep into the heads of her opponents that veteran U.S. striker Carli Lloyd uncharacteristically shanks a penalty kick wide. I’ve had to learn so much about this game to keep up with you, and it remains remarkable to me that while I’m trying to make you a more complete individual you are doing the same for me. As the day closes, for the first time in years you ask me to sing you a lullaby to get to sleep and the rarity of the request propels me to comply almost instantly. You drift off, somehow, to my throaty warbling of Neko Case’s “I Wish I Was The Moon.” I walk gingerly out of your room and wonder if this was the last time you’ll ask for that, and then I write it down in a letter so I won’t forget it, and then I publish the letter online in the hopes that one day you’ll know it happened.
Because whatever you decide you want this has become the thing I want: That at some point in the future you’ll have evidence, or at least this testimony, that I loved you and that I knew I loved you the whole time. That the positives of parenting you are positives I couldn’t trade for anything and that the problems of parenting you are the problems I always look most forward to solving.
A few days late, but also forever, Dad.