To every one of you children out there...
This letter was a composite of feelings from dozens of fathers accumulated over nearly thirty years. I have added some personal perspective as well.
This is a letter from a father, any and every father. A father who, over the years, might have had some trouble expressing himself to you. This is written for him, from his heart to yours, with some universal sentiments that are too often left unsaid.
“When you were born, I became an adult. The feelings that ran through me moved every emotion. I didn’t know that anybody could be so elated, afraid, and proud at the same time. But there I was…with you.”
“When I first held you, you fit in both hands. I was as uncertain about any one thing I’d ever felt in my life. I became something that I didn’t know anything about. The examples of fatherhood before me were vague; I was never taught how to hold a baby, change a diaper, tilt a bottle, or meet the day with so little sleep. It was on the job training. It was hard to adjust to something that seemed so foreign to me. I had no direction; I relied on emotional improvisation. Asking for help isn’t always the easiest thing for me to do, and talking to another man about parenting never crossed my mind.”
“As I continued to grow, something changed in me: I became more protective of you. Part of my growth was to provide for your welfare. That connection between my work and your life gave me a sense of purpose; moreover, it gave me strength. For you, forging a path to achieve my goals made more sense and became easier to do. I gained endurance, and I could do more for you than I could ever do for myself.”
“I have been gone a lot. I know that my time with you has been limited. The purpose that I felt in being your father pulled me into the daily challenges of work, and I looked at this role as something I could control, some kind of cause-and-effect relationship between what I did and how you were cared for. I recognized my limitations as an expressive being, but I knew I could work. I put the time into what I knew I could do, something that I felt I absolutely had to do to bring you the things you needed. It took away the time that you and I could have together. I was too young to know that I would never have that time back again, and I am too old to reclaim the preciousness of your youth.”
“Through you, I learned to know what love was. I never knew exactly what to say, when to say it, or how to express myself so you would understand. My words always seemed to fall short, my actions ill-timed. That soaring feeling of purpose lay within me the day you were born; it grew as each page of the calendar was turned. The love in my heart was through your merely being here."
“I know I had a temper. As I aged, I grasped the intimate connection between pressure, frustration, and parenting. I yelled I am conquering my feelings of fear, overcoming my feelings of insecurity: these two ills are the source of all my anger, and now I quiet them every day. I’ve said shortsighted, insensitive, and mean things. My rage came through me faster than I realized, and my words reflected my inability to control myself. I remember every hurt in your eyes. And I would trade everything I own to take back every word I said in anger. I have corrected that temperament now; I wish I’d been free of it completely when you were young.”
“I want you to know how much I love you. I want you to know how much I miss you when you’re gone, how thrilled I get at your return, and how difficult it is, at times, for me to share with you my feelings. Know in your heart that my love for you exceeds any I’ve ever dreamed I’d feel. Know that I would do anything for you, and that I’ve tried to do everything for you that I could.”
“If I could ask for any gift in the world, for any present you could ever give me, it would be this: Please forgive me. Forgive me for my shortcomings. I hope I’ve improved in my love and expression for you. My words still get caught in my throat, my hands still reach for the child I wish I had close to me. I am all of the bad that I’ve been, but I strive to be all of the good that I can be.”
“I love you more than you may ever know, and more than I may ever be able to express. I hope that you know that, in every fashion imaginable, I am who I am because you’re here. Being a father to you is the most important thing I have ever done. It is the very essence of my life.”
“And in the center of that essence, my beautiful child, is the love that I will always have for you.”