Once a month, I write each of my two children a letter. I’ve been doing this since my oldest, now 6, was the size of a grain of rice in his mother’s belly.
I poke the letters into garishly colored scrapbooks picked up from a local crafts store. The scrapbooks, six of them so far, sit on the top shelf of my oldest son’s closet.
The other day, my wife asked, without any ulterior motive I could discern, “How long do you plan on doing this?”
I didn’t know how to answer. Combined, I’ve probably written 100 letters to my kids. I envisioned a future shelf sagging beneath the weight of dozens more scrapbooks — if I were to keep going until both my sons are grown up.
One night, when my children were asleep, I pulled down a couple of volumes to remind myself what I’d written — and what more I might still need to say.
Six years on, the tape holding some of the earliest letters in place already has yellowed, and here and there the ink has smudged. Those early letters typically begin, “Dearest Baby … .” There’s plenty of gushing from a giddy, expectant father.
I came across one that embarrasses me: the story of my wife and me creeping out of a darkened theater shortly after the movie started because I worried the booming speakers might damage our unborn child’s hearing.
There’s the time when Lucca, the older one, was 3, and taking a theater class taught by a group of earnest young actors. I reminded Lucca that, as a warm-up, one of the teachers asked each child to name a favorite animal. One said, “giraffe,” another “elephant.” “Lucca, you answered, ‘I just saw a bird on the sidewalk, and it was DEAD!’ ”
Or the time I traveled to California for a week to visit my ailing grandmother.
“Lucca,” I wrote, “there’s no greater feeling in the world than coming home, opening the front door and hearing your little boy shout, “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
Then, there were the letters that were harder to write: “My Dearest Lucca, last month we lost my brother — your Uncle James. He was only 28 years old — just a kid, really.”
My brother was a drug addict. Like any parent, I felt the need to tell my children the truth about drugs: “They cheat you of everything. And, in the end, they cheat you of life — always.”
As I was reading what I’d written, I remembered that, at the time, I’d sometimes wonder who I was writing to — my boys or the men they would grow up to be.
My younger one, Matteo, is only 9 months old. He doesn’t yet know that in the future he might need a pickup truck to cart away these earliest chapters of his life’s story.
When Lucca sees me poking letters into his scrapbooks, he sometimes wants to look at the photographs I’ve also pasted inside. Or, if we come across a birthday card I bought, he’ll endlessly open and close it, triggering the silly audio message inside — until I remind him that the battery will be dead when he goes to open it years from now.
And I suppose that’s the hope — that my children, many years from now, will each come across a dusty box (or a stack of them) in a basement or an attic. They’ll peel back the masking tape, pull out one of those now-faded scrapbooks and unfold one or two of the letters. They’ll labor through the chicken scratch and occasional crossed-out word and realize that their dad, for all his faults, loved them more than anything in the world.
How many ways can you tell your kids you love them? As I’m discovering, hundreds and hundreds. So I’ll keep writing.
FIRST OF AN OCCASIONAL SERIES
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a dad. So I suppose it might seem odd that my first child, Lucca, arrived when I was 44 and my second, Matteo, six years later. But as my wife frequently reminds me, God works in mysterious ways. Just look at my own father, who is 86 and has a 17-year-old daughter, my half-sister. I think a lot about fatherhood and will be writing occasional columns on the sometimes frustrating, often baffling, most fulfilling job in the world.