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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

An email to my father

I have always taken pride in my son. He has always been a blessing to me. On the day he was born, I remember seeing, like the revelation of joy, that the sky had never been so blue. So simple a thing. But I had been given what I’d always known I needed. Someone to love, and to value as much as they are worth. For a number of weeks after he was born, it puzzled my why I loved him so much. Then I figured out that it was because he was mine, and that this love is just instinct, common to every normal person. Then I understood that as he grew, he would show the individual he was, more than just my own offspring, and I would love that person, even more. This is normal, but not really common.

When he was little I took joy in his innocence and sweet temperament. When he was a teenager I respected his independence and self-confidence. I watched him grow into integrity, and there was not one single time when I was ashamed of him, or fretful for his future. I have watched him mature out of his teenage arrogance, and now, as always, when I think of him I smile.

No one else’s negative judgments mattered to me. Ignoramuses are to be ignored. I remember a friend asked me about some behavior I allowed little N to do, and I only then realized that it wasn’t appropriate, and I learned from it. We don’t learn from preaching, but from repentance. I am secure enough in all this to be amused at the memory of anyone who disagreed with how I was raising my son. Time has of course proven me right, but that was a foregone conclusion. This is not arrogance on my part, but contentment.

I listened to his opinions. I had earplugs for when there was shrill childish yammering, and if there was more than a little whining, I shut it down. There was very little, and very mild, punishment, because there was self-control. I never had to spank him. I would have, but it was never necessary, because he was never incorrigible. Mistakes were fine – that’s how people grow.

As a teenager there were only a very few times when he overstepped himself, and even then he did not break the one single rule that I had always had. No disrespect, ever, for any reason. This was fair, because I never gave him cause for disrespect. I made mistakes, but I’m sure that almost always I recognized and apologized for them. ‘When I said such and such, I was impatient. I’m sorry, N.” This is integrity. I never lied to him, or tricked him, or used him to meet some selfish need of my own. That would be disrespect, and what is valuable should be valued.

My reward for my very easy truthfulness was that, to my knowledge, he never lied to me either. Because he was smart, he might several times have attempted to use words to create a misleading assumption. I did not press him, because another of my traits as a father was to allow disagreement. N was too valuable to be used as a tool or a puppet or a clone. That he is very like me in many ways is only natural. It was never demanded or forced. It gives me great pride to recognize his independent intellect. It is very like my own. Good.

I know N, and he knows me, because we trust each other, because a lifetime of observation and experience has taught us that it is appropriate. Love is a cheap and easy word. Trust is dangerous and expensive. Love, it is true, never dies. But trust can be destroyed, completely, and never repaired. There comes a point when time is up, and there are no more chances, for all that there may be forgiveness. To me, it is infinitely more meaningful that I trust N, than that I love him. People love dogs – trust doesn’t apply, since dogs are not capable of betrayal. If N were a trashy or disappointing person, I’d love him just as much. Love isn’t earned. Trust is.

Because I am such a strange man, I had to give birth to my best friend. Because I am strange, I see him rarely, and don’t need more. Although it’s nice. I don’t need him, but I’m grateful to have him. Our conversations are virtually never about the past. We like information. I always respected his privacy, and he certainly didn’t need to be burdened with my painful and stupid unresolved details from long ago. If he were interested, he could ask. No need – the past exists to teach, not to control. N knows me because he knows my character. Anything else is just gossip.

What I am deeply gratified for is that from the day of his birth I had the common sense to recognize him, for himself, as a worthwhile person. More meaningful than loving him, I liked him. He was never just an extension of myself. What I believe is that it was my, frankly, admiration of him that made him admirable. He lived up to my expectation. He has my sense of humor. He has my love of truth and honesty, of facts, of integrity, of organization and efficiency, of reality. Like me he has no patience for delusions or manipulation. He is kind in a practical way.

A story that I tell is how, when he was a young teenager, we were having a conversation, and he said of one of his schoolfellows, “There’s nothing … honorable about him.” I said, “Hm, that’s too bad.” Inside I was screaming with pride. He didn’t say this because he was trying to impress me. I did not preach and lecture about honor. He had learned to recognize good character, or its absence.

I joke, but I mean it, when I say that his excellence is my excellence. I can say this because my honesty is his honesty, learned by example, and my patience is his diligence. The blessing that I was to him, blessed him. I did that. On purpose. Not only as a plan, but because there could never be anything more important. An infant comes fresh from God. God says, ‘Here, I’m entrusting you with one of my babies for a time. Take care of him for me.’ I did. When I stand before God on the day of my judgement, it will be as one through fire. But for this one thing at least, the father that I was, I will hear the only thing I want to hear. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Very few people live up to their potential. So much emotional clutter – negativity, regret, self-pity, blame, unforgiveness. It’s ugly, of course, and destructive, and hard to cure, like leprosy. I avoid ugliness as much as I can. Some people believe in curses. I blessed my son, and he is blessed. One of the several things that I am deeply proud of in myself is that N is actually making himself worthy of his gifts. Nobody is free of pain or of shoddy behaviors. But N more than any man I know is working actively to be the man I raised him to be. He is a better man than I am. No father could ever ask for more.


J

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