As most of you likely have realized by now, I’m quite fond of writing letters to my kids. Truth be told: I’m quite fond of writing letters in general – and I’ve been doing it most of my life. As I reflect on it, I began writing letters because I was quite shy and introverted as a teenager and had difficulty finding the “courage” to express myself in person. But, I found I was reasonably good at expressing my feelings with a pen in my hand. Sometimes I actually “sent” those letters to their intended recipients – many times I didn’t and later wished that I had. My penchant for writing letters continued well into my college days. Once we started a family, I made it a point to begin writing “year end letters,” which, though addressed to “family and friends,” really had a singular purpose: My hope was that, one day, I would be able to put them in a binding of some kind – a keepsake that would serve as a “personal history” for our children – something they could use to remember mom and dad by, a vehicle for remembering their childhood, something to share with their own family and friends, something that might serve to bring a smile to their faces when they were feeling particularly sad or a sense of warmth and belonging in those inevitable moments they they felt alone.
But I also wrote notes and letters to Greg and Ashley individually – lots of them! Some “greeted” them on their pillows when they settled in at night, others could be found on their nightstand or the kitchen table in the mornings. Some were scribbled on napkins, some on paper plates. Some contained words of encouragement to try and help them through a particularly hard time, some were intended to offer advice or, on those occasions when I happened to stumble upon it, a few words of parental wisdom. At times, there was no particular reason for the note, other than my simply wanting to remind them that they were loved and that I was proud of them – glad to call myself their dad. I’m not naive enough to believe that all of them were well-received. In fact, once or twice (okay, maybe it was a few more times than once or twice!?!), I found their “crumbled remains” near the spot where I had left them. But, I also learned this about letters: Unlike words shared in conversation, which often “evaporate” into the air used to transmit them moments after they’re spoken, words carefully considered and written down are considerably more “permanent.” They are there to come back to, perhaps in a quieter moment when the recipient is more open to receiving them or, even when, though heard the first time, a gentle reminder of their message is needed.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that letter writing replace one-on-one, in person, conversation as the principal means of parent/child communication. To the contrary, I’m a staunch advocate of the latter. However, I would encourage parents, particularly dads, to take up a pen from time to time – that’s right a pen (not a keyboard!)(Note: Pens are those vestiges of the past – they’re kind of thin and long and have ink in them . . .) – and write a note (or two) to their children. I think you may be pleasantly surprised at the reaction you will receive in response and, perhaps, if you (and your children) are fortunate it will encourage you to write another, and another and another!