I am happy to share with you this selection of letters I had previously written for my son. I did not think they were something I would share. The thought was until recently accompanied by a self-critical voice telling me that it would be too intimate. I doubt that now. These letters, which have been a little edited for privacy, were written largely in the absence of my son and as such they are more the role-play of a young man desperately trying to give sound advice, trying to flex his fatherly muscles over an impossible stretch of space. The details are unimportant. Let Chicago be ‘there’ and Peachtree be ‘here’ and just like that these entries may serve you as any dad might whose heart has not quite earned its softness. So, trust that I once sat at an old Olympia typewriter only a year or two ago, with the best intentions spore-like escaping my coffeed breathe and my eyes playing gate-keeper to escapee tears. And if they can, let these spores expand into the mycelial threads of your imaginations and enjoy a fool’s attempt at sound advice.
P.S. As to the theme of nostalgia, these entries are full of it. For my part there is an act of retrieval—of reclaiming—and for yours the knowledge that spaces and feeling are as contiguous as the invisible boundaries of our memories. We will be whole someday I like to believe. But for now, we are parts in motion colliding at the whim of fate and fancy.
May 2, 2017
My Dearest M,
It has been raining in Chicago and the streets are swollen with the pooling waters. Everything that stands tall like buildings and street-lamps and trees are washed, while everything that is near the ground sloshes around and exposes its messiness. The rain cleans a little and reveals a mess, leaving us to clean the rest. It is like a blessing this way, on one hand freely given, on the other a responsibility to be blessed—to carry a name and hope itself inside your heart. I have especially liked the rain since you were born. I check the weather in Peachtree sometimes, so that I can wonder at how the sky is reflected in your eyes that day. I imagine you looking into the rain as it starts to touch your cheek and I also begin to feel it, hundreds of miles away from you. Longing closes distance when the familiar is shared.
Feel the rain and trust it carries my blessing to you, not changed but maybe a little wet.
P.S. Never believe that the world is too big. It is impossibly connected in ways you cannot see. Roads and planes travel space and it takes a while, but phones and pictures travel time and it takes an instant. In this way I may be far from you, but my love is very near, always. Feel the rain, M, feel the rain.
July 25, 2017
My Dear Boy,
I have just finished making the last arrangements for my visit to you in August. I was struck as I sat on my dining room table with a feeling like falling, but from inside myself. I was sitting quite still and balanced, but the current inside me dropped from whatever lip had been holding it up. The result was an intense feeling of missing you and I could feel your little hands grasp at my hair and my face the way you do when you ride my shoulders. And so I needed to write to you this way and tell you about it. Forgive this gushing from your dad, but when you are old enough to read these letters, I hope you will be the kind of boy whose heart is awakened to the tremulous pulses of emotions and love. Cultures all over will tell men how to feel and how to stop it. The truth is that feeling is not good or bad; it’s just feeling. What you make of those feelings is what makes you alive. You can make elaborate worlds inside the imagination of your mind that guide you, or you can perform actions for others to get them to see you or respond to you, or for yourself when you are quite alone. These are all actual, none more so than others. The world may tell you differently about that too.
Remember always that I love you,
August 30, 2017
After my last visit with you I went to Montana, which is where I grew up. I wanted to see the big sky and smell the cleanness of the air and climb a mountain or two. I am happy to tell you that it is all just the way I imagined it was when I was young, just as wild and beautiful. I remember now why it felt so biblical to me as a kid, because it’s more than beautiful; it’s scary too and vast. When the sun sets it looks like god riding the clouds over the arched horizon, her glory spilling out in all directions as rays of light. We will climb a mountain together one day if you like, and I will show you the wild grandeur of the west. We will look out at a sunset across the valley from the home where I learned to pray and to love and watch the sun who is as old as time carry god into a new day. It occurs to me to tell you this: A lot of things are going to seem very important. Be firm with yourself to remember what you know is really important and simply what others tell you is important. Your mother and I will remind you more often than you’ll like, so deep down you’ll feel it and can make your decision based on that instinct. This is your moral instinct. An instinct is a feeling like catching yourself falling. You cannot help but feel it and will not remember telling yourself to feel it. The crazy thing about Truth is that it is loud even when you think you cannot hear it. The sun shines almost everywhere but only in the day.
The Truth shines in all places at all times. It is outside of us and it is inside, disguised as that: your moral instinct. You, for your part, will remind me of the truth and I will do my best to remind you.
Your Dad, J
November 1, 2017
My Dearest M,
It was such a joy to be with you shortly after your birthday last month. I am always impressed to hear you speak and how clearly you are able to communicate your thoughts. It is an important thing to be able to share what you see with others, especially those you trust. Did you know that for thousands of years no philosopher or ruler or teacher has been able to answer the question: What is Real? And that seems sort of silly doesn’t it? It somehow misses the point. When we are together, you tell me about real things all the time—if there’s a duck in the water, a big truck zooming down the street, or when the little dirt mound is actually a dangerous ant pile! And they are real, because we both see them and could do any number of things with those experiences. I can’t tell you for sure what is Real completely, but with a little curiosity, a tender touch, and a snowballing Faith that what is Real is out there—that maybe god touched the surface of the waters of everything and nothing was the same or IS at all except bundled fiery together in that explosive touch—then you can travel into the stars, M. Your imagination and your love are as real as Real gets. They are like god’s desire to renew. Longing is an emotion you will feel when you get a little older. We can talk more about this then. Imagine you are lying on warm grass. The sun is beaming down on you and it is morning, so it feels not too hot. There’s a little wind and so you close your eyes. You hear your name and the voice is warm like the grass.
The world knows the names of all her sons and daughters.
I miss you,
February 4, 2018
I don’t have much to report to you M. I woke up this morning to a Winter Wonderland in Chicago. I hoped the humid Georgia air had traveled up the country and ran into some cold Arctic breezes that had floated down into the States past the Canadian border. When these two fronts met, over my home, over all of Chicago, I hope they embraced like old friends and cried for laughing. Their tears froze in the cold air and fell as snow, softly onto the roads and bare trees guarding them. I felt the quick movement of a few flakes melting on my cheek. I looked up and smiled. I thought of you. May the years pass like sagas in a single journey always connected.
May your dreams and imaginings give life to the magic that is you.
P.S. I am sorry if any of this is uninteresting to you, or wordy, or lame. My hope is that when you read these letters (you will likely be in Middle School or even High School) that you will find them helpful in reminding you what I have found to be important in life. I have not found the answer. I don’t think any adult ever told me that when I was young. But I still know many things and have seen many things, as you will too. Grace feels like truth becoming itself. You have heard about grace in church and from your mom. I have found that grace is a feeling, like knowing, and we don’t deserve it; we cannot control it. It is the sublime touch between this world and the next: Paradise, where truth is always truth.
February 28, 2018
I want to tell you a story I read. It is called “Everyone Knows what a Dragon Looks Like”: In a small town, lived a boy whose job it was to sweep the gateway to the city and keep it clean. He lived in a small hut by the gate and was paid in a bowl of rice and a cup of wine a day for his work. He was very poor. One day a messenger came to the village to warn them of an invading army that was marching toward them. The people of the town were afraid and after realizing that they had no army to protect them, not enough money to pay off their enemies with gifts, or enough time to run away, they prayed for salvation. The next day, a fat bald man came to the gate where the boy was sweeping and asked to see the ruler of the town because he was a powerful dragon and the answer to their prayers. The boy took him to the king but none in the court believed the fat man. The rich advisors said a dragon would look like a someone who is more wealthy than any of them could imagine. The wise counselors believed the dragon would be very wise and powerful perhaps able to perform miracles with his mind. The king declared that the dragon must look like the mightiest ruler who leads armies that would save them. But what they all agreed on was that the dragon would not look like a bald fat man. The man said that if they did not recognize him as a dragon and refused to treat him kindly for coming to save their village, that he would leave and not fulfill his task. The young boy took the man to his own little hut by the gate and gave him all the rice and wine he had, which was not very much. The fat man said, “Your village does not see who I am so they do not deserve to be saved, but for your kindness I will save this town.” With that he left through the gate and transformed into a creature that filled the sky with golden light and laughter. He met the marching enemy army and his presence over the town convinced them to turn back. The town was safe and a dragon was revealed.
I love you always my son,
April 27, 2018
My Dear Son,
There are a lot of adventures I have been thinking about that we can do later. I thought it would be fun to tell you about one of them: There is a mountain in Montana that stands tall and purple-pined near where your grandparents live. When I was just 12 years old, I climbed it to the top and thought it was very beautiful. I felt close to heaven and to god and all the world seemed to stand still from that point. I would love to take you there one day. I took your mother once, but we camped and cooked breakfast and never made it very far. It was our company we cherished that time and not the view from the mountain top. There is a lake near the top where we can camp, make a fire for warmth and food and hot chocolate. In the morning we will tidy camp and begin the climb to the peak. There will be snow at the peak even in the summertime when will likely make the climb. At the top we will build a stone cairn, which means a pointy mound of stones. It is a ritual for hikers to build these to commemorate their trip or treat the experience as a prayer for god to bless the adventure like a pilgrimage. The way down is easy. The packs are light and the incline of the mountain will speed our steps, exemplifying the difficulty of the search and the reward of finding.
I love you always,
November 5, 2018
My Dear M,
Autumn has fallen over the city of Chicago like a holey wool blanket. Its patchwork covers like a jigsaw puzzle the trees and the rooftops and the roads with different textures. Frayed threads of fallen leaves fill up the gutters and the energy of all the people has changed a little. You know how in the summer everyone moves around so fast and everything feels a little brighter and louder? Well it has slowed down now. Everyone has to wear coats and colors are deeper like the color of things that have been rained on. It rains a lot too. I hope you have been enjoying your autumn down there in Georgia. I know it is much warmer for you there than it is here. I hope you are happy and learning many new things. I can’t wait to hear about them. I will see you soon and we shall add to our adventures. The grass is always there for us to run, the rocks to build and play upon, the water to touch and listen, and all the sky stretched out before us reminding us that we are free.
Jerome is a writer and Chinese food slinger residing in Chicago.