Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Forgetting That Didn't Take

High School Graduation Day 2014

Dear Caleb,

I recently heard tell of a Jewish legend which conveys the belief that an angel visits each baby as it is growing in the womb. The angel teaches the child everything there is to know about life, love, and the journey ahead. After imparting this invaluable wisdom, the angel touches the baby’s upper lip in the moment before it is born, and the baby forgets all it has learned.

I don’t think the forgetting took hold with you.

You entered our lives more than eighteen years ago, at a breaking point in our marriage. Your mother and I were young, passionate, in love, and exhausted from fighting each other. So many reasons for giving up on a future together seemed to present themselves, but even as the hope for a happy marriage began to fade, a single reason to keep on struggling through the bad appeared on the horizon.


Caleb, you were the first unselfish thing that your mom and I did in our lives. We hadn’t yet figured out how to love each other without conditions, but together we loved you without so much as a hint of doubt, even before you were born.

But while I didn’t doubt my love for our baby boy, I was terrified by the thought of what kind of man he would become, having been raised by someone like me.

Enter the angel with the dodgy finger of forgetting. I think your angel told you a little too much about the two idiots that were to be your parents. When the lip-touch didn’t take and you looked out at your future, you decided to pass on becoming our son.

And so you refused to leave the comfort of your mother’s womb. She pushed and groaned and grunted for a few hours, and then heaved and screamed and cried for a few more, but you seemed determined to stay put. As the doctor applied the vacuum extractor to your head, I began to worry. As he began to pull on your head with all his strength, I began to pray.

I have never again heard your mother make such terrible sounds, and I hope I never do. After more pushing and pulling, the tired and sweaty doctor told your mother that she had one more chance to push you out. If it didn’t happen, he was going to push you back inside and perform a C-section.

You were born a few minutes later; your mother is strong in many ways.

You began to cry, and so did I, but not only for joy. I was beyond worried at the sight of your head; it was a mess. Your soft little skull had been pulled into a long and wrinkled half-arch, and my first thought was that the fragile brain inside it would be damaged beyond repair.

My first born would look like Abe Simpson, and be as dumb as his son Homer.

But you don’t, and you aren’t. Your head sprung back into a handsome shape, and your brain began to whir and hum.

The things I remember most about your younger years will always make me smile. A stack of books was never more than a reach away, bugs were your best friends, your cheeks were always red and rosy, and you pondered everything as if it held the answers to life’s most difficult questions.

A moment with you made any day my best day, no matter how good or bad it had already been.
People used to ask your mother what it was like to raise a mini version of her husband. It made me proud to think that people thought you were like me, because for me that meant that I was like you; smart, loving, cute, and wise beyond your years.

I think back to some of the biggest lessons I have learned in life, and you are a part of almost every one. You taught me the power of apology, the importance of owning who I am, and what it means to love without conditions.

You like to claim that you are not an emotional creature, and that feeling is not something you often do. I take issue with that statement, because you have always been there in my darkest moments, shining a light that chased away enough of the black for me to see my way out, back into happiness.

You will not be surprised to hear that the most powerful and lasting evidence of your ability to feel is the never-to-be-forgotten weed whacker incident.

In a moment of absolute despair, still mourning the death of your sweet Uncle Jared, I began to slam our gas-powered weed whacker against the rock wall at the edge of our back yard. Sobbing, cursing, and exhausted from the sudden outburst of violence, I fell to the ground in a contorted heap. In that moment I wanted nothing more than to die, sitting in the grass surrounded by hot bits of metal and plastic.

And then you touched my shoulder, and shined your light into my darkness. Your quiet hug restored my faith in living, and spoke more to me than any words could have conveyed.

An emotionless creature can’t do that.

Our road trip to celebrate your sixteenth birthday rests at ease near the top of my favorite Caleb memories list. Chasing dinosaurs through a teenage wasteland, inhaling puppy chow and nasty water, shadow-dancing behind an old-man-texter at the petroglyphs, and so many moments we will never tell your mother about; these memories will stay with me forever. Let’s do it again someday, preferably before I forget my name and start to pee my pants every twenty minutes.

I‘m gonna miss you like Lister missed Rimmer when he left for other dimensions to become Ace Rimmer, Space Adventurer. (I had to drop a Red Dwarf reference in here somewhere.)

At the very top off the list of reasons that I love being your father is the fact that you love to write. Since the moment your eyes could focus, you have loved reading. Over the past eighteen years you have spent months’ worth of time, perhaps even years worth, with your head inside your beloved books. To watch your love for reading develop into a love for writing has opened my eyes to everything that you can and will become.

Do it all, every last bit of it; I know you can.

This letter could go on and on through reams of paper. I have so much that I want to say, but just like the past eighteen years, there isn’t enough time for me to give or tell you everything I want to share with you. I shudder at the list of things I haven’t taught you, wonder if I did enough for you, and worry that I sometimes did too much.

I’ll end by taking you back to the moment that angle touched your lips, just seconds after teaching you everything about life, love, and the journey ahead. As I said before, the forgetting didn’t take; you came into this world with purpose, love, and wisdom.

In so doing you brought purpose, love, and wisdom into mine.

Thank-you Caleb, I love you.


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