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Dear Caleb (A Letter to My Son)
Several years ago, I was inspired by an article written by Tim O’Brien, a renowned writer, published in Life Magazine. It was titled “A Letter to My Son” and expressed O’Brien’s views regarding the late (for him) birth of his son, Timmy.
O’Brien is perhaps best known for his 1978 novel “Going After Cacciato,” for which he won a National Book Award. The New York Times said of the book, “Calling ‘Going After Cacciato’ a novel about war is like calling ‘Moby Dick’ a novel about whales.” I was a voracious reader of Vietnam War-era tomes, and “Cacciato” was an excellent look at the war from a vet’s perspective (O’Brien served in Vietnam).
I had kept the copy of Life that contained his “Letter to My Son,” thinking it was something I would like to be able to share with my son at some point, or with grandchildren. Please keep in mind that Caleb Alexander Akerley hadn’t even been conceived yet, let alone born. Now that I’m used to putting my thoughts into print (online), I’m inspired to write my own letter – this time to my 4-year-old Caleb. So here it is:
First, let me tell you something you already know pretty well. I love you madly. You are, to me, the sweetest, brightest, most loving person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
You are, indeed, a miracle baby. Your mother was vulnerable during her pregnancy with you and suffered from fibroids; end up staying in bed for the last three months of your gestation. We went to St. Francis Hospital regularly for stress tests, to make sure you were in good health. Let me tell you: not only were you healthy in the womb, but you performed well beyond expectations.
We’ve been talking to you about excellence since we heard you were on your way. Let me be honest about this – not knowing if you were male or female, we started thinking of you as Stephanie (your mother wanted to name her daughter after her grandmother). Believe me, we weren’t disappointed when we found out we were having a boy. Don’t forget that “boy” rhymes with “joy”.
A man named Tim O’Brien wrote a letter a long time ago to his young son, and he told him he was a bit concerned about his age when his son was born. He was 58 when his son Timmy was born, and he didn’t know if he would be able to enjoy Timmy’s full growth period. I am in a similar situation. When you were born, I was 56 years old; but I had been convinced for a long time that I would live to a ripe old age and, moreover, I would be fit during my last years.
I don’t worry about not being able to make hoops with you when you’re a teenager. My plan is for you to join me in my regular game on Wednesday nights in New Britain when you’re a little older. I look forward to coaching you in any sport you might want to play. I already know you like basketball, football, soccer, baseball and more, but I won’t rule anything else out for you. The world is, truly, your oyster. Grab it.
Tim O’Brien cited his aspirations in his letter to Timmy. Let me reflect on some of mine. I can’t wait to see you get married one day, and I can’t wait for your children to join the family. O’Brien told us how he learned “that a grown man can find pleasure in” a cry…a smile, in the miraculous pronunciation of the word “Daddy.” For me, I’m in ecstasy when you walk down the stairs in the morning when you wake up and say to me, “I love you, dad.” For you, these words are automatic. I don’t think you know, at this point, how powerful they are. You can reduce me to virtual nothingness with this sentence.
You have learned so much in 4 years. When I hear you rhyme, sing a brand new song of your own composition, I’m thrilled beyond belief. When you say, as you did this weekend, “Mom, you didn’t dry my hair properly”, I consider that there are millions of adults who don’t know how to use a adverb, even less correctly. Your gifts seem to outweigh my deepest yearnings for you when we were expecting your birth. We don’t even have to hover over you while you eat; to be sure you are getting your vitamins. Most of everything that appeared on your plate, you ate without hesitation.
You amaze me, you delight me, you make my day, you are such a wonderful boy, a polite boy, somewhat rambunctious, questioning, inquisitive, curious, who rhymes, sings, plays the drums, plays the piano, asking, charismatic, caring, handsome, cute (I know you hate that!), and you’re funny. You have one of the best senses of humor I know.
To quote O’Brien again, “I would trade every syllable of my life’s work for another 5 or 10 years with you.” It’s so true to me, Caleb. Of course, I’m not looking forward to the day when I have to leave you on this earth. A father’s “primary duty is to be present,” according to his letter, and at some point in your life, I will no longer be present. My prayer is that you can savor all the moments we have shared together, and that I have taught you well, so that you are the man you are capable of being.
We like to say that our departed loved ones are “up there watching us”. Obviously, that’s not something we know to be true; but if that’s true, then you can rest assured that I’ll be watching you every step of the way, bubbling with pride to see my boy reap the success that was his destiny from the start.
There aren’t enough words in my rich vocabulary to describe my love for you. I guess that’s all there is to say.
I love you Caleb.
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