A letter from my father

My father passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2008. This is a letter he gave me in 1998, on Christmas. I was 14. I thought, since today is the 8th anniversary of his passing and also happens to be father's day, it would be a good opportunity to share some excerpts from this lovely man's letter. At 3.5 pages, it may be too long to fully share here. It is a gift that, I can assure you, keeps on giving. I encourage you to read it generally as if it were to you. (TL;DR: My dad was amazing.)

Happy Christmas, Ericka


Dearest daughter,

This seems like a good opportunity to take some time to say things to you I probably don't say as often as I should and could. I am repeatedly very impressed with you; the kind of person you've become and are becoming; your maturity and insights, your thoughtfulness, kindness, openness of heart and mind, your talents, skills and willingness to be helpful, supportive. all these things combine to warm my heart, stimulate and challenge my mind and make me so proud of you. Words fail to say it well enough.

There are so many things I wish we could do for you, with you and support you in doing, achieving, etc. I think of all you've accomplished and all you could and am astounded at who you are, perhaps who you are about to become.

Although you are still a teen, not an adult, you have many of the skills and insights of an adult, while remaining in other ways not yet an adult. I appreciate your attempts to be helpful to me in many ways, helping me understand you and your age mates, giving me feedback on how I appear to you and them, wanting to contribute to the small successes I achieve in the things I do around town, etc.

You have met well changes which have destroyed so many others and grown stronger in spite of obstacles no one should have had to face and overcome. Your efforts to deal with age mates -- not peers, because you have so few your age who live so well as you do -- other kids who, as some sort of "self-appointed elite" have excluded you, attempts to refuse your place among them, value as a person and yet, you have persisted, with patience, understanding, resilience and determination not to turn aside into anger and retaliation. 

At times, your habit of resisting direction, which makes you so wonderfully independent, can expose you to deadly harm, if you choose the wrong time to delay responding to your mother or me, when we see danger you don't.

Right now, as you move through your adolescence with more grace than any parent can reasonably expect from a child, things are rocky, especially with your mom, but also sometimes with me. Please, have patience. This tempest will pass and the warmth and strength of what we are sharing now will endure and become stronger, once freed from the struggles of growing through this part of your maturing .Use your powers of observation and judgment to look beyond the superficial aspects of the conflicts you have with us, see the underlying concerns and distractions in our lives which lead us to sometimes react too harshly to you, to listen too little and speak too quickly, as we miss doing the same with you. You can now help us through this time with about as much skill as we try to help you through it. Together, we can do it even better than we are now.

Just as you struggle through the challenges of your own development in these years, I continue to struggle with my own. Even as the years go past which are now all ahead of you, there will be such struggles as you remain on the frontiers of your growth, meeting new and ever more challenging tasks, new experiences, encounter the unexpected events and people life hold. Never stop exploring. Never stop growing and learning. But explore without agenda that hold you back, agenda which impose fences between which you must find all that you seek. Too often, the answers we need are outside those fences and beyond the horizons such agenda impose. Judgment is essential as you decide which limits to push and how far. Do not fear to make mistakes, they are unavoidable, if you continue to live life on the edge of growing, changing, and exploring, discovering. Do not waste perfectly good mistakes by not learning anything from them, even if they are the mistakes of others, but especially when they are your own. Once you have learned all you can from them, simply discard them and go on with your life. I trust that you will not take this to mean you can be unconcerned when your mistakes hurt others. Those hurts must be healed as much as possible. You cannot, however, make the decisions for others nor they for you so, how much you can repair such damage partly depends on whether others are willing to do so, too. Today, when I asked you about your advice on how I might deal with the challenges I face, you responded "Dad, you're not God," A wise statement and once I will do well to remember. Nor are you God and sometimes others will refuse to respond to your attempts to help them, just as they do mine. In such times and conditions, we must relinquish to others the choices which are theirs and continue to make our own as well as we can.

At confirmation this last week, I was surprised at some of your answers. I expected more of your usual good insights that I heard. It made me think we needed to talk more about such things than we do. I have avoided those topics, partly because I have such a reputation for long-winded, especially about " God stuff", that I've tried not to stuff all that down your throat. Perhaps, I've swung too far for the other direction and we need to talk more of topics concerning faith, God, religion, etc. than we have. Not that I will tell you what to believe so much as I hope to provide the stimulation to help you find your own way. Mostly, I think I'd like to help you discover how very real and immediate is the help available to you from God in your everyday living, with school work, friendships, finding stuff you've forgotten where you put it, etc. Simple everyday little routine stuff-- and other, much more "important" stuff as well. Just becoming aware of God with you, anywhere, anytime, in any setting or conditions is an awesome experience that will infuse you like nothing else can. It clarifies all sorts of things that otherwise seem so tangled and vague that we are frustrated and lack the direction we need to move forward effectively. Great stuff, that, but I guess I've not offered as much help with discovering it as I should have. I'll try harder in future. 

Living with you is and has been a wonderful experience for me, and I think, your mother as well. You constantly surprise me-- us -- with your wit, your imagination and skills as many things. I must resist strongly the tendency to push you into doing things I would do, if I had that talent, etc. You must find your own ways to use them and decide toward what you will grow as you do. You could be gifted in art, music, writing, and many, many other areas, perhaps in several of them. Achieving that will take a great deal of effort on your part, of course. Basic skills of focusing attention, being aware of what is happening around you and more, all combine to support success in a wide range of things. Those are the things I hope I have or will soon be able to help you learn and make part of you to the point that you no longer need to deliberately think about doing them. Because of the independence you have already learned, how well I succeed in helping you do that will pretty much depend on how much you are willing to allow. Independence, you see, is sort of a two-edged sword. It permits you to be free of too much influence from others, including parents, but it also means that, if you wish to do so, you can harm yourself greatly by ignoring help you could really benefit from using. much of your life is already fully within your own hands and a great deal of responsibility with that. In being capable of and demanding that independence, you have also gained the responsibility.

I trust there is not the slightest doubt in your mind that we both love you very much. Beyond that, we greatly admire and respect you for many things. We are proud to have been a part of your life so far and look forward to being a part of it for many, many years into the future.

Personally, I really hope you continue working toward the kind of excellence in music and academics as well as other things that you can freely choose which college you attend and do so without the added burdens of having to work as you study. I would love to see you have voice lessons. Your skills now are just at the edge of having a great voice, compared with any context. In syracuse, where not many kids even try to reach a personal best, you already shine brightly by comparison. In a more competitive context, your present skills will seem ordinary, but they could be extraordinary- depending on what you want and what you are willing to do with that talent between here and now and there and then. Since you have so many talents and skills, you have many choices to make. I will be not disappointed that you chose one thing over another. I might be, if you choose nothing much over something that could have become a great deal.

Please understand. I am not talking about money here. While money is essential to get into and through a college education etc., it is not the end all be all of life. Like developing your talents, earning money also allows you choices you could not have had otherwise. It can also distract you so much from yourself that it defines who you are and that would be very destructive for anyone, including you. 

Please be patient with your old and dottering parents as we worry about you and what lies in your future. Perhaps we look too long at the potentials for difficulty and too little at the joys of just being here, doing what you're doing. No one lays perfect plans and sees them develop as planned. Life is so dynamic that we must always be ready to meet the unexpected, deal with situations we did not anticipate. We sometimes sustain losses no one wanted in spite of all our attempts to safeguard ourselves against them. 

As you face some of those in your own life, first, believe in yourself and your ability to learn from whatever experience life throws at you. Believe that you can meet the challenges you will face and overcome most of them, learn even more from those you don't and try again for whatever success comes to mean for you.

I believe that your faith is probably the most important tool in doing that well. What you have now is good, but it is not developed. Time and experience are needed to put such things into perspective, to allow you to learn the lessons needed as you develop your own faith and decide what works best for you. Whether that means you continue to be Lutheran or become something else matters far less than whether it works for you, produces the results which strengthen you and through you many others. Never fear to challenge your faith as severely as you can. Especially your own faith, because it is the one on which you most depend. No matter how well someone else's faith works for them, it is your own which works or does not work for you. No one else can do that for you and you should never even allow anyone to try. Your life is for you to live. No one else can or should try. Neither do you try to live someone else's. Support them all you can, but they must remain free to live their own life as you live yours. 

I have the greatest confidence in you. While I expect great things of you, what sorts of great things you may achieve remains for you to discover and decide for yourself. If what you are doing and capable of doing now is anything to go by, you'll do that just fine, too.

I--we--are there for you now and throughout your life. Now, and forever, we love you more dearly than any words can express.

Fare well. Sail on, fly high, dive deep, be yourself, even more perfectly than you are now.

All my love,