Remember back a few months ago when I was cleaning out the attic? I never mentioned this, but I found a letter. In fact, three letters. One to each of our three kids.
The envelopes are yellowed. They were in a box of odds and ends of stuff. They could just as easily have been tucked into the pages of an old Bible lost in the Library of Alexandria. Forgotten. Dusty. The front of each envelope has their names on them in my handwriting. One to Laura. One to Marshall, And one to Emily.
I brought them down to my wife and we both said something like, “Holy Cow!” She remembered more detail than I did. They were written for a child dedication day at church. We guessed it was when our youngest was just a baby. We were supposed to give them to the kids when they turned 16.
I’m not sure what went amiss, but we obviously failed as parents. We participated in a sacred dedication and then promptly forgot all about our commitment. I mean, what kind of a parent stands before the Creator, makes promises, and then stuffs that promise in a box in the back corner of the attic? It’s a wonder we didn’t end up with leprosy and the kids homeless on the streets of Laredo.
“What do you want to do with them?”. I was looking for divine guidance.
My wife is cool as a cucumber. “Well, we’ll just give them to the kids next time we’re all together.”
So, on Thanksgiving Day we were all together. The meal was over. There was munchkin wrestling with Grandpa in the living room floor. Some early birthday presents for Everett, who turns 4 on December 1st. And from behind, my wife drops the letters on the floor beside me. Good grief. I had forgotten all about them. Again.
I made some cheezie presentation to the kids, explaining how we dedicated their precious little hearts to the Lord many years ago. How we kinda forgot all about it until we found the letters in the attic. How we shoulda done this about 20 years ago, but now would have to do. And how they shouldn’t blame us if their lives went all haywire.
In our defense, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since those letters were written. We moved twice. A lot of our stuff lived in storage for years. We built a house. We both had jobs. I started a new business. We were dealing with the teenage years. A wedding. Grandkids. We’ve had a lot on our minds.
Thing is, Beth or I neither one had any idea what was in those letters. I wrote them. They contained my words. But I refer you back to the last paragraph. I can’t remember what I wrote last week. How am I supposed to remember what I wrote 30 years ago?
Each of the kids slowly peeled open their letters. I was expecting them to read quietly in anticipation of the wisdom that surely would pour from the words I labored over all those years ago. Moisture starting to ooze from the corners of their eyes as they are overcome with emotion. How much their parents loved them and held dreams for them and how they wish they had gotten these letters at some earlier critical junction in their lives.
“What is this? Some kind of generic form letter?” Raucous laughter.
“Yeah, this is hilarious.” More laughter.
“Hey look. I think it’s cool that this was done on a typewriter. Did you notice that?”
“I know, right? This is really old.”
No tears were shed in the the reading of any letters.
I honestly don’t blame them. One of the letters got left on the end table by the couch. Obviously, no keepsakes here. When I read back through it, I chuckled myself.
The letters were dated November 18, 1990. What I wrote was so corny I was embarrassed. I talked about life’s journey and the mountains and valleys they would cross and the decisions that would have to make for themselves. About how they would have to find their own way in this world.
“There will be many voices calling you to search out the winding paths which veer from the main road.”
Gag me. I actually wrote those words thinking a sixteen year old would be inspired by them. I’m pretty sure I know now why I stuffed these letters in a box and forgot about them.
Here’s the thing. Every parent has hopes and dreams for their kids. You leave the hospital with this little bundle and you’re about half scared to death that you’ll probably screw up somewhere along the way. I was 34 when I wrote those letters, and pretty much clueless about mountains and valleys and winding paths and parenting.
What you want is for your kids to make it through to adulthood mostly unscathed by your own fickle ways. You want to raise them up in a way that when they are older, maybe they will remember their roots. Oh, they will goof up. They will stray. They will make a few messes along the way. But maybe, just maybe they will choose well in the end.
I not sure what I could have said back then that would have made any difference had a better letter been read at the appointed time. At 16, our kids were mostly aghast at how old and out of touch we were. I was but a IBM Selectric in their I-pod world. It’s probably best that the letters were forgotten in the bottom of a box.
“Be patient with me,” I used to say a lot. “I’ve never been a Dad in this situation before.” That plea got me through a lot of tough moments.
So, they are all grown up now. All in their thirties. I’ve never been a Dad in this situation before, but I think I like it. I like how things have gone. I even like the cheezie mountains and the valleys and winding paths we’ve traveled together. I like the fact that their Mom and I are still a part of their lives.
Dear kids: I’m dedicating this one to you. You’ve done pretty will even without the letter.