One afternoon in 1998, my two-year-old son, Naeem, accompanied me to the mailbox. As I collected the mail, Naeem uttered words that would change our lives forever: “Daddy, where is my mail?”
Writing Letters to My Son
Giving little immediate consideration to the power of that question, I simply replied, “Naeem, I can promise you, I don’t even want my mail.” Self-employed after finishing two graduate programs, I found walking to the mailbox to be generally depressing. Yet regardless of my disposition, my son (who is not one to give up), persisted in his “Where is my mail?” line of questioning.
That day, I experienced the power of a persistent child. Persistence is said to wear down resistance. Persistence also wears down fathers.
That same evening, I went to the neighborhood Target. My son wanted mail, so I was going to make sure that he received mail. I bought enough cards to send intermittently for several days. Although I selected a variety of cards, none of them really expressed my feelings for him. So rather than just signing the cards, “Love, Dad,” I took the time and embraced the opportunity to write something personal to him.
I told him how proud I was of him and expressed how blessed I was to be his father. I shared with him the enormous relevance and value he brought to my life. Writing to him made me take notice that my life had and would forever be changed by his presence.
Communicating Wisdom and Love
Pondering what to write and then watching the words appear on the cards highlighted the enormous responsibility I owed him. It was my duty to make sure he reached his full potential.
Over the years, the letters to my son have not changed very much. The formula for writing him has been consistent. I profess my absolute undying love for him. I’ll share some nugget of wisdom and I search for words that will increase his vocabulary. I encourage him to improve each day, and I challenge him to continue dreaming of ways that he can impact the world.
While the formula is not much different, the letters have transformed both of us. In situations where I was not able to communicate with him effectively because of anger, frustration, joy, or excitement, the letters provided a medium for efficient communication. Writing provided a chance to contemplate what I wanted to say without the miscommunication that facial expressions and voice inflection can cause. Writing to my son made me excruciatingly aware of the power of words and their ability to elevate or damage the spirit of a child.
Not only is my son’s spirit alive, but he also knows and appreciates the power of words. Recently, he assured me of this while taking an academic sabbatical to play soccer in Brazil. He confessed that he often re-read the letters. He contends that the letters made being away from home manageable, kept him focused on his aspirations, provided a greater appreciation for his upbringing, and spurred him to write a journal.
What began as a father-son walk to the mailbox has morphed into lasting and cherished memories.