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Dear Caleb (A Letter to My Son)
A few years ago, I was inspired by a piece written by Tim O’Brien, a famous writer, published in Life Magazine. It was entitled “Letter to my son”, and it expressed the opinions of O’Brien regarding the late (for him) birth of his son, Timmy.
O’Brien is perhaps best known for his novel “Going After Cacciato” (1978) for which he won a National Book Award. The New York Times said of the book, “Calling ‘Going After Cacciato’ a war novel is like calling ‘Moby Dick’ a whale novel.” I was a voracious reader of Vietnam War-era tomes, and “Cacciato” was a sterling look at the war from a vet’s perspective (O’Brien served in Vietnam).
I 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 one day, or with grandchildren. Remember, please, that Caleb Alexander Akerley had not yet been conceived, let alone born. Now that I’m used to putting my thoughts in print (online), I’m inspired to write my own letter – this time to my 4-year-old Caleb. So, here goes:
First of all, let me tell you something you already know quite 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 fibroid tumors; eventually ending up on bed rest for the final three-plus months of your pregnancy. We regularly drove to St. Francis Hospital for stress tests, meant to make sure you are healthy. Let me tell you: not only were you healthy in the womb, but you performed far above expectations.
We’ve been talking you goodness since we first found out you were on your way. Let me be honest about this – not sure if you are male or female, we started thinking of you as Stephanie (your mom wanted to name her daughter after her grandmother). Trust me, there was no disappointment 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 that he was a little worried about his age at the time his son was born. He was 58 years old when his son Timmy was born, and he didn’t know if he could enjoy all of Timmy’s growing up period. I am in a similar situation. When you were born, I was 56 years old; but I was convinced long ago that I would live to a ripe old age and, moreover, I would be in good shape during my last years.
I don’t care that I can’t shoot some hoops with you when you’re a teenager. My plan is for you to join me in my regular Wednesday night game in New Britain when you’re a little older. I will look forward to coaching you in whatever sport you want to pursue. I already know you enjoy basketball, football, soccer, baseball and more, but I won’t throw anything else away for you. The world is, truly, your oyster. Grab it.
Tim O’Brien cited his longings in his letter to Timmy. Let me consider some of mine. I long to see you get married one day, and I look forward to your children joining the family. O’Brien told us how he learned “that a grown man can find pleasure in “a cry…a laugh, in the miraculous utterance of the word ‘Daddy.’ For me, I’m ecstatic when you come down the stairs in the morning, when you wake up and tell me, “I love you, Daddy.” For you, these words are automatic. I don’t think you know, at this moment, how powerful they are. You can reduce me to virtual nothing with that sentence.
You have learned so much in your 4 years. When I hear you rhyme, sing a brand new song of your own composition, I am thrilled beyond comprehension. When you say, as you did this weekend, “Mom, you didn’t blow dry my hair properly,” I consider that there are millions of adults who can’t use an adverb at all, let alone correctly. Your gifts seem to outweigh even my deepest aspirations for you as we await your birth. We don’t even have to hover over you while you eat; to be sure you are getting your vitamins. Most 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, polite, a little noisy, quiet, inquisitive, curious, rhyming, singing, drumming, piano playing, amazing, charismatic, caring, beautiful, beautiful (I know , that you hate that!), and you’re funny. You have one of the best senses of humor I have ever known.
To quote O’Brien again, “I would trade every syllable of my life’s work for an extra 5 or 10 years with you.” That’s so true for me, Caleb. Obviously, I’m not looking forward to the day when I have to leave you behind on this earth. The “primary duty of a father 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 enjoy all the moments we have shared and that I have taught you well so that you can be the person you are capable of being.
We like to say that our departed relations are “up there, watching us.” Clearly, this is not something we know to be true; but if it is true, then you can be sure that I will be watching you every step of the way, bubbling with pride that my boy is reaping the success that was his destiny from the beginning.
There are not enough words in my abundant vocabulary to describe my love for you. I guess that’s all that needs to be said.
I love you, Caleb.
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