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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 well-known writer, published in Life magazine. It was titled “A Letter to My Son” and expressed O’Brien’s views on the birth of his son, Timmy, late in life (for him).
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 saved the copy of Life that contained “Letters to My Son,” thinking it was something I would like to share with my son at some point, or with my grandchildren. Keep in mind, please, that Caleb Alexander Akerley was not even conceived yet, let alone born. Now that I’m in the habit of publishing my thoughts (online), I’m inspired to write my own letter – this time to my 4-year-old Caleb. So here goes:
First, let me tell you something you already know quite well. I love you madly. You are, to me, the sweetest, smartest, most loving person I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
You are, indeed, a child prodigy. Your mother was vulnerable in her pregnancy with you and suffered from fibroid tumors; you will eventually end up on bed rest for the last three months of your pregnancy. We regularly traveled to St. Francis Hospital for stress tests to make sure you were healthy. Let me tell you: not only were you healthy in the womb, but you performed far beyond expectations.
We’ve been talking perfection with you since we first learned you were on your way. Let me be honest about this – not being sure if you were male or female, we started to think of you as Stephanie (your mother wanted to name her daughter after her grandmother). Trust me, there was no disappointment when we found out we were having a boy. Remember that “boy” rhymes with “joy”.
A man named Tim O’Brien wrote a letter to his young son a long time ago and he told him that he was a little worried about his age at the time 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 all of Timmy’s growing up period. I am in a similar situation. When he was born, I was 56 years old; but I was convinced long ago that I would live to a ripe old age, and, moreover, that I would be in good shape during my later years.
I’m not worried about not being able to shoot some hoops with you when you’re a teenager. My plan is for you to join me at my regular Wednesday night game in New Britain when you’re a little older. I look forward to coaching you in whatever sport you wish to pursue. I already know you love basketball, football, soccer, baseball and more, but I won’t rule anything else out for you. The world is, indeed, your oyster. Kidnap him.
Tim O’Brien mentioned his wishes in his letter to Timmy. Let me reflect on some of mine. I want 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 had learned “that a grown man can find pleasure in “a cry…a smile, in the wonderful pronunciation of the word ‘Daddy.’ For me, I’m ecstatic when you walk down the stairs in the morning when you wake up and you say, “I love you daddy.” 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 nothing with that phrase.
You have learned a lot in your 4 years. When I hear you rhyme, singing a brand new song of your own composition, I get excited beyond comprehension. When you say, as you did this weekend, “Mom, you didn’t blow dry my hair properly,” I think there are millions of adults who don’t know how to use adverbs at all, let alone properly. Your gifts seem to exceed even my deepest aspirations for you when we were waiting for your birth. We don’t even have to hover over you while you eat; to make sure you are getting your vitamins. Most everything that appeared on your plate, you ate without hesitation.
You amaze me, you thrill me, you make my day, you are such a wonderful boy, a kind boy, kind of mad, curious, inquisitive, inquisitive, rhyming, singing, drumming, piano playing, wonderworking, charismatic , caring, handsome, cute (I know you hate it!), 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.” This is so true for me, Caleb. Of course, I do not look forward to the day when I have to leave you behind 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 are able to enjoy all the moments we have shared together and that I have guided you well so that you can be the man you are capable of being.
We like to say that our estranged 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, trembling with pride for my son 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 think that’s all that needs to be said.
I love you, Caleb.
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