Dear Son and Honest Faith: On Regret

Dear Son,

Today I’m writing you a letter in joint with my series of writings on rediscovering faith. I’m doing this because I think what I have to say to you today has a lot to do with how I’m dealing with what I’ve been going through spiritually as well. I love watching you grow up. I love that I have had some extra time with you. But I’ve been going through a transition recently. That transition has caused me to look back on my life and think a lot about all that I have been through. Including what your mother and I went through to get to the point where we are now.

Yesterday, while you were napping we watched a movie, or at least we tried to watch the movie you woke up half way through. When you become a parent, you’ll understand how hard it is to actually sit down and watch a movie. Anyway, there was a question asked in the movie, “If you knew how your life would turn out, would you choose to live it again?” After the movie was over your mother and I were discussing what we would talk about in our podcast on Sunday. I asked this question of both of us. If we knew what we would go through to get to this point, would we do it anyway? The answer was quite clear for me, Yes, a hundred million times yes.

Later that evening, when you actually were asleep, we were catching up on our shows. One of the episodes we were watching was based around the idea that “our regrets are what make us human.” I was trying to think of the things that I regret the most in my life. There were a lot of little things like: making fun of that girl I liked because she didn’t like me back, not standing up to those who took advantage of me, thinking I could “save” someone at 2 am, not doing enough to help other people.  I started to think of all of those things in terms of the question, would I do it again, I realized a few things and I wanted to share them with you.

First, Even if I knew something were to happen to you, God forbid, I would do everything exactly the same way again. As if it were a magic ritual to get to be with you. Just one moment with you. Just to see one of your little smiles. Just to hear that magical laugh of yours. It makes everything worth it. I cherish each of those things so very much. It is and will forever be my greatest honor and joy to be your father. I thought about this in the context of the image of God as Parent. God knew. God knew you before the beginning of time itself. God knew all the crap the whole of God’s Creation would create, and yet God still Created. I don’t believe God regrets. I think God wants. I think God wants better for everything, but knows that God gave us the job of cleaning up the holy mess we got ourselves in. God made us for Tikkun Olam.

I started to think about it scientifically. I tried to come up with a formula for life. I know, a very ambitious task for me to take on right before bed last night. But I did come up with something. There is a phrase that is said very often, and because I’m writing a letter to you some people might be angry if I use the actual wording even if you will never read this until you are much older, “Poop happens”. That I believe is a constant in life. So in this formula of life, if you can’t change poop from happening what are the variables that we can change to have a good outcome? I’ve written so many times about my favorite quote from Lord of the Rings, but I think that lays out the variables for the formula quite well. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” The variables for the equation our own response to the situation, both immediate and how much we let it change us in the end. I think the sum of all the parts together give us a life well lived or not. I don’t think we should shy away from experiences for fear of the regret we may have. We have been given life, so therefore we must live it. We must live it in ways that amount to our purpose of repairing the world. So if the sum of the whole equation “Poop happens(constant) + immediate response(variable)+ how much it changes us (variable)=?” does not equal a positive repair of ourselves or the world, we must change the variables. Change the variables.

Thinking back on those regrets I realized I couldn’t change my immediate reaction to what happened. I could change my reaction to those things in the future, though. Right there starting to get into positive territory. I can also change how I let those situations change me. I can work to repair the brokenness caused by those things. I can work to heal the wounds they created. This morning on the radio I heard a man in an interview say, “It’s not his job to care about our community, That’s our job.” It struck me that in the grand scheme of things my regrets are just that, mine. It’s nobody else’s job to clean up the messes that I created. It’s mine. I shouldn’t regret things that made me who I am. I should regret things that caused harm or hurt, but that regret shouldn’t stop there. That regret should drive me to make things better, to clean up the holy messes that I have been a part of.

Finally, I came back to the original question. Would I do it again? This is something I think someone needed to ask me earlier on in my transition, but I don’t regret that. I would be a youth minister again in all of those places I was before. I would because I realize that there were small moments little things that I didn’t notice right away that needed exactly me to be there. They needed me to happen the way that they did. I suffered a lot for those things to happen, but I wouldn’t change it. I would go through all the pain and suffering your mother and I went through to have you here. She said something that made it all make sense, “The suffering makes you appreciate the good things all the more.”

Son, I know that bad things will happen to you. I don’t want them to, I don’t think any parent ever wants bad things to happen to their children. I can’t change those bad things will happen, though. All I can change is how to guide you to change the variables. I can help you to figure out what to do with the regrets you will have. They don’t have to weigh you down. They can drive you to make things better. I pray that they do. I pray that I will show you how to do that through my own life.

Love,

Your Dad

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Dear Son, In Your Eyes

Dear Son,

When I look into your eyes, it is almost like staring into a mirror. I see my own eyes looking back at me. In some ways, that terrifies me. In others, it fills me with hope. I don’t want you to have to face and see some of the things my eyes have seen. I also know that you will see a world much different than the one I grew up in. Though, every time I look into your eyes I still get an overwhelming and almost ineffable sense of joy and pride.

You look at everything now with a sense of wonder and discovery. You are just now starting to recognize things and how they relate to you. I love the look you get when I pull out the cracker box. You like to look around and observe everything around you. Right now as you play on the floor, you have to keep turning your head to look around at everything. I may just be reading this wrong, but you seem to be very curious, just like me.

There are many sappy songs that I could quote and refer you to at the moment, but by now I’m almost certain that you’ve heard them a dozen times over. one line keeps replaying in my mind, though. It’s from the first lines of Lee Ann Womack’s classic I Hope You Dance,

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger”

I don’t ever want you to lose this wonder, this hunger you have to discover everything around you. There is so much in this world for you to learn and understand. I know you will encounter that brief period when you think you know all there is to know in the world, but I pray that passes quickly. I hope that I will always see that look in your eye of wonder and amazement at all the world has to offer.

I also hope that you never stop seeing things around you. I hope you see the needs that you can fill, the comfort and support you can supply to your fellow human being who is hurting, the small gestures that you can do to make someone’s day better, and how big of an impact those small things can make. Your little eyes will see a lot of things as you grow. I pray that I will be able to help guide and support along the way.

Love,

Your Dad

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Dear Son, On Thanksgiving

Dear Son,

Right now, your mom is giving you a bath. You like baths. You splash around in the water and smile up at us while we attempt to clean you. You still try to look at everything and end up making it difficult for us to try to get our goals accomplished. This is going to be one of my fondest memories of your early years. Today is a day of memories and taking stock of all we have. We look at what we have to be thankful for. For us, your parents, that is a lot. It may not seem like it to us right now, but we have a lot to be thankful for.

I remember a long time ago when I was little, your Nanna K and Abuelo, would cook together. We lived a long way away from the rest of our family so we often had our thanksgiving meals at our home in south Texas. One of those years I remember being really warm. In fact, I think there is a picture somewhere of your Abuelo in shorts and a t-shirt, standing on the sink opening the bay windows in the kitchen to air it out a bit. I remember that we always had wonderful food for thanksgiving: Turkey, Tamales, shrimp, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, chips and salsa, sometimes guacamole, sometimes that salad your Abuelo would make with jicama and oranges, and pecan pie. We always tried to have  our family with us. Thanksgiving was a time for family. No matter who was around the table at dinner, they were family.

Food has always meant a lot to me and my family. Your Abuelo was a cook for the Navy. That’s probably why he loved those cheesy Steven Segal movies… He loves to cook. Your Nanna K loves to cook. She made experimental dishes. She shows people love through food. That is something that your aunt, uncle, and I  try to carry on in our own homes and families. We show our love to other people through food. You may have noticed by now that I try to do the majority of the cooking at home, it’s because I love you and your mom. That whenever we have people over, I try to make food for them. I want them to know that I love them no matter who they are. Thanksgiving is the time of the year when that idea shines the brightest and boldest!

Son, Your family will change over the years, but one thing I want to impress upon you is that no matter who is around our table at any time they are family. When you are grown and no longer living with us, I want you to continue that tradition. No matter the menu, no matter the meal, no matter the company when you break bread with someone they are family. Especially at Thanksgiving no matter who you bring to our table, or who you invite to your table when you are older, they are loved and family.

Love,

Your Dad

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Dear Son, On Anxiety…

Dear Son,

It’s been two months since I last wrote in here. I started to think a lot about why that was, and I realized that what I’m about to tell you has a lot to do with how I live my life. There have been a lot of studies done on many different types of anxiety disorders and parenthood. I’ve never been diagnosed, nor gone to see a doctor for it due to several reasons, but I’ll get to that. One of the biggest and scariest ones that I read was that it can be passed genetically. My anxiety may become your anxiety. I’m writing you this as you sit in your swing happily smiling at the stuffed birds swinging around above your head. You smile easily and often. I write you this because I don’t ever want for you to go through what I feel going on inside my own mind. I don’t want you to ever lose what you have right now, the ability to smile easily and often. That is the greatest gift given to you by God, and will be an amazing gift to the world for you to share in life. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m your Dad, but when you smile it makes the whole world better.

To preface this, I’m not talking about normal run of the mill fear. There are many different types and many different levels. There is the scared excitement fear, like the kind when you are on a roller coaster or a scary movie. You know nothing is going to hurt you and that you are in no real danger, but your body tells you something different. Let’s call that the baseline. The anxiety fear that I’m talking about is more akin to an irrational abiding ever present “I’m going to die” feeling. Sort of like that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach at the top of a roller coaster right before it plunges over the edge, but the problem is it never does. You feel stuck there on the precipice of something happening, that may never happen or has been completely fabricated by your imagination. It is very hard to explain to those who don’t experience it because it is irrational. The rational part of your brain will tell you that there is no reason for you to be feeling this way, and everything will be fine, but deep in your gut you still feel that fear. It’s like “what if” became rabid and no amount of fact could face it or calm it down.

There have been many things that can trigger this in 2016 many public fears, and many private fears as well. One of the biggest for me in recent months has been tied in with gender roles and with my career choice. Now that is just the basic core of this big anxiety that I have, one of many. But wrapped around that are other fears: “What if what happened before happens again?” I don’t think I can put you and your mom through that again. “What if I’m not good at anything else?” “How will I provide?””Where will we stay?””What if I care too much about my job, and not enough about my family?” “Where is the line in all of that?” “How do I balance my life correctly?” “What if I were to die tomorrow?” “Should I get life insurance?” “Do I make enough to afford that?” “Is it silly for me to be worrying about all of this?” “Am I delusional in thinking I can make a difference?” “What if you hate me because I gave too much to something that was just a pipe dream?” … This is just one example and some of the thoughts in one of the big ball of wound up anxiety within me. Of course, there are more and some of those same threads of thought run through a few different tangles of worry, but this is just an example.

I don’t tell you this to make you pity me. I tell you this not because I want you to feel it too. I tell you this because I want you to understand that you can’t let it cripple you. You can’t let these fears be the reason you lose something or anything. I have let those fears control me more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve done some stupid and crazy things all in the name of some imaginary thing I feared would happen. I pray that you never ever ever have to face this. I pray I did not pass this anxiety to you and that is just a letter about why your dad is the way he is. But in case it’s not, as I have told you before, it is okay to ask for help.

I have determined that I’m going to work on that within myself. I’m going to do something in the next few months/ years to make sure that I can ask for help. Like I said earlier I’ve never gone to see a doctor for this, and I think it’s time that I do. I’m doing it because I want to be a man you can be proud of. It’s kind of funny and ironic that the reasons keeping me away have been pride and self-image. My perspective has shifted though. If I’m going to tell you to not be afraid to ask for help, I need to show you that I’m not afraid to ask for help.

Son, I pray that this letter is just something I wrote. That in the future when you read this you will see that I was starting on the path to become a better man, husband, father, and person. Someone who became a good example for you. I pray that you never lose your smile. That when you read this you will smile and see that everything worked out just fine. I know that it will, it’s just so hard to see it in the beginning. Anxiety makes it worse, I pray you don’t have my anxiety. I love you.

 

Love,

Your Dad

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Dear Son, Don’t give up

Dear Son,

These last two months watching you grow have been the most amazing, and most exhausting two months of my life. There have been moments where I wasn’t sure I would make it through. There have been moments of pure elation. There have been moments when your lips curled up into a smile that reminded me of everything that is perfect and good in this world. I know you have no clue what is going on outside of your tiny little realm. At the moment I am so very glad for that.

There are times in this life where all seems bleak, and it feels like there is nothing that can make it better. We talked about this a little bit before in my letter on pain to you. But, as a quick reminder; I wrote this on a friend’s facebook post this morning:

I’m reminded that change is never easy, especially when we aren’t ready for it. Though we are never truly ready. Things seem at their worst right before it begins to get better. Maybe this is the worst, maybe it isn’t, but good is on the horizon.

Life is hard. Things worth having in life never come easy. There are all sorts of clichés that we throw around. But there is a lot of truth to be found in them. Yes, it is an over simplistic answer to a deeply complex and complicated issue. But sometimes we need those simple answers. This week something very terrible happened. At some point we will have a conversation about what has and what continues to happen, but not in this letter. People have offered their simple answers to this horribly complex and complicated issue, but what has happened has been reminiscent of events that are all too similar. The simple answers aren’t enough anymore.

There comes times in our lives when we are called upon to act. It’s those moments where we know our simple answers will not work anymore. It’s those moments where I’m reminded not to give up. You will learn that I am an idealist and a dreamer. Your mother will tell you that I’m very much like Clark W. Griswold from the Vacation movies. I build things up in my head and I work very hard to achieve those things, but more often than not it tends to only reach halfway or fail spectacularly. Yet, I still don’t give up on those things. Maybe it’s because I’m a glutton for punishment. Or possibly, it’s because I know that things can be better than they are. There is a deep and abiding hope that lives in us dreamer idealists. I’m not sure if you are going to be like me or not, but I know that it is a very tough life living that way.

People often want to live in the dark. I don’t mean actual literal dark, but sometimes people want to live that way too. I’m talking about an emotional darkness. They want to live in that place of pain and hurt because at least they know what they have lost, and will not have to give anything else up. I can’t blame them too much. Change requires that we sacrifice. Moving on requires that we give more of ourselves up. It is painful, but ultimately it leads to something better. These people see that deep abiding hope within those of us who are dreamer idealist and fear that we are the catalyst of change. They will do whatever it takes to put out that light so that they may remain in the dark where they are. They want us to stay with them. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not the best thing for either person.

My message in all of this is to say don’t give up. When you encounter the dark people, when you feel like the world is turning in on itself, when you feel like you can’t go on;  hope is there. It may be a small spark within yourself, or it may be your ever idealistic father behind you prodding you on, but it is there. I wont go into the details here, suffice to say my other blog posts which aren’t letters to you will tell you what it is, but I’m going to keep fighting for what I think is best. I don’t have all the answers, but I know what I need to do make sure that you grow up feeling safe. I know that things can be better. I’m going to do the best that I can to make things better for you. Maybe it will work out, maybe it will fail spectacularly; but I am not giving up. I love you and I am going to give you the best life that I can. I am not going to try to make it magical, you do that on your own, I’m just going to make sure the world is ready for you.

Love,

Your Dad

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Dear Son, Be Kind

Now that you are a month old, we are beginning to see you take in the world around you. You, like me, are a stare-er. You enjoy staring off into the distance or toward an object giving off light. There is nothing wrong with that, though some people find it creepy, trust me they’ve told me so . It just means you are beginning to formulate thoughts and discover new things. That’s beautiful.

There is a lot of beauty in this world, son. It takes many shapes, colors, smells, textures, complexities, and even simplicities to make something beautiful. As you are discovering you will note that things aren’t always the same. Especially when it comes to us human beings.

For some reason along the way us human beings wanted things to be the same. We got comfortable with things being uniform, though I’m not exactly sure why. Though we still appreciated beauty in it’s many forms, we wanted a lot of those things to be uniform as well. I discovered something a while ago with the help of the writings of someone I looked up to immensely. His name was Mike Yaconelli, he wrote a book called “Messy Spirituality” along with many others. Something I discovered while reading that is, Beauty is messy. We’ll talk about this more fully in another letter, but this sets up what I wanted to discuss with you.

In life, son, you will come across many different people. There is beauty in all of them, but that beauty is messy. Something your Nana K always used to try to get me to understand is that everyone is going through something. Everyone has their own mountains to climb. Often times that struggle takes a lot from them. Even if they climbed that mountain a long time ago they may still carry the bruises and scars from the struggle. It’s part of what makes them beautiful, but fragile at the same time.

Here is something that may be controversial. You were born a quarter Mexican male with very white looking skin. People will often say things like what does that have to do with anything, but will secretly place qualifiers on those things and more. Because you look the way you do and you were born a certain gender it is going to afford you a lot more opportunity than most. People want to say this isn’t so, but in my experience it very much is. I think the reason this happens is because we as human beings want to make things uniform, and comfortable to us.

I’m not telling you this to make you feel bad, no! I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that your life and struggles will be different from other peoples. I tell you this because I want you to understand why it is important to be kind, to everyone. By being kind you allow the beauty that was always there in someone shine through. You allow them to embrace their own humanity, while you embrace yours. It’s not because you are better than someone, no. It’s because you, like them, are going through something. One of the biggest tenants (Not that one) of our faith is something Jesus taught us, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I believe the reason for that is within all of this rambling that I’m giving to you. All people are beautiful. That beauty is messy. Messy is uncomfortable.Beauty is in the differences.

I hope this makes sense to you. I’m writing this when I’m severely sleep deprived. You will understand one day…

Love,

Your dad

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Dear Son, On Pain and Growth

Dear Son,

I’m blown away at getting to know you. You decided to be born three weeks early. It was a little unexpected, but nothing that we couldn’t deal with. After all we have been waiting for you since 2013. This is probably one of the hardest things for you to read, and for me to write. But it’s something that I have thought a lot about. Pain is a catalyst to growth.

Now it certainly is not the only only one, nor is it the easiest. But almost every time there is growth there is pain that goes along with it. Right now you are fussy and don’t like change, especially when it means me having to put a fresh diaper on you. That’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking more about what you go through when you start cutting your first teeth or how your muscles feel after a growth spurt. There is pain, but it’s there for a reason.

In 2013 your mother and I found out that you were to be born. We know it wasn’t exactly you, but one our coping mechanisms has been to think that you just weren’t ready or you didn’t like the original versions of the bodies that were forming. We miscarried our first two pregnancies. This was extraordinarily emotionally painful for us, and in fact there is still a lot of healing the two of us have to do yet. Loss of life is probably one of the most difficult pains we as human beings face. Because there is so much uncertainty that is associated with it. We don’t know what happens after death. There are many religions that make their best guesses at it, and even our own does that as well. The truth is we only know by experiencing it ourselves. Without this pain that we endured, we would never have fully appreciated every single breath you take. Every moment you are alive is a miracle to us. Every diaper change that you fight me on and wail at the top of your lungs through is a joy to me because you are alive. That is the rainbow, the silver lining, the light at the end of the tunnel, or whatever someone wants to call it. Without the pain, there would have been no growth.

Of course I’m not saying I’m going to subject you to painful circumstances so that you grow! Certainly not! I’m saying that in life you will go through things that are painful. I’m going to try my best to keep you from those things, and I probably will try to shield you from pain that you should go through as well. But know that when you do encounter pain that it only means growth is coming or is in the process. I know this doesn’t lessen the pain. In fact it may even make it worse. One thing that I have learned as the neurotic paranoid anxiety mess that I am though is that it always helps to hear that someone loves you, and that no matter what they will have your back. I love you and no matter the pain you go through, I will be there for you to help you grow.

I know that some of those painful things may be caused by me. I know I’m going to make mistakes, and as I sit here listening for your cry I’m so incredibly terrified by that fact. I know though that I love you. I know though that I am going to try my hardest to be the best dad I can be. Every boy struggles to either be better than or completely not like their father before them. I know that there will be something that I do along the way that will make you feel that way.  I pray that it will be more inspiring than painful, but you can’t plan things like that. I pray that you will love more, learn more, and reach higher heights than even I can fathom. I know some of these things aren’t possible without hardships, but I hope that you will know that I will be there for you even when you don’t want me to. I love you beyond what words can say. I never fully understood what a father’s love was until you were born. Every single moment of your life that grows more and more.

Son, You will endure pain. I’m sorry that you have to. It’s necessary in life. No good story is born without conflict though. We as human beings try our hardest to avoid it, and in fact many of the stories I will soon share with you begin just that way. I will be here though when you fall. I will pick you up and dust you off. I will bandage your wounds. I will care for you until you can get up and try again. Because son, that’s life. Life is getting up and trying again until we get it right. Then there will be a new thing to try, a new thing to fail at, a new thing to get right. We live, we grow, and sometimes we fail. There will be pain, but I hope, I pray I will be there to help you through all of it. I love you, and no matter what I’ll have your back.

 

Love,

Your dad

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Dear Son, When you are ready.

Dear Son,

I’m starting a new series on my blog. Mainly because I know you probably wont be interested in reading my writing till you are much older, and I have so much in my head that I want to share with you that I figured this was a healthy outlet. Your mother has just started the week to week appointments and you are almost big enough to join us on the outside. I have been thinking about this a lot recently and I wanted to share with you one piece of advice that I think applies to many things in life, “When you are ready.” I know your mom wants you out NOW, but that is something you will only understand when and if you decide to make this journey with someone in the future. For now, I just want you to come when you are ready.

I think this phrase will apply a lot in your life. The world is big and will be a very scary place at times. Though I will be with you and help you to figure things out along the way, I want for you to experience things when you are ready. I know that life never works that way though. I know we are put into situations and things well before we even think we are ready to tackle it, but as I said I will always be here to help you figure it out.

The relationships between boys and their dads have always been rough. Pride, egos, and all sorts of things get in the way. You’ll discover there are these weird standards that people have put in place for each other. We want to put labels on things, and no matter how hard we try to break from that we only end up making more and newer labels to put on things. That’s a much longer thought for another letter, but suffice to say that sometimes those things will get in the way. I want to break that cycle with you though. I don’t want you to be afraid to ask me for help. Asking for help is not a bad thing, many people will say it is, but it’s not. When you are ready, I’ll let you do it on your own.

The reason I want to write these letters is because I want to share so much with you. I want to be there to show you all the wonders this world has to offer. I want to make life magical for you, but I have to keep reminding myself that will happen on its own. For instance I’m pretty sure that if I show you Star Wars within the first couple of years of you being out here that you wont really appreciate it’s complexity and nuance. So I have to keep reminding myself to wait until you are ready.

Son, when you are ready, you will change the world. I know that seems like a lot of pressure and you may think you aren’t the one to do so. But you are the one. You will change the world even if it is for just one person. You are already doing so for your mother and me. Don’t worry too much about it though. You will know what to do and when to do it, when you are ready.

When you are ready, life will open itself up to you. There is so much to be explored and discovered. My biggest hopes for you ( I promise I will not be upset or super disappointed if it doesn’t happen though) are for you to be smart and creative beyond what I can imagine. I am already proud of you though. There is nothing that will change that. I know that when you are ready, life will be ready for you. I will be behind you and cheering you on every step of the way.

Son, When you are ready, I can’t wait to meet you!

 

Love,

Your Dad

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