letting each other go

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The Lost Letter

Posted by Leo G on March 2, 2007

I wrote this letter on February 16. I mailed it and emailed it. It never arrived. I have no idea why. I am currently taking it as a message that the letter was more important for me to write than for him to read. I may send it again, I’m not sure. But it makes a good response to many of your comments. So I’m posting it here.

As you can see, I’ve decided to call my son by his toddler nickname. Before he mastered speech he loved to say “Bup.” He’d run all around the house saying, “Bup bup bup bup bup…” This earned him the nickname “Buppy.”

Dear Buppy,

You may already know that I have been worrying about you. I know things are hard for you and that you don’t have a lot of support and are feeling pretty lousy. Your sister told us that you feel as though everything has already been taken away from you, and that worries me more than anything.

I know that you are in a hard place. Your grades and skipping have cost you a lot that you care about. You are on probation with football, you’re missing the band trip that was the one thing you cared about in band, and you are teetering on the edge of not being allowed to attend your school. I understand that it all really sucks. And worse, you know, at some level, that you lost these things as a result of your own actions. That’s a hard thing to hold.

It seems like a lot, even to me, but it is not everything. You can still change things. There will be another band trip next year. The football team is not a lost cause. And if you apply yourself, you can earn your way back into the school’s good graces. But I can see that it must look like a lot of work and that a lot is stacked against you.

Sometimes I blame myself for letting your childhood be too easy. We gave you a lot and did our best to make your life the very best we could. That must make all this harder in a way. For a long time, you got almost everything you wanted. But more importantly, you were heaped with praise and attention and the power of knowing you were special.

You are still special. I have no doubt of that, though I am deeply concerned by the choices you are making. You are intelligent and charming and handsome and athletic and cunning and loyal. You are an amazing person, but many things are conspiring to make it hard for you to see that right now. But even if you can’t see it, I can. And I am also loyal, Bup. As angry as I may get at you, you will always, always have my love and support.

I’m writing to you right now for two reasons. I want you to know that I believe that you can find a way out of the mess you have made. You have the strength of will to go to each class every day if you choose to. I know. I have seen your stubbornness many times. 🙂 If you make the same kind of stubborn, loyal commitment you have made to your friends—this time to yourself and your own future—you can do it. It is only school. It may feel pointless at times, but it is not torture.

What I see that worries me most is that you seem to be shutting down in the face of so much disappointment. Please, don’t do that. Don’t run away. Don’t ease your pain with pot or drugs or drinking. Take control of your life. You have the skills and strength to turn this around. It won’t be easy, but in the end you will be able to be proud of your accomplishments, proud of yourself.

Your future is still bright. If you make the effort, you can still be a professional athlete, a lawyer, a hiphop producer, a lawyer, AND a minister. You are not ruined, you are just in a tough place. Don’t believe the lies that are being whispered to you by a racist society that says black men are destined for death, drugs, or prison. And don’t believe the lies of adolescence that tell you that you are worthless or will be forever unseen in your beauty and value. Be the captain of your own soul, Bup. I will be right behind you.

You are in the midst of what is the hardest time in every person’s life. But it is also the time when your future will be formed. The choices you make now will not condemn you in the future, but they will help determine the shape that future takes. Learn now, son, that you must take care of yourself. In the end, you are the only who can.

It’s hard for me knowing that there is so very little I can do. This is your internal struggle. You have to find the will to be the person you dream of being, and not give in to the messages of rage, pain, and fear that are so loud. It’s hard to imagine, in the middle of it, that life will ever be any other way. But it will.

When I was sixteen, I wanted to die. My life had truly fallen apart. And yet, sometimes by luck, but mostly by sheer stubbornness, I held on until it got better. And I sought out things that would help me improve myself. When I improved, so did my life.

You can’t imagine at sixteen the deep satisfaction of ordinary happiness. You can’t imagine that going to college, falling in love, buying your first home, having children, and committing yourself to a profession you love are exciting and fulfilling and amazing. You want fame and glory and to be rich and free from work, to have a life of pleasure and celebrity. I suppose those wants are normal, but I also want you to know that you are not yet seeing the whole picture. You haven’t yet felt the deep satisfaction of being true to the right things and becoming the best you that you can. There is so much more to life than you can know right now. So much joy. So much love. And even in the struggle, so much deep satisfaction in living well.

Son, I wish I were better at parenting you. I wish I always knew the right thing to say, the right time to let go, the right time to hold on. I wish the very job of parenting didn’t set us up to be on opposite sides, always fighting. But it is your job to want to do whatever you want. And it is my job to keep putting limits and expectations out there. To remind you that it is not all about you, nor all about this particular moment in your life. You have a family and a future, and part of my job is to guard them.

Here are some things I can offer: I will help you find a counselor to listen to you and help you sort through all that’s happened. I will continue to help you to go to your school, even though much of it is out of my hands. I will provide any support you need to help you stop using pot, because I think it is damaging to you and your dreams. I will do my damnedest to truly listen with an open heart to what you say and what is true for you. And, I will give you the space you ask for, allowing you to make your own way. But I will always be available, if you need me. Of course, I will also continue to ask you to live up to the basic rule of our family: respect yourself and respect others. To do any less would be to fail you.

It hurts me to see you struggling. You know that I love you more than I can even describe. You sometimes think I love you too much, but I don’t think that is possible. It is my job to love you this fiercely, and it’s a job I’m very good at. I may not always make the right choices, but I always, always, make them out of love. For all the disappointments this year, I am still brimming over with love for you and am proud of you. You are an amazing person. I am honored to be your Dad.

Please, let me know if there is anything you need.


UPDATE: It arrived today. Postmarked the 16th of February. Amazing.


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