I made a New Year’s resolution at the beginning of 2010 to send out a weekly email to my family and kids as a means of keeping in touch. I found it kind of strange how we could all live so close together (we’re all within an hour’s travel) and go so long without some kind of contact. I’ll be the first to admit that the pace of daily responsibilities with jobs and kids alone can be taxing, but I thought this would be an easy way to help bridge the gap.
I was inspired by idea when I saw the film “Julie and Julia.” The features section of the DVD told how the letters written between Paul Child and his brother, along with letters between Julia and her sister as well as her friends, were the sole source of history to tell the story of her private life. I thought if email was the modern equivalent of writing letters, then it seemed like the idea could work twofold. Not only could I keep in touch with my family members, but maybe someday this collection of letters would be a journal of sorts.
The year of Our Lord 2010 has come and gone, and I managed to keep my resolution by writing each week. I found that it not only helped my keyboard skills, but I have garnered a loyal following of readers, and while they don’t reply very often, they have made no secret that they never miss reading what has simply become know as “The Update.”
Since the beginning of 2011 I haven’t been as timely as I was the year before, but I still come close each week, but the last update I sent out prompted a recent conversation that stirred my thoughts. We had just returned from our yearly trip to Connecticut to visit my wife’s relatives, and my email contained some observations about our stop off in Manhattan on the way home, as well as a few expressions regarding my wife and her daughter spending a little time together. The two have been several states apart ever since she went away to college, and even after her graduation she has taken a job nearby to her Alma Mater in Pennsylvania, so the time they get to see each other is limited and valuable.
I recently had dinner with my own daughter, who is several years married and they now are expecting their first child, which by the way, will make me a first time grandfather. She openly admitted to me that her pregnancy might be causing a hormone imbalance, but she said she had never become emotional reading my updates at any time in the past. Yet this last week, my descriptions of my wife and her daughter walking in Manhattan set off a slight case of lumpy throat and misty eyes, and I was particularly entertained by her assessment of me. She noted that I looked at my wife and her daughter together like a five year old looks at a Christmas tree, and I couldn’t help but laugh. She went on to wonder aloud if there were any memories I had of her in that regard, and that was probably the catalyst for my brain grinding its gears.
I suppose I see my wife and her daughter like I do because I am an outside observer of sorts. I see a relationship between them that was years in the making, and those were years that I wasn’t a part of their lives. While I’m elated that we have built a strong bond over the past decade, the fact remains that I was a very late addition to their equation. But when I think about my own children, to attempt to distill twenty plus years down to a single thought or moment would be like trying to fell a tree by pulling off a leaf.
The memories of first steps, playing in the floor with toys, reading Sesame Street storybooks complete with voice imitations, pageant dresses, starting school, days out running errands with her on my back, lowering her through my open sunroof to get the keys I locked in my car, cheerleading, Girl Scouts, first dates, The loss of a grandmother, Halloween costumes, High school, the heartbreak of not making the cheering squad only to have it be the silver lining of color guard, football games, band competitions, listening to them chant in unison, “WITH PRIDE!” Falling in love with “Eleanor” at first sight, learning that Shakespeare is indeed English, Moving out with her mother, getting her first computer, helping me set up my online dating profile, Moving out on her own to Blacksburg, walking her down the aisle at her wedding, and last but certainly not least, informing me that she was going to have a child.
Despite all of that, there is still one pivotal moment that will stay with me forever. We all have pivotal moments in our lives, those steps forward that can never be taken away. The moments of change and achievement that alter us and make us grow to be larger in heart and soul than we ever were before.
I still recall my first wife telling me we were going to have a child, and all the doctor visits, reading, false alarms, and labor pains later, my daughter was born. I saw her through the nursery window, and it was still all so surreal, but the next day in the hospital room all of that changed.
I was told to wash my hands and put on this ridiculous yellow paper gown. I felt like I was dressed in a clown suit as I took my seat next to my wife’s bed, then the nurse wheeled in this cart, lifted this infant child and placed her in my arms. That singular moment was like a massive flow of information zapped directly to your brain under high voltage, and it emblazons a potent message across your very being; you are no longer simply a man, YOU are a father, and so you shall remain forever.
These days my rank of fatherhood is shown by the strength of my bifocals, and the gray of my beard and hair, but they are stripes of rank I wear with pride, and they were required to ready me for my next tour of duty. Soon I will be the observer as I watch my daughter and her husband step into that role that I filled so long ago. While I will become a grandfather in the process, they will be the all important element of parents, and I know it will affect them just as it did to me.
On that day, I don’t think I’ll be the only one looking like a five year old on Christmas morning.
-T. August Green