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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 renowned author, published in Life Magazine. It was titled “A Letter to My Son” and expressed O’Brien’s thoughts on the later (for him) birth of his son Timmy.
O’Brien is perhaps best known for his 1978 novel, “Going After Cacciato,” for which he won the 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 books, and “Cacciato” was an excellent perspective on the war. vet (O’Brien served in Vietnam).
I kept the copy of the Life that contained his “Letter to my Son,” thinking it was something I would like to share with my son or grandchildren at some point. Please keep in mind that Caleb Alexander Ackerly was not yet conceived, let alone born. Now that I’m in the habit of putting my thoughts into print (online), I’m inspired to write my own letter—this time to my four-year-old Caleb. So here goes:
First of all, let me tell you something you already know very well. I love you madly. You are, to me, the sweetest, brightest, most loving person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.
You are truly a miracle baby. Your mother was vulnerable in her pregnancy with you and suffered from fibroid tumors; eventually end up on bed rest for the last three-plus months of your pregnancy. We went to St. Francis Hospital regularly 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 had a great conversation with you since we first found out you were on the road. Let me be honest about this – not knowing if you were male or female, we started to think of you as Stephanie (your mom wanted to name her daughter after her grandmother). Believe 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 to his young son a long time ago and told him that he was a bit 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 would be able to 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 had long been convinced that I would live to a ripe old age, and that, besides, I would be in good shape in my last 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 for my regular Wednesday night game in New Britain when you’re a little older. I look forward to coaching you in the sport you want to play. I already know you enjoy basketball, football, soccer, baseball, and more, but I’m not ruling out anything else for you. The world, indeed, is your oyster. Grab it.
Tim O’Brien stated his longings in his letter to Timmy. Let me think of some of my own. I long to watch you get married one day, and look forward to your children joining the family. O’Brien told us how he learned “that a grown man can find pleasure in “whining…smiling, in the wondrous pronunciation 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, Dad.” For you, these words are automatic. I don’t think you know how powerful they are at this point. You can reduce me to virtual nothingness with that phrase.
You have learned so much in your 4 years. When I hear you rhyming, how you sing a brand new song of your own composition, I am thrilled like never before. When you say, as you did this weekend, “Mom, you didn’t dry my hair properly,” I think there are millions of adults who can’t use an adverb at all, let alone properly. Your gifts seem to surpass even my deepest aspirations for you as we waited for your birth. We don’t even have to hover over you while you eat; to make sure you are getting your vitamins. Almost 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, kind, a bit rambunctious, inquisitive, inquisitive, curious, rhymes, sings, drums, plays the piano, wonders, 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’d trade every syllable of my life’s work for another 5 or 10 years with you.” That’s so true for me, Caleb. Obviously, I’m not looking forward to the day I have to leave you on this earth. A father’s “chief 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 will be able to enjoy all the moments we shared together, and that I have taught you well, so that you will be the man you are capable of being.
We like to say that our old relationships are “up there, watching us.” Clearly, this is not something we know to be true; but if that is true, then you can be sure that I will be watching you every step of the way, full of pride that my boy is reaping the success that was his destiny from the beginning.
There are not enough words in my rich 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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