I’ve missed my dad’s letters over the last year. Well, I guess I didn’t get one during the last year of his life either. He was a prolific letter writer. An art that seems to have disappeared but he wrote to me to mark extraordinary events in my life but also to mark the ordinary as well. He wrote honestly in his larger than life handwriting. (I’ll try to add a picture of his handwriting but we just got a fab new computer and it’s not recognizing my scanner! Good job Apple!) While I was cleaning my office/studio space to make room for this fab new computer, I found many of the letters I had stored away. I guess I shouldn’t say found because I knew where they were. One was dangling off a shelf so I could catch a glimpse of Dad’s handwriting making me cheerful for a second and desperately sad right after.
The letter I’m about to share with you is dated August 12, 1990. I know exactly where my mind was during those days of mid-August. I was saying good bye to my friends and boyfriend one by one. Every day brought a new good bye that kind of hard to stomach as an 18 year old who was scared and excited to go on her next adventure. I know I didn’t want to say good bye to Jay. I remember the night before I left he gave me a rose. He was so shy he actually didn’t hand it to me but he had it on the seat of his car. Saying good bye to Caryn was awful. You can’t always imagine leaving your BFF’s behind. Everyone in my closest circle, except for Bobby, was staying in New York. They would continue to have that in common as I left the comfortable nest of my favorite city.
So, it is safe to say that I did not appreciate or understand the letter my dad wrote to me. I don’t really even remember getting it and I usually remember everything. He had just gotten married – for the third time – and was living in California. The last time I saw him was in June for my high school graduation. But now, I can appreciate and re-read this letter to my heart’s content. The written word has the power to stay true. The spoken word changes in the memory of the person who said it and heard it. The letters are my prized possession and I am the luckiest girl in the world that my Dad knew how to find his heart and how to write from it….
This is a letter I’ve been meaning to write; a letter about how I feel about you and, not incidentally, about how I feel about myself, particularly how I feel about my role as your father.
I think that the most important thing I could have done for my happiness over the last eighteen years would have been to be completely devoted to raising you and David. Instead, I allowed myself to be distracted by work, relationships and emotion. At the end of the day, I have little to show for my attention to those areas; I do, however, have tow children who are more important to me than anything else.
And inspite of my inattention, you have turned out really well and I am proud of you and love you.
You are embarking on a really exciting phase of life: separating from family and beginning to be an independent adult. I hope that at Notre Dame you will find the combination of challenge, learning, and complexity that equals continuous growth. I also hope that you will learn that it is the process, not the attaining of objectives, that makes us happiest; that intense participation is its own reward; that reaching the objective is the natural consequence of having struggled along the way.
You are going to begin a process of better knowing yourself; a process that will require courage and which will enrich your life. Among other things, you are going to want to understand how the events of your childhood reach out to shape the person you are now; how to reconcile yourself as the product of two very different parents; and how to appreciate the impact of our divorce on your life.
I hope that we will be able to discuss these issues in ways that will help inform your understanding. I often wish that my parents, especially my dad, were around to share my recollection of my early life and their separation and divorce. I have lots of fond memories of my parents and would like to be able to compare my memories with theirs. I will try always to be available to you and to re-affirm that, no matter what may have happened, I have always loved you.
And I have only one bit of advice. In the end, people and books cannot teach life; only experience truly teaches. Get as much as you can.
All my love,
I got the opportunity to talk about some of my questions with Dad but my heart and my mind are still filled with so many. I hope the journey that I am on now will give me some of the answers I still crave.