To my estranged grown son: I’m writing this because we could never have this conversation in person. I just want to let you know how I feel about you and to tell you some of the things that often feel too awkward to say. I know our relationship hasn’t always been the best through these years. I’m sorry for that. I hope you know how much I love you and how much I want the best of everything for you and Shawn.
I remember being your age and promising myself that I’d do a better job of being a dad than my dad did. I knew he loved me but there seemed to be something missing which was that he never told me he was proud of me or loved me. He may have said five times that he loved me, and I never knew how he would treat me from day to day. I was scared of him when I was younger. He just didn’t get me and what it was like to be a teenager and he never liked the friends I had. Now I look back and he was right about the people I chose to run with because most of them never made anything of themselves. He did a great job of providing for us and we always had what was needed. But I knew in my teenage heart that somehow I would be a better dad than he was. I can say even today I never knew my dad and we never had a serious talk. I believe now it came from the way he was raised and serving in the Korean war which he would not talk about.
I remember meeting your mom the first time she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. I was going through a bad breakup from my high school sweetheart, but after going out with your mom I forgot about everything. She was the best looking lady that has ever come out of McLeansville.
I didn’t know then how complicated being a dad could be. You don’t remember, but when you were a little child it was so easy to connect with you. From the start you and Shawn were always the bright spark in my life. It was so much easier then to hug you and to let you know how proud of you I was. Coming in the door and getting a hug from you was like a breath of life for me at the end of a long day. We could sit and play or read and it was so easy to be together.
Time is a strange thing. It’s hard to appreciate what you have until you’re looking back at it. Those days are gone and exist only in happy and bittersweet memories. How can happy memories make me so sad?
Did I hug you enough back then? Did I really appreciate what I had. Probably not. Those were the easy years to be a dad. You thought I was the greatest thing in the world.
As you got older you wanted to spend more time with your friends. I stopped being so smart in your eyes and slowly started to become someone on the outside looking in. It got harder to get hugs, to express my feelings and to connect with you. The distance hurt some, but life is busy and complicated. Time kept marching on. I think during that time I may have tended to focus more on making money, playing golf and the daily grind. You were doing things on your own and facing the world with all of its challenges and dangers. I watched you succeed and make mistakes and come out a strong man. You were still a shining light in my life and I shared your joy with you when you succeeded. But the harder part was letting you feel the pain of failing or making mistakes. Every pain in your life was a small pain in mine too. I still loved you then as much as the day you were born.
Did I show you that?
Did you realize that?
I’m not sure I did enough.
These memories are more painful than those from when you were younger. I feel like there were some missed opportunities. You were finishing grade school. Family was still a large part of your life. Did I spend too much time worrying about my job or playing golf and, yes, drinking? Was I focused on some of the wrong things? YES. When you asked me to come throw the baseball or play basketball and I was doing some pointless thing, and I told you, “not now.”
What was I thinking?
How could I be so stupid?
I look back now when your mom was moving to Florida with Ricky. I did not want that man teaching or influencing you because I knew he was not a figure for you to grow up watching. I told your mom it did not matter the cost but she was not taking you with her. I now look back and realize that was what I wanted. I was not concerned about what you wanted. What I thought was the right call could have been the start of some of our problems that exist today.
Was I being selfish?
Was I not considering your feelings?
Was I separating you from your mom?
Was it my self pride?
Time cranked on whether I was ready for it or not. Your high school years have probably been the hardest for me and you. That’s when the walls went up. Somehow, I went from being the world’s greatest dad to being something that was standing between you and “freedom.” Did I act with too much justice and not enough mercy? Was I deaf to your cries for help as you struggled through these years?
If this ever happened… I am so deeply sorry. That’s not what I meant to do. Even though sometimes you made it your business to be as hard to love as you possibly could, I still loved you as much as the day you were born. In fact, there was so much more to love in the man that you were becoming but the painful thing is that I had fewer and fewer ways to show you my love. Those darn walls we build. You will never know the number of prayers I said for you and your sister.
I remember when I was a teenager, how many hats I had to wear to please all of the people in my life. I had to be a good son, a good student, a good brother, a good worker, and a good friend just to name a few. I remember feeling that it was so hard to please all of these people. It was as though I had multiple personalities. Sometimes I didn’t even know which one was me. Do you feel that way sometimes? I never really showed any of them which one was the real me. I was afraid they wouldn’t like some of the parts.
That’s what I wanted to change when I became a dad. I wanted to be friends with my kids. At the time, it seemed like such a simple solution. I was naive in this as a teenager, I didn’t realize that one of the most important parts of being a dad is to help guide your child and be a rock that they knew would always be there. My first job is not to be your friend it is to be your dad. But I still wanted to be your friend.
We have had many rough times. Things didn’t always go as I planned and I didn’t always make the right calls. Then things went wrong and we ended up shouting and you told me you hated me. If I could just relive those moments, I would control my temper and take back some of the things I said or maybe try to see it from your point of view.
By this point our hugs and easy affection have become nearly impossible. You think they were awkward and I probably don’t try hard enough to break through your walls. How did I let this happen? What I have found through years of mistakes is that the same walls that we put up to keep ourselves from others also block out God. God doesn’t just tear down the wall and hit us over the head with the right answer to our problem. He lets the wall stay in place but keeps reaching out and loving us anyway.
What I want you, Shawn and my granddaughters to know is that I love you all so much. I always have and I always will. Just as there is not a way to make God stop loving my kids and granddaughters, there’s nothing you can do to take away my love for ya’ll.
One thing that my years have taught me is that in the moment it’s happening, you may not understand the purpose of that particularly painful event that’s entered into your life. We must give it distance and time, though, as well as openness to God’s hand. You are a grown man from who you were to who you are now. God is much better at weaving the fabric of our lives than any dad can be. In my goal of making you into a good strong Christian man I may have messed up . I am so sorry for that. Please know that I am only a man and I make many mistakes. I know that God can use this for His good.
Your life is just beginning. One day you might want to be a dad. Although I tried to be the best dad that I could be, I hope you are a better dad than me. It hurts my heart to know that there were probably times that you felt like I didn’t love you enough, that you felt misunderstood, or that I was unjust or just not paying attention. Son, I want to be there when you and your wife have your first child. I want the chance to be called “grand paw” or “Paw Paw” and possibly take them fishing or just to spend good old fashion time just talking.
Sam, will you please forgive me for the things I have done or put you through?
Being a dad can, at times, seem painful and thankless. But it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thank God every day that he’s given me the blessing of having you and Shawn even though we don’t have a relationship as of now. The only thing I can do for now is to pray that one day you and Shawn can find it somewhere in your hearts to forgive me and know I am only human.
I apologize for not hand writing this letter but I was never known for my penmanship and wanted you to be able to read what I have written.
Warm heart! Warm hugs!