To Aleksander: Year 1

Dear Allie,

I will begin at the beginning.  I write this letter on a Thursday evening a day before your birthday.  It is a Thursday evening that you were born, and it was around this time of 7 pm.  It is both a measure of being more relaxed at a second child being born and also having to care for your older brother that I arrived to see your birth just in the nick of time.  No two births are the same, and yours was proof of that.  No Cesarean, no long wait after labor had been induced, not even enough time for the epidural to kick in on your mother.  I arrived at the hospital and navigated it’s labyrinthine halls to get to the delivery ward, still wondering whether I should have stopped to get that coffee first, figuring it would be a long night.  I waited for a nurse for a few minutes at the nursing station to find out what room your mother was in.  When one finally came she informed me that she was pretty sure my wife was in labor and making a few screams and that I better get down there right away.  I did a somewhat unimpressive jog to the room.  When I opened the door…well it’s hard to describe.  It was a sea of pure femininity.  Numerous nurses stood at the periphery, a doctor stood like a catcher in baseball staring down the birth canal, one nurse on either side holding your mothers legs.  She was screaming in pain, trying to push you out. I stood there somewhat stunned. Quite sure that I was minorly responsible for the present scene due to some past action of mine, but had done little since to earn a place there.  Your mother, was apparently too occupied to notice me, but I assure you I took no offense.  A nurse near the door deftly assumed I was the father and led me through the war zone over to your mother.  Some sort of bloody liquid spurted out of your mother against the doctor’s scrubs.  A nurse stood aside and helped me get a hold of her leg (your mother…not the nurse).  It was at this moment your mother was aware that I was there.  She gave me a glorious smile and all of a sudden she made me feel like I belonged.  She is good at that.  After 3 pushes you came into this world.  I clapped off the dust from my hands, wiped my brow and congratulated myself on a job well done.  Really though your mother was just amazing.  It was beautiful to see, and despite the fact that I saw one life form exit out of another, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  At the end of it all was you, to hold and love.

For 4 years we had only your brother to love, and the love seemed so overwhelming that I actually wondered if I could feel that kind of love for two children.  It sounds like a silly thing to wonder, but I was worried that it wouldn’t feel the same, that I wouldn’t feel as connected, or that my love wouldn’t grow each day in the same way it did with Dhyan.  You’ll be pleased to know that my worries were unfounded.  It is different, because, well, you’re different, but it’s still intense and it’s still wonderful.  I’ll admit that I don’t get the same thrill in watching your firsts as I did with your brother.  There was certainly a sense of wonder watching a baby grow from birth, and that fascination isn’t quite the same with you.  There was something more academic about it all with your brother, which for me is a thrilling experience, but it somehow all feels more personal with you.  You are a wonder in of itself, because I can tell you look like me in features, but you are this light brown hair and blue eyed version of me which just amazes me.  It’s like watching myself with a blue twinkle in my eye.  It’s surreal.  And I also realized a few months ago that really the biggest part of the sense of wonder I felt with your brother is that I was able to watch him unfold with no basis for comparison.  With you there is.  It’s so easy to compare you to your brother at a particular age, but I realize that’s unfair in many ways.  I vowed on that day to just let you unfold as you are.  No comparisons necessary.  I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job and I hope I can keep it up.  You deserve the freedom to be who you are without the context of your brother.  I don’t need you to be more or less like your brother.  I just need you to be you.

I want you to know that I feel a draw to you that I can’t put my finger on.  I do feel there is more of me in you somehow.  We’ll see how time bears this out.  You have this infectious smile and laugh, and a laid back, easy way about you.  You crawl to me when I come home, even when you mother is home and that’s a pleasant surprise, because your brother was always for mommy only as a baby. 🙂  I feel so close to you already, and your personality is only beginning to show.  I am so anxious to meet you, I just can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store.

My favorite memory of you in this first year, is how attached you are to certain music videos.  You seem fascinated by them, sometimes smiling, but always engaged.  I have such fond memories of you sitting on my lap, sometimes erect and alert and sometimes laid back and cuddly.  You have your favorites and playing a different video from the 13 or so songs you like, usually gets you fidgety and unhappy, but play one you like and you’re quiet as a mouse, content.  I love just having you in my arms while we watch music videos.

You also are fascinated with looking up.  When you were a few months old you were very fascinated looking up at the leaves in the tree.  Now it’s lights, fans, ceilings.  You have this gaze upward that fills your face with fascination, excitement, and wonder.  You love when I spin around holding you in my arms, you look up watching the world spin with you.  I love watching that smile on your face.  I don’t need you to be a meteorologist like me, but I do hope you always like to look up in wonder.

I also am more starkly aware of how long each phase lasts having had your brother and in that way I have come to appreciate each moment more with you.  And since I don’t plan to have any other children, I know these moments won’t come again.  Whether it’s cradling you in my arms, singing you to sleep, or comforting you through the pain of teething, it all feels like something more to savor.  You have just started to walk these last few weeks.  The joy on your face and the sounds you make while doing it just delights me to no end.  Soon that too will pass and you’ll just be walking as if that’s what you always did.  I know from experience that when I sit down and write this letter next year you will be so much more than you are now.  I can’t wait for you to unfold this next year.  I can’t wait for the bloom of spring and the warmth of summer.  I know you are going to love it!  Thank you for being more than I could have hoped for and filling a heart to heights of love I never knew it could reach. Happy Birthday!

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Dear New Zealand

At the age of 26 (2000) I was fortunate enough to go to New Zealand.  It was a pit stop on my way to Antarctica where I was helping out with a research project run out of my department at the University of Wyoming to study the stratosphere through balloon launches.  The US Antarctic program launches out of Christchurch, NZ and so I got to spend a day there on the way in, and a spent a week in NZ on the way out.

People say Canadians are friendly, but I have to say this Canadian was humbled by the kindness of the Kiwis.  The closest base to the American base of McMurdo is a Kiwi base.  Every Thursday night the Kiwi base opened theirs to the Americans and it was a few mile trip to go down there to hangout with them in their adorable English style pub on the base, in which the snooker table took up most of the space.  After a couple of visits I got to know some of the Kiwis on the base.  It was a small base and it was the winter season so they were just at a bare bones crew of 17.  When they heard I knew how to make Indian food their eyes lit up as they missed good food badly and said they had all the spices and some onions that were about to turn if they didn’t get used right away and would I mind terribly if I cooked them all some curry.  It was an easy sell for me because they were wonderful people and so me and my colleagues came down on another night, and I cooked dinner and we had a wonderful time.

When I came back to New Zealand I spent a couple days in Christchurch and then went on a hike in their wonderful national park system on the north part of the South Island.  I was not an experienced backpacker and on the first day of the hike, my sleeping bag fell off my backpack without me noticing and by the time I did it was too far to go back and get it.  It was still only spring there and I made it through with just my quilted fleece during the night, but I certainly didn’t sleep well.  So you don’t have to bring a tent, they have these huts along the way of these hikes you can sleep in.  My sleeping bag was returned to the first hut.  When I made it to the hut I was planning on staying in for the night, the lady who was operating the hut said she received word by radio that my sleeping bag had been found.  I told her there was no real way for me to get it.  I was hiking through to another town and then taking a bus back to Christchurch.  I simply expected the sleeping bag as an item I wouldn’t get back.  But the lady there arranged so that the bus I took back to Christchurch would meet a bus leaving from the town close to the first hut at a shared stop by the two buses.  And sure enough it happened.  I was shocked.  The fact that they would make the effort like this to return a sleeping bag that I foolishly lost was amazing to me.

As I wandered around Christchurch one day looking for lunch I found this little restaurant.  It wasn’t really during lunchtime and the place was empty.  A little Maori woman ran the shop.  We chatted for a bit.  She thought for some reason I was a Mormon missionary.  I told her why I had come from the U.S. and I decided to order a burger from her menu.  She was so exciting to make an American an burger and she eagerly awaited my reaction when I ate it.  Other that having meat between a bun it really wasn’t like any burger I had eaten.  It was far better.  Given that she really wanted to replicate an American burger, I don’t think my compliments of it being better than an American burger really assuaged her, but I could she beamed a broad smile knowing that she brought a smile to my face.

When I left New Zealand I had to take a flight from Christchurch to Auckland.  As I walked towards my gate from the check-in counter, I was surprised to find myself suddenly at the gate without having passed through security.  This made me very nervous, and I walked up to a counter and said, “I think I might have taken a wrong turn and walked into an area that I shouldn’t because I’m at the gate and I never went through security.”  The woman just smiled in their easy, friendly manner and said “Oh, don’t worry, there’s no security for domestic flights. I remember just thinking to myself, ‘Where am I?  This country is amazing.’

New Zealand is gorgeous.  Rolling green hills, beautiful beaches, lush forests, snow-capped mountains.  I remember seeing snow capped mountains right next to the ocean as a breathtaking sight, one I hope you all get a chance to see if you haven’t.  The people are incredibly warm and laid back.  They are thrill seekers.  They invented bungee jumping.  They have a ridiculous amount of sheep.  I really wanted to move there.  I still do.  It’s the only place I have visited where I just knew in an instant that I could be happy there.

Waking up this morning to the news of the atrocity there was as heartbreaking as anything I could read.  It is the kind of pain you might feel when something that you held is beautiful has been defiled by a vandal.  I sit here, not knowing if that beauty will be restored, or whether this incident will forever change that wonderful country I fell in love with.  One could argue that I wasn’t there long enough to really know that country, but I would disagree.  At least to the point, where I can say with certainty, that this incident does not define them.

Yet I find that I am not surprised.  If there is one thing this modern age has taught us is that these dark seams run through all societies.  We live in a world that has extremism.  The reason such men do these things is the same for all such extremist.  They are driven by the furthest limits of anger, fear, and despair.  The ideology they say they are fighting for is the exact same as the ideology they say they hate.  Just different costumes.  If they succeed at all, it is only because most humans are not like them, and that is important to remember.  I write this letter to you New Zealand to remind you to not let this incident shatter your national identity.  Be who you are, just do it better.  This is a time for introspection, but from the ashes of this horrible incident show the world how your kindness is the spirit that defines you.  Certainly introspection is warranted here, but remember the power of love and unity to combat hate.  For today and for the near future there are families who are grieving.  Grieve with them.  Regardless of skin color or religion, they grieve as humans.  They have lost, children, spouses, parents, friends…there is more that makes you alike than makes you different.   Let all hearts be as one New Zealand.

To Dhyan: Year 5

Dear Dhyan,

As I write this post, it should be clear that I am now the father of two as it is the evening of Dec. 26th and this is getting done at the last minute.  Usually I’ve started writing these a couple weeks ahead of time as I always want to put some good thought into it and also because I’m just excited to talk about how amazing you are and how you make me feel.

Before your brother was born I was thinking to myself how I would be writing two of these, but wondering how they would be different?  Should I do a combined letter? Is there really something that I want you to know about me that I didn’t want your brother to know?  Now that your brother is here it seems so obvious the different ways both of you excite me.  I also started thinking at what point would I no longer feel the need to write these letters?  After all, if the goal is for you to know who I am at this point in your life, at what age have you figured me out?  And at what point should I just be telling you everything I’m thinking to your face instead of writing it in a letter you might read years later?  I imagine that time is not now, but I am at awe at how perceptive you are. You have a great ability to see things for what they are, but still enjoy it, love it, have a passion for it.   I love that at about you.  There are few things about me that are important enough to me that I would want you to have it, but that is one of them.  The ability to find wonder in the world we live in.  So who knows how many more letters there might be, but probably less than I think.

             You pretending to be a fern.

That being said, the truth is I really don’t understand why you are the way that you are.  I always thought that parenting would be like this constant verbal reinforcement of good values, and how to practice empathy, and that it would be a struggle that you would see come to fruition only years down the road.  And maybe it’s that too, but right now it just feels like you are just suddenly amazing and I don’t know why.  I can’t link it to something I’ve done or told you.  This year you’ve already taken the first step towards understanding charity and I couldn’t be more proud.  Understanding that there’s a way to help people and animals who are in peril is important.  But more than that you are beginning to see your own good fortune and that’s the first step in having gratitude for advantages in your own life.  But I don’t need to tell you these things it seems, somehow you will just figure it out.  I do worry about making sure you have good values, but you keep surprising me by seeming to have them without much effort.  My greatest wish for you and your brother is that you’ll be kind people.  Yeah, you may face challenges greater than I had to face, and people might argue that toughness is more important.  But I don’t feel toughness has to be sacrificed for kindness.  Both are possible, and in general I think people have the wrong idea about what toughness really is.  Kind or unkind there are tough people in this world, but also a lot of people pretending to be a lot tougher than they are.  I feel the reason they pretend is because there is just not enough kindness. So I feel I’m justified in making that my most important goal for you.  And you already are kid. You even make me reflect and look inward and how I can be a better person in this world.  I hope I can be a good guide, but I have no doubt that this will be a journey where we will both grow as humans…together.  I’m so excited for the journey you are going to take me on.

This year you became a brother.  I really didn’t have any doubts you would be a good one.  You are so sweet and loving to your brother.  The only thing I worried about is you getting impatient for your brother to be a playmate.  But you’ve been so patient and understanding both towards him, and towards us as we often have to take care of the baby over playing with you.  When Allie was new, when he’d cry you’d always cover your ears. You hated to hear him in distress.  You still do of course and you even get very flustered at times when you can’t make your brother feel better.  It’s hard for adults too honestly, we just have more psychological tools to fall back on.  But it actually makes me feel more at ease that Allie already has a brother who is so worried about him and loves him so much.  I know, within your ability, you will also do your best for Allie and that means a lot to both your mother and I.  Your brother already responds to you so much.  He’s going to look up to his brother, and I have no doubts you will take that responsibility seriously.

This is the part of the letter where I talk about the year, by the numbers.  Literally. You have shown a great interest in numbers this year.  As a person who loves math, I couldn’t be more excited.  And while your actual math has improved, I’ve more enjoyed your questions which aren’t really aimed at necessarily solving math, but just about numbers in general.  Like how big they are, how they are sequenced, or how they are written.  You sometimes just sit there and ask me to add numbers together.  You’ll be like “what’s 100 plus 17?”  and I’ll say “117”, and then you’ll say, “But then what is 1 million plus 17?”, “Then I’ll say one million and 17”.  You won’t even respond, it’s like you are just processing it all, looking for patterns.  The time I was the most impressed was after telling you very little about multiplication, you suddenly announced that 6 time 2 was 12.  I was stunned.  And for some reason you had decided to count two nobs sticking out of a light fixture 6 times, and just realized how multiplication works.  I have no idea how smart you are compared to other children, but I do feel confident in saying you are a smart boy.  The kind of smart that will serve you well whatever situation you find yourself in life.

It seems I have talked mostly about how amazing you are.  Honestly you are more amazing than I can let on.  I suppose that’s always going to be the case, since I don’t want to give you too big of a head, especially since I might just be heavily biased.  🙂  But I guess I should say a few words about where I’m at right now, since that was the point of these letters.  The truth is, if talking about you so much is any indication, I’d say that I am probably certifiably a dad right now, because talking and thinking about someone constantly is just what you do when you’re in love.  And I’m in love with my boys. 🙂  There are worries in life right now.  The politics in this country are still a shambles.  My job situation isn’t great right now, and I’m a bit worried about that.  Life might have some big changes in it at some point nearer in the future than I thought, but it’s still not that near.  Nevertheless there is sort of a different mindset you get in when things are less secure.  You and your brother are a big part of what keeps my strength up.  I also don’t want to lose precious moments with you, even when there are legitimate things to be stressed about.  Maybe even more so because there are legitimate things to stress about.  Love should always be a light in the darkness.

Before I go, I just wanted to say that it was awesome that we had our first road trip together.  It wasn’t planned that way, but Allie got sick and mommy had to stay home.  It was a great time and I’m going to enjoy having trips with my sons in the future. 🙂

Also, so you know, you are still a clown and can make me laugh like no other.  I will not be shocked in the least if you become a comedian.

All parents say how quickly the time flies with your children, and it would be easy to say that 5 years have flown by.  But truthfully I’m try not to bemoan the loss of the littler version of yourself because I’m just always so excited to see who you are becoming.  I accept the fact that you must grow and no force in the universe can change that.  Why waste time on wondering where the time went, when the present is to be enjoyed?  I plan on just enjoying the journey of being your dad. 🙂

ribbons of gold

when I looked up at the sky
still bleary-eyed and yawning
a drop of light fell into sea of black
morning would soon be dawning

but still in dimness I could see
a sky nearly void of clouds
a stretched out figure in the distance
you were hiding in a darkened shroud

I felt drawn in to your mystery
mind drifting to anxious wonder
what might come of the morn
should I remain there under?

when impatient for the moment
it slips like minnows through one’s fingers
but flowers bloom when they bloom
and time is no perfume that lingers

so I carried on and let worry go
if I was nervous it did not show
I was as a leaf in a river’s flow
and did not tremble at the eastern glow

from silhouette gray and cold
for a time your form was mine to hold
as rising sun let your beauty unfold
and my eyes beheld ribbons of gold

I Have My Reasons

I had this idea in my early 20s that there was an equation that could define what it mean to live a fulfilling life.  I had reasoned this based on what I had observed that seemed common to the well being of all people.  People would generally laugh at me when I’d say something like this just as you may be doing now.  To be sure when I said equation I was describing nothing so trite as x+y=3, or anything like that.  This equation was look and full of many variables.  Some of those variables might be simple, like having oxygen and water.  Other variables could not be settled so easily and they would not have the exact same value for each person.  In fact the same could be true of oxygen and water, but there were certainly variables in that equation which might be more broad and whose details might on the surface look quite different for different people.  An example might be something like art.  Art is important.  For some it’s the doing of art, for others it’s the appreciation and enjoyment of it, for some it’s both.  For some people it’s painting, for some it’s writing, for some it could be making floral arrangements.  I think it’s true to say that I didn’t even have the equation worked out myself and I still don’t but it seems obvious to me that there is common ground when it comes to these variables that can be used for this equation to come up with a solution for a productive and meaningful life.

I was listening to a podcast recently where writer Andrew Sullivan was arguing with Sam Harris that reason could not form a basis for happiness.  This idea was reinforced in another podcast where Russell Brand was trying to make the point on his podcast that this secular world that is edging out religion is also edging out spirituality and thus making our world bereft of meaning in some way.  I would first say that I am not altogether sure that this is even true in that there is a lot of evidence to demonstrate that our world has a lot less suffering (as a percentage of the population) than we had even a 100 years ago.  But let’s say that Russell Brand’s assertion is true in his more deist outlook, and I know many other theists who share similar concerns.  As I look at the person I am now, I am someone who leans strongly in the direction and importance of reason.  More specifically scientific reasoning.  And I reflected on this claim by Sullivan.  Are things like love and spirituality eroded by reason?  If I hold reason, logic, empiricism, and all that stuff as guiding principles in my quest for truth, am I going to miss out on important meaning that could be present in my life?  The anecdote I started with here came to my mind, an idea that came to me from beauty I saw in mathematics, but also the reasoning I had done in observance of the human condition.  So I decided to write a post why I think reason is wonderful, in my humble opinion.

Image result for reason quotes

I will start by saying reasoning can be flawed, but not all reasoning.  Saying reason has no value because reasoning can be flawed is flawed reasoning.

Reason tells us that spirituality is important to humans.  Reason has shown us that you don’t need to believe in the divine to have spiritual experiences.  It’s reasonable to seek spiritual experiences.  When I reflect on why a certain experience was spiritual for me this helps me understand what factors might lead to more of these experiences.

Reason tells us that love is important to humans.  Feelings of intense love can be spiritual, and like spiritual experiences enjoying the emotion and not thinking to much about it the moments is a good idea.  Reason tells us that love is a lot like a drug, and makes act irrationally.  I don’t mind this fact actually.  Being aware of that though can help us think twice making a decision based solely on love, which also isn’t a bad thing.  Just as one might claim that life is more than just reason, life is also more than just love.  And even if love often defies reasons, we know there are reasons why humans love.  When I reflect on the reasons why I love, I understand myself better and this can lead to me having more experiences where I get to have those wonderful feelings of love run through me.

Reason informs me that humans must have meaning or purpose – things that drive us to more, to live another day just for the possibility of fulfilling that purpose or experiencing that meaning.  These things vary wildly among people as there are many ways to find meaning.  Too many perhaps because some seem to not know what direction to go in.  When I use my reasoning skills to evaluate meaning and purpose I feel like I understand how to make life more fulfilling.

Reason tells us that sometimes you have to do things for no reason at all.  Perhaps a better way of putting this is that it’s reasonable to do something that you’ve never done before, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.  It means taking a risk.  Fail or succeed you grow, and spending a lot of time reasoning about the possible outcomes can ruin the value you might get from taking the risk.  Without risk we don’t grow.  Reason tells us that when we stagnate we become apathetic and life loses meaning and purpose.  Time seems to fly by as it becomes routine and this precious existence is over before we know it.  So I’ve reasoned that I need to keep challenging myself, and sometimes it’s made life harder, but never dull.

Reason informs me that we all reason and by being clearer about our own reasons we can better communicate them.  Conversation can help expose us to different lines of reasoning, and help evaluate what lines or reasoning are better, worse, or just different.  Reason tells us that there is no right answer to the best flavor of ice cream, but there is a right answer to how to jump the battery in your car.  And this may be the reason why you have to sit and have an ice cream while you wait for AAA to come and tow your car to the mechanic.

Reason informs me that there are better and worse ways of thinking about problems and that there are rules to reasoning.  Reason has shown how prone to cognitive biases and delusion we are.  Reason tells me that it is hard to overcome these problems and it takes being conscious of it, and takes perseverance to continue to learn and to be reflective.   When we aren’t aware of how our reasoning can be flawed that’s when conversation can breakdown.  And once we can no longer have conversations through shared norms of sound reasoning, when conversation fails to resolve our differences, reason tells us that violence becomes a much more likely option in resolving differences.

Reason tells me that even though emotion can often guide my reasoning, I serve my compassion better when I detach emotion from reasoning because life also isn’t all about how I feel about it.  Reason tells me sometimes I have to step outside of myself so I can be more sure that reasoning isn’t flawed by my emotions.

Reason tells me that ignorance might be more blissful, but that there is nothing about life that says it is supposed to be one happy moment after another.  Sometimes reasoning will make us sad, anxious or scared.  But we can use that to drive us to make the world a better place and not let ourselves be paralyzed by it.  If more people used this type of reasoning, reasoning would lead to less experiences of sadness, anxiety and fear.

It’s reasonable to assume that you might not agree with my reasoning, but it was important for me to demonstrate that reason doesn’t have to be the antithesis to meaning and that it can actually enhance it.  It also may be that my reasoning is flawed.  There is a reason why I write a blog to have conversations.  There is also a reason that I keep trying to learn more, because good reasoning sometimes just requires more information.  There is a reason why I love reason, and hopefully you love it a little more after reading this.

To Dhyan: Year 4

Dear Son,

Since I decided to start doing the letter to you, it’s funny how I start thinking about all year as I note things I want to say.  But you go through so many changes that some new always inspires me to say more about it, that by the time I get to writing, I find it hard to focus on any one thing.   Ultimately this year’s letter is getting a partial eclipse from a new brother on the way.  But don’t get upset that your brother is already sharing the spotlight before even arriving, I’ll discuss more about this later.

There is no question that as each year passes I simply love you more.  As your personality evolves, as you start to develop your own identity, you simply are no longer someone I just love because you are my son, but because of the qualities you possess as an individual.  Love is a beautiful duality now.  My love for you both defies reason and is because of reasons.  It’s a wonderful place to be.  You continue to be sweet, silly, kind, and inquisitive.  I love the questions you ask now.  You often use the phrase “in this world”.  I am not sure you really understand how big it is, but I like the fact that you have started to think about that bigger picture.  It is also amazing how happy it makes me to see you be able to do things yourself.  A month ago, you went into a public restroom all by yourself and didn’t want me in there.  The other day you warmed up a waffle in the microwave all by yourself.  Your firsts have always made me happy, but as you grow and these things become more complex it brings not only joy, but even a sense of peace that you are a little closer to surviving on your own.  I suppose there will come a day that I will miss you being more dependent on us, but in the end parenting is to teach you to become more and more self-sufficient. I guess it just makes me feel satisfied as a parent to see these accomplishments even if they are trivial in the big picture.  It’s honestly why I am loving fatherhood so much, because of how much joy you bring to things that I previously thought of as trivial, if I thought of them at all!

You are also developing a strong will.  These last couple of months you’ve been getting a bit more angry when you don’t get your way and being more defiant.  Given how wonderful your disposition is in general, this is sometimes hard to take, but I sense this is just the beginning of a battle of wills.  But I just want you to know that we think, all the time, about the why you need to listen to us, not just that you listen to us, and so even though it breaks our hearts to make you upset at us, we know we are doing the right thing.  I know you have to test your boundaries, and I hope you keep doing that in life, because to go anywhere in life, you need to cross a few boundaries, if not many.

Your love of dinosaurs continues, and you don’t just love dinosaurs but know their names and things about them.  You’ve also show an interest in crystals, and plants.  You seem to have a very steady hand for using scissors and decorating cookies.  I don’t know what it all adds to but you have officially said you want to be a geologist because you want to dig up dinosaur bones and learn more about crystals.  As I look back on this year, all I can say is that I am excited to see you grow more as a person.  I don’t know how much you can project forward from the person somebody is when they are 3 or 4 into adulthood, but I feel like you are always somebody who is going to make me proud.

You’ve also become more fearful to the latter end of this year.  You say, “I’m not scared of anything, I’m just scared”.  You want us to go with you upstairs at night, stand guard of the bathroom door, hold your hand.  It’s natural I suppose.  It’s healthy to have a bit of fear, but it sometimes feels hard to know that you’ve become worried about harm coming to you, even though you’ve not experienced any real harm.    I guess it’s just part of your developing emotions, and also because the love you feel is stronger and deeper than before, loss must weigh on you greater than before.  I wish I could explain to you that fear is healthy, and that conquering your fears is a great feeling, but ultimately something nobody else can do for you.  In time you will sort out which things are worth fearing, but for now, I am happy to hold your hand.

There is an asymmetry of course to our relationship right now, in that I have the advantage of knowing almost everything about you, and having a decent chance of remembering much of it, but you do not.  Of course, I can tell that in this last year you are understanding more about what kind of person I am as well, the fact remains is that there is so much about my life that you do not yet know.  There is much about the world that you are not aware.  This year has been a tough year.  We live in one of the most powerful countries on the planet, and right now it is being run by a terrible human being.  The government at large is generally void of compassion, and everything I and your mother stand for. Times feel quite uncertain, and I’ve been more worried and down about the world than I’ve been in awhile.  I hope that things are much better by the time you are old enough to read this letter, but life may have bigger changes than I or your mother can imagine right now.   You will notice that as you get older and more aware of the world, that there are simply more bad things to know about.  You try to balance this out with the good, but it can be a struggle.  I know intellectually that all the goodness that humans have isn’t being talked about, and you just mostly are going to hear bad news, but sometimes knowledge can’t override your emotions.  Coupled with the fact that history teaches us countries do fall, and life gets significantly worse, there is a shadow on the future that I find hard to shake.  Suffice to say there have been times when I’ve let you watch a bit too much TV just so that I could sit next to you or cuddle with you on the sofa.  If a daddy’s arms make you feel safe, your touch makes me feel peaceful and lets me forget about the world for a while.

And so, in this next year, life is going to become very different for you as your brother comes into being.  Once again, the difference between what I know and what I feel clashes.  When we first thought about having another kid, it was our joy of being a parent to you that wanted us to multiply that joy by having another.  And yet as your mother’s due date approaches I find myself feeling a little sad in a way.  You have been my world for 4 years and now there will be another child to pay attention to as well, and I will no longer be able to give you completely undivided attention.  I don’t know how much other parents experience this, but all I can think about right now is what I’ll be losing, and not what will be gained.  It’s hard for me to imagine that there will be more than one child to love.  And while I know my love for you won’t diminish, the fact remains that there will just be less of me available to you.  At the same time, I know that your mom will have less time for you too with a new baby, and that we might possibly grow even closer now because you will not be able to rely on your mom quite as much, especially while your brother is very small.  And then part of me also feels bad that I don’t feel the same excitement for your brother as I felt for you, and that every first your brother does, will be something you’ve already done and wonder if it could feel as special as it is with you.  I’m probably overthinking it all.  There will be lots of love in this house and if my joy is doubled come April, I will truly be a fortunate man.  I also know for certain you will be a wonderful brother even if at times it will be frustrating to have to share attention.  I know your brother will come into the world a luckier baby than you, simply because he will have 3 people to love and care for him as he grows instead of just two.

Thank you for another wonderful year son.  You bring me more laughter and joy than I can describe. Happy Birthday!  I love you so much!

Of Babies and Bathwater

The recent stream of women standing up against sexual harassment and sexual criminal activity has once again brought to the fore the idea of heroes and perfection.  Something I said I was done talking about, but the subject I guess is just an intriguing one to me and thought I’d share a few more thoughts.  I’d like to extend this discussion beyond those accused of sexual harassment or other sex crimes in general, but to a discussion of flaws and the severity of those flaws.

I’ve been listening and reading discussions about where do we draw the line and forgive someone’s acts?  I’ve wrote a piece about Bill Cosby some time ago, and I think most people agree that given he is a serial rapist it’s hard to ever watch him again.  But some feel differently about Louis CK or Al Franken.  Now some might say this is because politics are playing a role, like in the case of Franken, or because you are just such a big fan of their comedy in the case Louis CK.  It’s hard to say that’s not the case, but I do think it’s more than that.

As I try to learn about human behavior there are two things that seem clear to me.  We are all morally inconsistent to varying degrees, and we all draw lines that cannot be crossed and those lines are different for different people.  As I’ve written before, I think we have this ability to elevate celebrities, leaders, and historical figures to unrealistic expectations of perfection.  With historical figures of course we might be applying today’s moral standards to those people and unfairly judge them, but I don’t always think that doesn’t have value.  We don’t have to judge, but I think there is value in looking at the flaws and inconsistencies in their thinking so that we can avoid those same pitfalls of character today.  Gandhi was someone I idolized, and still do to a certain extent, but more reading into his character has revealed his racism against black people, and his misogyny. Should I throw away Gandhi as someone who is a waste of my time to even try to appreciate now that I know?  I don’t think so, but I certainly see how he could have been more than he was, and can take those good parts, acknowledge (without judgment) the bad parts and move forward.

But what of those people who we find to be less than perfect today?  People who we deem should know better.  It’s a tricky business.  There might be an average moral perspective, and that perspective might even be backed by empirical data that shows it is a more moral behavior, but culture varies widely, and even when we see the overwhelming benefits of something like gender equality it seems very hard to get everybody on board.  If we investigate the most common set of moral values of people in a white evangelical community in the South, we’d find many differences between them and a community in Boulder, Colorado.  And the difference may even deviate greater as we go beyond the borders of our country.  What seems to be the prevailing moral view of our times is heavily biased by the culture we are currently in.  It could be we are in the minority.  And even if we are right about what is a more moral actions, and we are right to push those views on to society, it may be difficult for others to agree with our perspective.  Of course it’s also true that any one moral perspective is not all that we care about in this world.  We all have sets of moral values, and while it would be nice to think that anybody who is a feminist must automatically be also pro-environment, pro marriage equality, or against racism, the dots don’t always connect, nor do I think we should expect them to.  If we can have a head of the human genome project also be an evangelical Christian, I think that we should expect that any human is able to hold as true, two widely disparate views on how the universe works.

But where does that leave the rest of us.  It seems that it’s human nature to be constantly looking for people that we can look up to, that we can celebrate and that we can strive to be like.  It maybe isn’t surprising that we should do this.  Seeing something we value, embodied by another human being makes us feel like it’s possible for us to be that way to.  Such people can also make us care about things we didn’t before, or care about things in a deep way we never thought possible.  And when we find out their flaws there is a feeling of betrayal that feels personal even if we didn’t know them personally.  But I think that on a deeper level what we really worry about is what it says about us.  “This person I admired is not who I thought, so am I not who I thought as well?”  I certainly had these thoughts growing up with an alcoholic father.  My dad went from superhero to an extremely flawed individual, and I wondered how I might be flawed and how I would even recognize it?  And to be honest I still do sometimes.

I’ve tried to incorporate the best of my dad into who I am, because there is no changing the past.  I was born with dad I had, and there is no getting around that.  I can be a better dad myself going forward and that’s all I can do.  I’m not for burning people to the ground because of their flaws.  Even with Bill Cosby I can acknowledge the skill in which he told jokes and stories, and his passion for education and I can say that these are good things and are meaningful.  Maybe I can’t watch him anymore, but there was at least some goodness in him.  I feel similarly for Scott Orson Card who wrote an incredibly beautiful science fiction story and won a well-deserved Hugo award.  He is now a strong anti-gay activist in the Mormon community.  But the ideas and themes in his story are worth preserving and even celebrating.  I don’t want to turn those ideas to dust just because there is now a side of him I fundamentally disagree with.  When I think of heroes in my personal life right now, there are 3 ladies that are supervisors for the program I do volunteer work for helping neglected and abused children.  They work long hours, train volunteers, do fundraisers, and deeply care about the welfare of the most vulnerable members of our society.  What if I found out that one of them donated money to a pro-life organization, or was racist?  Does this invalidate all that they are?  Have they still not made the lives better for 100s if not 1000s of children?  At what point does the line get crossed?  Perhaps if I found out they have abuse their own children.  I in no way imagine that’s possible, but maybe given that we are walking paradoxes I should accept that such things are possible.

In the end maybe we all at least share some of the blame for the expectations we place on people, who can never be perfect.  Perhaps the reason I think about “heroes” so much is because with an alcoholic father these are questions I’ve been asking all my life.  What I’ve tried to do is to understand human behavior and accept the imperfections we all have.  I’ve also tried to place value on growth.  Knowing we all do things or have done things that are bad, what’s most important is that we accept responsibility, have true remorse and try to do better.  I think the exposure of these imperfections is helpful to all of us in this respect, and even when it is sometimes hard to hear (or read) I am thankful to see the cracks in perfection.  I actually prefer such a world, because it simply feels truer.  It feels like there is somewhere to go.  And it is a reminder to be humble, for we all have our cracks and flaws.  It’s easy to push the famous people and the historical figures away, because they really aren’t part of our everyday life, but that line we draw can become real hard to draw when it’s someone who is actually close to us.  So I think it’s always important to recognize that complexity, the dynamic nature, and the shades of gray in humans.  Maybe it’s significant that the devil was only made by being cast down to the very depths of hell.  Maybe we can make our stands and still find ways to love.