Happy #7 Big Man!!
When I was your age, my family was living in the English countryside. At school I complained about not having my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and refused to eat Yorkshire pudding or whatever strange fare they were trying to sneak past me. The kids at school took offense and I got in some fights over it. Can you say Ugly American in training.
Lately I’ve been encouraging you to be more open to other foods. You cannot live on hot dogs alone. But truth be told, I too was a picky eater, squeamish and fearful of food that was not familiar to me. If little Daddy made a stink about the English food, it was just one of many stinks to come.
Your temperament, on the other hand, is so sunny. You are so eager to please and invariably have a smile on your face. But come on, you don’t always need to be so agreeable. As you grow older, it’s normal to question things, to experiment, to carve out your own identity, and to cultivate your own opinions as you try to make sense of this messed up and equally beautiful world — and your place in it. You must be confused about so much that is going on around you, yet you give the impression of cheerfully going with the flow. Lately you’ve been developing a greater sense of self, declaring “No!” to your little brother when he tries to provoke you. That is good to see.
When I was 7, I was starting to become aware that my mom and dad didn’t get along so well. There was a visible display of emotion, and not the good kind. Ben, I wish we had more time together and lived under the same roof. But at the same time, I am grateful that you will be spared the family strife and the anguish that is visited upon us when mom and dad don’t get along. On your birthday, I reflect on two things that I didn’t mess up: First, I helped bring you into this world, and second, I gave you a Mommy whose love for you knows no bounds. You have two parents, a brother and an extended family who adore you. You are in good hands.
I love the way you have taken to Papa. He doesn’t have a lot of people in his life and his other grandkids live far away. So it means the world to me that you have developed a special bond with him. I would like to share a letter Papa wrote me when I was not much older than you are now. It was on Feb. 10, 1977, right after his mother, your great-grandmother, had died.
Dear Adam: I wanted to let you know how important to me your love for my mother has always been, and how often I have thought of it and how much comfort it has been to me. You were precious to my mother, and you are precious to me and to everyone who knows you. When I think of my mother’s death, of how hard and bitter it was, and of how little comfort she could take from those who cared for her, I think also of your love, of your attending to her, of your sweetness and grace when you were near her. Happy Birthday and all my love to you — Daddy.
Thirty-four years have passed and the context is different, but otherwise this letter captures how I feel about you, Ben. You have the sweetest nature and the most soulful eyes I have seen. You are compassionate. You are so kind and affectionate with all of us. And you are the very best cuddler in the whole wide world. I love that you find comfort and security in my arms–it feels good to be needed and to have earned your trust.
Although you’re not able to read this letter, I have faith that one day you will. Let this birthday letter serve as a record, as my father’s letter did for me. You can consult it from time to time, to remind yourself of a simple, singular truth — that your Daddy loves you and always will.
Happy Birthday Benny!! Love Daddy
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