Dear Tristan: Be . . . just Be

Dear Tristan,

Yesterday I wrote about being a powerful person, and how I hope to help you become one. Today’s letter is a bit more about what I believe that means.

I swear, your mom and I didn’t talk very much at all about the topics we planned to write about in these letters to you, and we certainly didn’t coordinate about when we planned to write about each topic. Nevertheless, my letter for you today will have a lot of similarity with her letter.

I titled yesterday’s letter “Be Powerful,” as opposed to “do powerful things,” for a reason. I do not believe that you are the sum total of your actions. I do not believe you are defined by what you do. I wrote that obedience is overrated, because I believe deeds are overrated.

I believe you are not what you do. I believe you are. Period.

When you were still in your mom’s tummy, she and I used to sit and talk with you on the bed before going to sleep at night. I still remember how amazed I was the very first time we felt you move, slightly more thana few weeks more than halfway through her pregnancy. We were sitting there talking about how moms were usually able to feel something before that point, and your mom hadn’t felt anything yet. I reached down and put my hand on her tummy and said something to the effect of, “I wish I could feel you kick, baby” . . . and suddenly you did.

That was the first of many moments when you quite emphatically took your place as part of our conversation. Of course, I have no idea what must have been going on in your still-developing mind at that time, but it was clear, even then, that you had a personality . . . a unique, individual self.

That became all the more apparent once you were born and started expressing needs, desires and opinions. It was very clear, very early, that you usually have a clear idea of what you want . . . and if we try to placate you by giving you something other than what you want, you’ll have none of it!

I love seeing flashes of your personality, and I’m so excited to watch as you get better and better at communicating, because I know that I’ll just get to keep discovering more and more of who you are.

Sadly, most of the people you’ll meet throughout your life will not think of you that way. Instead, most of them will judge your worth, your self, by the actions you take, the talents you build and diplay, and the accomplishments you achieve. They will, as I talked about in an earlier letter, attach labels to you and think that those labels define you.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t bother to ever do anything, but those things that you do, you should do for you – because you want to do them . . . because they fulfill something in you – not because they make you more valuable to somebody else.

What, then, do I value in you?

I love your spirit – your persistence in pursuing what you know you want, even when the rest of us are too dense to get it through our skulls what you’re trying to communicate to us. I love sitting with you on your play-mat for hours on end as you pull yourself up on my hands over and over, let go try to stand on your own, and plop back down, only to haul yourelf back up on my hands again. And again. And again.

I love your joyfulness – the fact that you can get an amazing amount of pleasure out of the smallest things, or even out of just sitting quietly staring at the light coming in through the bedroom window.

I love your curiosity – the way that you love to investigate things . . . like how you look at yourself in a mirror and try to peer around it to the back to see what’s on the other side.

I love your strength – I remember Tammi, the midwife who helped you come into this world, as she felt you still inside mommy and as she described how, even in the process of a very difficult birth, you were just twisting your head this way and that, working your way ever closer to being born. I love the fact that, as difficult as your birth was, your heart-rate never dropped, you never showed signs of struggling – never let all that hard work phase you.

I love how relational you are – as evidenced by the ear-to-ear grin that splits your face whenever I or your mom come into the room after an absence, or the fact that the first thing you do when you’re upset or in pain is reach for me or mommy, even if one of us has inadvertently contributed to the cause of your distress.

I even love the fact that you’re a very emotional kid – you certainly come by that honestly! The way small things set you off and make you inconsolable, the fact that you’re easily frustrated, or the fact that you’re easily overwhelmed by large crowds or loud noises: most parents would, I think, find that frustrating . . . and sometimes I catch myself thinking in those terms as well. But then I stop myself as I realize that’s just me trying to value behaviors (such as settling down instead of crying) rather than valuing you for who you are and investigating what the real need behind your distress might be.

In short, I love who you are . . . the content of your heart and soul and mind. Of course, even in describing these pieces of your personality, I’m describing them in terms of things you do to illustrate them. But it is not the actions I value, but the soul from which they stem. I’m sure I will get great pleasure throughout your life because of the things you accomplish. In fact, I already have! I was so glad to be there when you first rolled over. Lately I’ve enjoyed watching you as you take the first tentative steps toward learning to crawl. I have lots of fun holding your hands as you pull yourself up and try to stand. But these are not the things I love about you. I love to spend time with you, yes. And I’m very happy that you are learning and growing and thriving . . . but that’s not what I love about you. What I love about you is YOU! And as I said in an earlier letter, there’s nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.

I think the love between a parent and a child is the one place here on earth where we get to experience truly unconditional love. I love your mother, don’t get me wrong . . . I love her more than I can express with words, and that’s coming from someone who’s usually pretty good at expressing himself with words! But the love I have for her is the product of four years of incredibly deep friendship, followed by a year of going even deeper as we began to fall in love, a year of engagement, and more than five years of marriage. It’s not truly unconditional, because without the many years of shared experiences and the time spent knitting our hearts closer together, neither of us would feel as we do about each other.

You, I fell in love with about half a second after you were born . . . and it only took that long because I was so startled that you’d finally arrived after you and your mom struggled together through 48 hours of labor! I hadn’t had time to get to know you, hadn’t spent years sharing the best and worst that life had to offer you. I just loved you. For you.

I have learned over the years who your mom is, and have grown to the point where I love her now for her . . . just as much as I do you. I think we miss out on something precious when we value one another for what we do – what we accomplish or are capable of accomplishing. I think that loss is a tragedy that takes something away from not just who we are, but who the person we love is as well, because it tells that person “you are only as valuable to me as the thing you can do for me.”

I don’t want to do that to you. Not ever. I want you always to know that you are an amazing, wonderful person, completely apart from anything that you do or accomplish in your life.

I love you.

Love,
~Dad

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  1. Pingback: Dear Fiona: Do . . . just do – The Unedited Life

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