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When You Sleep

Dear Son,

“The Flash” is a TV show I’m sure I’ll introduce you to when you’re old enough, maybe both versions, the current one playing in 2017, and the one that was on air in the early 90s, when I was the same age I imagine you are when you’re reading this letter for the first time.

The third season concluded a few weeks ago. It was okay, at best. It definitely didn’t come close to the brilliance of the first season, and I doubt any future season ever will. But there was one moment this last season that sticks with me. It makes me think of you.

Minor spoilers ahead, son. But that’s okay. Life is short; you have to read some spoilers every now and then.

So there’s this scene late in the season where Detective Joe West is sitting on the couch with his adult daughter, Iris. They both know Iris is destined to die in a few days at the hands of the season’s Big Bad, Savatar. They know this because of, well, time travel shenanigans.

Joe feels helpless to protect his daughter, and to convey his helplessness, he tells her how he would watch vigilantly over her when she was lying in her crib while she slept when she was an infant. He was terrified she would stop breathing and die, because sometimes, sadly, that does happen with newborns. He would watch her sleep every night, and often times, even place his hand on her chest to just will her to keep, keep breathing. (The actor who plays Joe is the unsung hero of this show, able to deliver such great, touching moments like these.) You were a couple of months old when it episode first aired, and when I watched it, it was like a punch in the gut.

I know how Joe felt.

I don’t dramatically watch over you as you sleep at night, but oh, how often your mom and I check on you. Even though you sleep in our room, we have the baby video monitor on the bed between us so we can check on you. If you sleep more than a few hours, I’ll awake anxious, and sneak over to your crib and place a hand on you to make sure you’re still breathing.

When you go down to sleep a little too quickly, I worry about that too.

I so often feel neurotic about this worry your mom and I have, but I’m told it’s perfectly normal, and it goes away a little more and a little more as the first year mark approaches. Knowing your mom and I, we’ll keep on worrying even longer.

You probably don’t understand this just yet, and likely won’t until if and when the time comes for you to have kids of your own.

But the silver lining: Every morning, when I hear you stirring and I walk over to your crib, and I see your eyes light up when you see me, it is a little miracle. Pulling you into the bed with us and snuggling as a family – Jessica Jones too – for a few minutes is my favorite part of the day.

Love,

Dad

 

 

First Father’s Day 

Dear son,

Today is my first Father’s Day as a father. Yours. Your dad.

Father’s Days have been weird for me for a long. I lost my own dad 15 years ago. We had a complicated relationship at the end, one I’m still processing to this day. And every year, all the marketing and attention that is given to the day, I fight it with gallows humor at times, but it always stings a bit when I get an email or some ad geared towards buying your dad something for Father’s Day.

***

This morning, I was in the kitchen making breakfast, your mom was still in bed asleep, and I heard you begin to stir, start to talk to yourself in your crib. I put aside whipping the eggs for a moment, and came back to say good morning, and you greeted me with a smile, as you often do. And in that moment, it really sank in that Father’s Day has a new meaning for me now.

***

I took Jessica Jones out for a walk a while later, and when I came home, your mom had placed some gifts, a couple from you, cards you made at daycare.

***

In the years to come, I’m sure you’ll give me gifts and kind words on this day. But this year, know that you are the greatest gift to me.
Love,

Dad

A Couple Months Later

Dear son,

It’s been over two months since I’ve written a post here. A lot has changed since. You’ve already grown so. It feel like a lifetime ago, and yet just yesterday at the same time. Mom’s honey back to work. You’ve started daycare. 

Right now, your mom is grocery shopping at the new Aldi’s she’s really excited about, and I’m typing this one-handed. My other arm is under you. 


A lot has changed for me outside of the home. I quit a comfortable job, one that was good, but long past time for me to leave. I’m entirely self-employed now in a few different fields, and I’m navigating that. 

I worry sometimes I am not present enough for you. I know it’s all for providing for you, but I still feel guilty. 

******

It’s different writing to you now that you’re here. Before you were born, you were an abstract idea. Now you’re here. It feels strange to write to a Future You, with You very much here with us now. 

But still, this is me here saying I’m going to get back to writing you more regularly. 

*****

Mom’s home from shopping now, and you’re awake. 


It’s time to get on with the day. 

Love you, son. Will write again soon. 

Dad

Mom

Dear son,

This last week was the nine-year anniversary of my mom’s, your grandma Jean’s passing. With each passing year, I find the anniversary is less and less on my conscious mind as the day approaches. Your Aunt Kim texted me the day before this year, “I’ll be thinking of you tomorrow” and it took me a moment to figure out why she was saying that. Of the memories I have of my mom, I try not to dwell on her final days. I was in the room – along with her and your aunts – when both her and your Grandpa Huck passed a few years before, and they’re not memories I care to revisit. That said, I will say this: Mom knew how much it affected her kids watching their dad take his last breathes, and so I don’t find it mere happenstance that she did not pass in two or three hours I sat next to her hospital bed reading while Nancy and Susan slept on the other side of the room, but in the twenty minutes after I lied on the floor next to her bed with a pillow and blanket. Her kids were asleep next to her when she passed, given the news by the nurse who came into check on her.

It’s so easy to read meaning that isn’t there into such moments of life, but it’s that meaning that helps us carry on.

I tried not to dwell on mom’s passing on the anniversary, but her being gone did creep in  little ways. The day before, a massage client, a parent and grandparent herself, who had known of your impending arrival for several weeks, responded to my stories of my new sleep habits since your birth by saying no matter how old one’s kids get, parents never sleep the same knowing their kids are somewhere out in the world. “Your mom doesn’t sleep the same, Dennis” she said, a well-intentioned sentiment I let pass without comment.

Otherwise, I was just a little off on the anniversary, a little down without thinking about why, except for a fleeting moment here or there.

It’s so hard to sum up with a person with a few descriptions, a couple of stories, and I’m sure by the time you’re reading this, you’ll have seen plenty of picture and heard tales of Grandma Jean from your aunts and cousins and me.

***

A few months before she passed, I was home visiting, and the family went to a mall. I had just started dating someone new a few months before. By that point, I already knew the relationship probably wasn’t going to last the long haul, but still, I found myself wondering over to a jewelry store, casually looking at items in the glass cases. Grandma Jean strolled up, looked at the rings, and said, “So when are you going to propose?” I dismissed the idea with a laugh, pointing out this woman and I had only been dating a few months, and asked her what the hurry was.

“I want more grandchildren,” she said, sadly.

I can imagine her holding you. She would have loved you.

***

The last few months, but in particular, the last few weeks, I have had to make the adjustment of looking at my wife- who I have known as Betsy, Elizabeth (her more formal name she’s known by in a few professional circles), Hon, and Love (my favorite term of endearment for her) – as also your mom. Perhaps more rewarding than becoming your dad, I’m watching her become your mom, seeing that how it changes her day by day. Not to say these early days of parenthood have been easy – it’s been a struggle many days – but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ve found myself thinking a lot of the little things your grandma did for me.

I didn’t appreciate my mom enough growing up. I considered myself a much a “mama’s boy”, much closer to her than my dad, and even still, I didn’t wasn’t grateful enough for the hard work of simply being a parent that she did for me day in and day out. I remember once I asked to make me a cheeseburger for dinner, and when she handed me my plate with a cheeseburger only and no fries, I threw a fit because, as far as I was concerned, a request for a cheeseburger was, obviously, also a request for fries. I would ask for a glass of water or tea or whatever with dinner, and then complain if it wasn’t filled all the way to the top.

A non-food related story: One night in high school, my girlfriend was out with friends in another town a half-hour away, and I was afraid she wasn’t safe. (My high school girlfriend had a rough family life, and there’s a story in that about the first high-stakes confrontation I had with an adult, me being a 16-year-old kid, and I’m sure I’ll tell you that story sometime.) Anyway, my mom got out of bed at eleven o’clock at night and drove with me to the other town to go searching for my girlfriend. When we found her, it turned out the entire thing was a misunderstanding on my part (it’s been over 20 years, so I can’t remember the details much at all), and there was no rational reason why I should have thought she was unsafe. Mom gave me just one, fleeting “I’m going to kill you” look, but after that night, she never brought it up again.

Why am I telling you this? Because, again, no child appreciates their mom enough, and having lost my mom almost a decade ago now, I regret all the times I didn’t show her the appreciation she deserved. And now, a little over month into your life, I’m watching your own mom with you, with you attached to her several hours everyday, her literally giving her body for you, and even as I’m saying this to you, I don’t know if I appreciate her enough day in and day out, but I want to make sure you do.

During your cluster feeding phases, I’ve watched your mom breastfeed you near constantly for hours at a time. She’s been with you when your fussy and near-inconsolable all day long while I’ve been at work. While I do what I can, it’s your mom who sits up every two or three hours in the middle of the night to feed you.

And oh yeah, she pushed you through the most delicate part of her body, a 12-hour marathon of pain you and I will only ever be able to imagine.

***

I imagine pulling up this particular entry on a day in your early adolescence when you’re being impatient and demanding on your mom. I imagine your rolling your eyes at me and mocking me, but I also imagine my message getting through, and you going to give your mom a big hug.

***

One last story about Grandma Jean.

A few weeks after she passed, I dreamed one night we were riding in a car together. She was driving. We were sitting at a red light, and she was telling me a story about something, I can’t recall what, but she was very into the telling, so much so, she didn’t notice when the light turned green. The cars behind us began honking, and then pulling around. I was just about to tell her when I realized I was dreaming, and she would be gone again once I awoke.

So I stayed quiet and listened to her for as long as I could.

 

 

 

Sleepless in Chicago

“Get ready to not sleep.” – the first words every parent said to me when I told them your mom and I were expecting you

*****

You’re two weeks old today, son. I’m writing this right now in our bed in our Chicago condo; your mom is breastfeeding you next to me. A little bit ago, we put you down to bed so we could have dinner, which he had to make quick, because you decided you were still hungry too. I am eating a beef and cabbage stew as I write this. The stew was the gift of a friend who stopped by to meet you the other night, and to also visit with Jessica Jones.

“I love our life,” I just said to your mom as I got situated on the bed here with my laptop. “It’s a little strange right now, but I love it.”

Such is the life of parents to a newborn child.

*****

Your mom and I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in two weeks. There were a couple of nights when we first brought you home where there was practically no sleep at all. Your mom would breastfeed you, you’d have gas from the feeding after that upset you, and by the time we had you calmed down, you were hungry again. We had one night where you only woke up once, and we had to wake you to feed you. That was a night your mom and I deconstructed the next morning trying to determine what we did right and how we could recreate it. Alas, no luck so far. Most nights have been somewhere in between the two. We have worked out a pretty good system: You start crying, I get up and unswaddle you, change your diaper while your mom gets ready to feed you. I hand you off and rest for a while. After 20 minutes, 40 minutes, sometimes over an hour, you’re sated. Your mom hands you off to me, tries to go back to sleep. I do another diaper change if need be. I keep you sitting up for 20 minutes or so, otherwise, you’re too fussy to sleep. Then I put you back in your swaddling blanket, and put you back in your crib.

That’s the idea. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Last night, for example, you ate for over an hour, and just when we thought we had you calm enough to go back to bed, you began crying and smacking your lips again. Your mom, overwhelmed, wept as you began feeding once more. Eventually, you went back to sleep. But last night was one of the rougher ones.

*****

It sounds like we’re unhappy or perhaps bitter, but we’re not. Actually, we’re both handling these first couple of weeks better than what we thought we would.

You’re mom and I, you see, we both love our sleep, and neither of us are much good with functioning without it. That said, your mom and I go about getting our sleep a little differently. I’m very much a morning person; she would stay up every night until 3 or 4 in the morning if she could. The biggest source of conflict between us when we first started dating was over sleep. I was working seven days a week at the time, going to work in the mornings, and so I wanted to be in bed early. Your mom had a more laid back schedule, and she preferred staying up later.

Over the years, our sleep schedules have become more compatible, and when I say that, what I mean is, your mom has conformed her sleep schedule more closely with mine. She comes to bed with me some nights when she’s not tired yet at all, and will lie in bed and listen to podcasts through her earbuds as I lay passed out. Then she’ll sleep as late as possible in the morning while I get up, feed and walk Jessica Jones, eat breakfast, and watch shows she can’t even handle as background noise, like Star Trek. (She’s already braced herself for me introducing you to all the series, and I’m looking forward to that, but I have no expectations. You’ll enjoy them if you do, and if not, I’m eager to see what your own interests in art and pop culture are.)

We’ve worked out our sleep differences over the last few years. You, however, are a new challenge.

I am glad to say, though, we’re handling it well. Even when it’s a completely sleepless night, I find a mental switch goes off at about 7am, the time I have to feed and take Jessica Jones on her morning constitutional, and with a little coffee (okay, a lot of coffee), I can fool myself into thinking I’ve had a full night’s sleep. Your mom is on maternity leave now, and she gets by with little naps throughout the day while you are having yours.

It’s a struggle sometimes, for sure, but still, at least once a day, your mom and I look at you in awe, look at each other, and say, “We did that. We made a human” and all the sleeplessness is worth it.

*****

We’ve been told we’ll hardly remember all the sleepless nights that mark the first couple of weeks of a newborn’s arrival. Maybe that’s true. But then, last evening, before the rough nighttime hours that followed, your mom and I, and you, and Jessica Jones, were all laid out on the couch, watching Parks and Recreation. You were passed out on my chest, and I passed out for a little bit too.

Those moments, I never want to forget.

You’re Due Tomorrow

Dear son,

It’s January 29, 2017.

You’re due tomorrow. You may not come for another week a so, but you’re scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

Your mom is nervous. She’s nervous about a lot – caring for you, breastfeeding you. She’s nervous about our finances during her maternity leave. We’ve saved, but have we saved enough? She’s nervous about your day care once she goes back to work.

But right now, the thing she’s most nervous about, I think, is the labor. What is the pain going to be like? She wants to give birth naturally, but will she need drugs? Will there be complications? There’s a lot on her mind.

***

I’m writing this on our living room couch in our Chicago condo. Jessica Jones is sprawled out on a blanket next to me, and your mom is in her office working.

Your mom and I have been together a few months past five years now, and this is somewhat of a cliche, but it’s hard to remember my life before her.

***

I proposed to your mom in the dining room of our first apartment together on Campbell Avenue. If we’re still in Chicago when you’re old enough to walk and understand, we’ll probably take you by our old neighborhood sometime and show you where mommy and daddy spent their first few years together.

Can I confess something about my proposal? I didn’t really propose. Well, I did, but I didn’t actually say anything. I insisted she turn her back as I went into my office to get her “birthday present” (Her birthdays are a big deal to her, so I couldn’t think of a more special day to pop the question), and then I came back with the ring, got down on one knee, and told her to turn around.

And I remained silent, just holding up the ring in its case. I was silent because even then, even as I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, I couldn’t articulate the reasons why, me, someone who fancies himself a writer every now and then.

Luckily, no words were needed. She burst out in happy tears, and that was all the ‘yes’ I needed, but still, I stood up, embraced her and asked, “That’s a ‘yes’, right?”

***

A couple of weeks later, I was at a party and someone congratulated me on our engagement. She had seen the news on social media. I was a touch tipsy, so my words and thoughts were flowing more fluidly than usual, and it just came out, the reason I wanted to spend the rest of my life with your mom:

“I never feel more like myself than when I’m with her.”

That may seem simple, son, but it’s a privilege I never felt like I had in my prior relationships – to completely be myself. That’s not to say the women before your mom did anything to intentionally to make me feel that way, but the chemistry between two people, the reason people click, is a funny thing that all the science in the world still hasn’t figured out, and for whatever reason, thank God, your mom and I did.

Sometimes, I’m not sure I meet her equally. Sometimes, I’m not sure she feels able to fully be herself around me all the time. But it’s something I’m continually aware of and work on. That’s one of the most important things you can do in a relationship: Just keep trying to become better for the other person.

***

You’re due tomorrow. (Have I mentioned that?)

I have an idea of what it’s going to be like to be your dad, but I know enough to know, right now, it’s still really just an idea, and I won’t really feel the full weight of it until the first time I see your head on your mom’s chest, the first time I hold you in my arms. And like with your mom, there will come a time when I can’t remember my life before you.

I am excited and a little impatient for that time to come. I’m typing this, glancing over at your mom’s back every few moments, almost trying to will her to go into labor. The last couple of nights in bed, whenever she has shifted enough to stir me even just slightly awake, my first thought was to hope labor was starting, and you were on your way.

I know, I know. It’s selfish. You’ll come when you’re ready, and your mom wants a couple of days of rest at home (her maternity leave begins tomorrow) to prepare.

Patience is a virtue, and I hope I teach you that well.

Now hurry up and get here, son.

 

 

 

On Protests and Challenging Beliefs

Dear son,

The unique moment in time you were born was one of civil and social unrest in the United States.

I’m not going to bore you here (too much) with the particulars. By the time you read this, sometime in your early teen years, I imagine, I have no doubt you’ve heard and read plenty about the late-2010s. I’m sure your mom and I have gone on and on about it. As I write this in late January of 2017, it’s my hope that by now when your mom and I do bring it up, it elicits merely an eye roll out of you. I hope you can’t imagine what the big deal was and why the future – your future – seemed so scary then, when really, it turned out to be just a rough couple of years before the country made a much-needed course correction.

That’s my hope.

This past weekend was a presidential inauguration more sparsely attended than any in recent memory, followed by a day of protests, not just in the U.S. but throughout the entire world, against the man sworn into the presidency. There were many reasons to protest this man, but the main purpose of these this weekend was to point out his constant denigrating comments about women, and the multiple accusations of sexual assault against women, before and during his candidacy. The protests were to speak against his promises to reverse women’s rights that have been established for over 40 years.

About women and treating them with the respect they deserve: That is an important topic in and of itself, one I’m sure we’ve had many talks about already, and one I’ll write more about in a later entry.

(This is where I like to imagine you rolling your eyes at me as you read this, because yes, we’ve had these talks, and you know that you know how to behave properly and I should just chill out about it, and dad, really, no one uses the phrase ‘chill out’ anymore.)

Anyway.

As of this writing, those protests were the largest of its kind in American history. They were necessary and important. But here’s a fact of life that comes with every such protest: there are going to those who dismiss them and the people taking part in them. There will be those who find their participants unreasonable, or silly, whiners or sore losers.

Son, I used to be one of these people.

In the early 2000s, another unpopular president started an unpopular war with another country. In these years, I was on my way to becoming liberal, but still, I had a more or less conservative mindset. I was “pro-life” (you know why I put that term in quotation marks, don’t you?) I watched Fox News, and particularly, enjoyed Bill O’Reilly. I wasn’t solidly in favor of the war, but I didn’t see why people were so upset by it. There were protests.

I was acting in a touring children’s theater at the time. One of my fellow actors was a guy named Mike, very much a liberal. We were talking about the war and these protests one day, in a van on our way to some town in Kentucky or Tennessee, and I dismissed the protests and their participants with some glib comments. “Sure, go ahead and protest if it makes you feel like you’re doing something, but what are you really accomplishing?”

Mike gave me sort of a withering look, almost one of pity. Here’s what the look said: “You don’t get it. I hope you do someday.”

The conversation didn’t stop there. He gently chipped away at why I felt that way. We had a lot of conversations like that over the next few months working together. I would have gotten there eventually, I think, but our conversations helped bring me around to a more liberal – more open – frame of mind a lot faster.

Mike and I largely fell out of contact when I moved to Chicago, but I value the friendship we had for those couple of years a great deal. We are still connected on social media. He posted some words this past weekend recounting similar conversations he’s had with others with different viewpoints over the years, and the importance in having those civil conversations. I was just one of a number of people he helped nudge to a different way of thinking.

Three things I’d like you to understand:

  1. Peaceful protests are an essential part of society. They are tools for minorities and disenfranchised voices to be heard. Every important movement our country’s last 60 plus years have been accompanied by them – the civil rights movements of the 1960s, women’s rights, LGTBQ rights. They are necessary.
  2. When protests happen and you, at first, can’t understand why, it costs you absolutely nothing to hold your tongue, open your ears, and listen to what people have to say. Ridicule and mockery only reveal your ignorance, at best, and at worst, hatred you hold in your heart. The only good that can come from speaking prematurely against something you don’t understand is having someone like Mike who will have the patience to challenge you, nudge you in the right direction, and not dismiss you as a lost cause.
  3. When you encounter someone like the me I was in my early-20s, someone who mocks those who feel the need to speak out against what they perceive as injustice, it is not your responsibility to change how they think. But if you decide to try, don’t bludgeon the person with all the reasons they are wrong. (I have to admit, I struggle with this.) Instead, ask questions. Make small observations. Slowly chip away at their thinking process. Also, know that while not impossible, this is much more difficult to do online, where rules of decorum and civility all too often go out the window quickly.

***

It is often observed that people are often liberal in the youth and get more conservative as they get older. I consider myself as liberal as liberal can be, but there may come a time when I begin shifting (back) to a more conservative mindset. If and when that happens, come at me. Challenge me. Chip away at me. And when you think I can’t get anymore frustrated, show me this letter.

It will piss me off, but I will love you for it.