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.

Here Comes the Son

imgres-1

“Hi hon! Can I call you real quick?”

This was the response I got back from your mom when I texted her to ask how her afternoon matinee movie was, and how she was feeling. I was at the start of my dinner break.

I had just wrapped up with a client – a long-time client who I see once a month, a client who shares my first name, and sometimes, that still feels a little weird, like I’m talking to myself in the session. “Dennis, how are you feeling today?” “Alright, Dennis, let’s have you turn over on to your back.”

I was in the break room now, microwaving my Trader Joe’s Palek Paneer frozen meal. As I popped holes in the covering with a plastic fork, it occurred to me I should check in with your mom and see how she was doing. You were four days past due at this point, and I had gotten to checking my phone in between each massage. But I had already started, and I thought, surely this isn’t the time. I texted her right after I put my meal in the microwave.

“Hi, hon! Can I call you real quick?”

And I knew.

Her water had broken about 15 minutes before. She was at home, doing laundry. She called the midwife team at the hospital first, and the midwife on call suggested she wait a few hours until active labor started. But still, I should come home right away.

There are certain chapters in your life you can’t fully experience in the moment, because you know from the very beginning how monumental a particular chapter is, and you’re going to be sharing the story over and over for days, weeks, and even years to come, and so you’re not just living the story, but you’re chronicling the story as well. You’re both a participant and a reporter of the tale, aware of both roles simultaneously.

So this was the beginning of the story of what your delivery was like.

***

As I sit to write this, you’re just a little over 48 hours old. You’re asleep in the bassinet in our hospital room, and your mom is resting. In a few minutes, I’ll need to pause to wake you both so she can feed you. I’m writing this because I don’t know the story of my own delivery. My mom and dad passed away years ago, and I never heard the story from them. I want to write this story down for you now while it’s fresh in my mind.

***

I went to the front desk of the spa, and told the ladies working that you’re water had just broken. They cheered for me, I told me they would call my last client of the night and let him know I had to cancel. I inhaled my microwave dinner. I texted your mom and asked her if she wanted me to bring dinner home for her.

The first few hours of your delivery were calm. We planned with the midwives to head to the hospital once your mom’s contractions began coming five minutes apart. We sat on our couch and ate dinner, watched some TV (Netflix’s “The Crown”; I’m sure by now you know your mom’s love of anything that involves British history), and relaxed. We lied down in bed and tried to get a few hours sleep. Your mom got up after a couple of hours, unable to rest at all. I was able to, but it was a fitful sleep. Like I said, we knew we were living the story of your delivery, and lying down to sleep during it just hadn’t been part of either of our preconceived narratives.

By midnight, your mom’s contractions hadn’t picked up. We called the midwife on duty, and she said to plan to come in at 5 or 6 am. We both laid out on the living room couch in an ‘L’ shape around the sectional, and snuggled with Jessica Jones, who knew something was out of ordinary, but was content to go back and forth, taking turns curling up next to either one of us.

Betsy called the midwife a little after 5am, and since contractions still weren’t coming regularly, there was no rush to get to the hospital, in the next hour or two. We decided to have breakfast before heading there. There was plenty of food in the fridge, but Betsy wanted McDonald’s.

What mama wants, mama gets.

A sausage egg mcmuffin, hashbrown, and breakfast burrito each later, we were on our way to the hospital.

***

Son, I’m going to be honest with you. I’m writing section of this entry now when you’re all of six-days-old, and your mom and I have had a couple of sleep-deprived nights. The last few days have been a bit of a blur. And so I don’t remember much of the first few hours when we were in the hospital to have you.

I remember your mom checking into the birthing unit, getting weighed, getting situated in one of the birthing rooms. We met the midwife who would be helping with your delivery, and the nurse on call, Liz and Wendy respectively.

Your mom’s contractions stayed sporadic and weak throughout the day. They were painful, but not painful enough to further labor along. In the late afternoon, Liz suggested some medication – pitocin – to induce stronger contractions, and possibly an epidural to relieve your mom’s pain. We debated the pros and cons, the possible side effects. Liz checked your mother’s cervix, and she was 7cm dilated, which was much more progress than what she had expected. Liz was confident the pitocin could help push your mom over the edge into full labor, so we decided to go forward with it, but not the epidural. In a short time, your mom went into active, and painful, labor.

***

A few days ago, I read a quote: “Best thing you can probably do as a father is make sure they see how you love their mother.” It’s attributed to an actor named Matthew McConaughey, who is sometimes rightfully mocked for his public persona, but he makes a good point.

I didn’t know it was possible to love and appreciate your mom more than I did, but after watching her struggle through the pain for the next 14 hours, I love and appreciate her even more. I hope you see that love and appreciation in how I treat her day to day.

Between the pain and sleep-deprivation of being awake more-or-less for over the last 24 hours, your mom was near delirious, but pushed through. Despite the medication and the pain from the labor, her contractions still weren’t frequent or strong enough for the first few hours. The level of the medication was increased little by little, and we would wait a half-hour or an hour to reevaluate. We went through this cycle three or four times over the next six hours. Every time we were told your mom wasn’t ready to enter the final, pushing, stage, it broke her heart a little bit more. For much of this time, I lied in the hospital bed behind her, rubbing her low back during her contractions.

At about 4am Sunday, the idea of an epidural came up again. Epidurals, assuming they work properly, take away most of the pain of childbirth, but can also prolong labor. Prolonging things any longer was a concern because by this point, it had been nearly 36 hours since your mom’s water broke, increasing the chance of infection for the both of you. Your mom was in so much pain at this point, she suggested she was even open to a cesarean section, which is cutting the abdomen open to get to extract an infant. This is something that should be a last-resort option, but it’s often done as a matter of convenience for doctors when doing a traditional hospital birth. This is one of the reasons your mom wanted to use a midwife instead of a doctor. She didn’t want a cesarean. But that this point, she was desperate for the pain to stop. Luckily, Liz and Laura (the overnight nurse who took over for Wendy earlier in the evening) quickly talked her down from the ledge.

By 5:30am, your mom was finally dilated enough to start the final stage, pushing you down through the birth canal. By this point, she was falling asleep in between contractions. She didn’t know if she had the strength to push, but three of us (Liz, Laura and I), helped motivate her through the pain.

Throughout the next hour and a half, I saw your mom find the strength within her to push and push and push. I watched her vomit in a basin, the pain was so intense. I watched her physically go through pain you or I will only ever be able to imagine.

In the last hour, I held one of her bent legs up through every contraction (Laura, the nurse held the other.) During these pushes, your heart rate would drop, what looked like to me, dangerously low. I know this is actually normal, but it was hard for me to take. At one point, I had to step into the corner of the room for a second so your mom wouldn’t see me freaking out.

About 20 minutes before 7am, Liz commented she could see your head, and your full head of hair. A few minutes later, she invited your mom and me to reach down and feel it. A few minutes after that, your head began to emerge.

I had to look away while Liz began extracting you from your mom, because even as I knew what she was doing, it also looked like she was going to tear your head from your shoulders. I finally looked back down as your legs were being pulled out.

Your head was misshapen. I was prepared for that. That happens during birth.

I wasn’t prepared for you to have a sickly, bluish color. You were quiet, and still. By this point, other nurses and a doctor was in the room. I didn’t hear this, but later, your mom told me she heard someone saying, “Heart rate, 40! Heart rate, 40!”

Liz showed me precisely where to cut your umbilical cord. They gave your mom just a moment to touch you. (She wasn’t expecting you to be so big. “He went on for days,” she said later, describing how it felt for her hands to explore your body) Then they whisked you away to the warming table in the room to smack your bottom, pat your feet, move you around, anything to get you active, get your heart rate up.

Hearing your cry for the first time a few moments later, is probably the biggest feeling of relief I’ve ever felt in my life.

They weighed you, they measured you. I watched over the nurses’ shoulders as they tended to you. Liz tended to your mom’s post-delivery needs.

I asked questions about what was going on when you first came out of the womb. They said the heart rate dropping was a fairly normal occurrence, but all was well and there was nothing to worry about. Relieved and satisfied, I looked at the clamp placed on your umbilical cord and asked what decided if it your belly button was an ‘innie’ or an ‘outtie’. (It all depends on how your ab muscles develop in the first year.)

Eventually, Liz and Laura said their goodbyes, and another nurse, Kim, came in to help us until it was time to transfer to a recovery suit. I simply said goodbye and thank you to Liz and Laura, but considering everything we’d been through, I wanted to give them huge hugs. I intend to send them both effusive ‘thank you’ cards.

We had all but decided your first name was to be Harrison a couple of months before you were born. You were not named for any particular Harrison, we simply liked the name. We had decided your middle name should be one syllable, to contrast your multi-syllabic first and last names. One night about three weeks before your birth, we were listening to music in our living room, and a Johnny Cash song came on. You begin kicking and dancing pretty vigorously in your mom’s womb. We looked at each other and almost simultaneously said, “Cash!”

We had a couple of other options, but a few minutes after you were born, I played for you a Johnny Cash song on my phone, and a look of recognition came across your face. And then the first time you nursed, this happened…

And that solidified it.

***

You were born at 7am on the dot. A couple of minutes before, a nurse commented you were going to be sunrise baby, pointing out the window, which faced east. Sure enough, the sun was just coming over the horizon.

“Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles began playing in my head. It’s a song I’ll now forever associate it with you.

***

So here it is, son. The story of your birth. Perhaps one day I’ll come back and clean up the prose a little bit when I’m not as sleep-deprived, but for now, I just want to get it written down.

As I put on the finishing touches here, your mom is nursing you on the couch next to me, and Jessica Jones is on the living room floor destroying yet another chew toy. We’re about to go out for a walk as a family.

We’ve been waiting for you for a while. We’re so glad you’re finally here.

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.