To my lovely son,
So, my darling, it turns out to be harder than we think to find the right words to say, and the right time to say them. So much is happening for you right now and you have no idea how much we long to be able to help you, at this point in your life when all your instincts – quite rightly – are insisting you push us away and find your own strength. But if I could, these are the things I would tell you:
Most of the truly difficult problems in life arise from personality flaws, not mistakes or unfortunate events. Or perhaps it’s better to say they arise from making the same mistakes and creating the same situations over and over again. Fear the world less than the unresolved parts of you.
We have more choices, always, than we like to admit to ourselves (because it takes a lot of courage to admit this).
Poverty, starvation, long term illness, early death, war, these are disasters worthy of the name. The rest may be called setbacks, disappointments and obstacles. Be careful to treat them accordingly.
The real key to a good life is learning to deal with those disappointments, frustrations and losses.
It is very hard to take full responsibility for oneself. Don’t allow taking responsibility for others to look like a substitute. It isn’t. And try very hard not to give your power away to people you love; this is also trickier than it seems.
Your best qualities will turn out to be, also, your worst ones. Tenacity and loyalty are also stubbornness and wilful blindness. This will trip you up.
Experience changes everything. The difference between imagining something and living it is vast, so try not to judge others or pre-judge yourself.
But remember that language stays the same. We have to make an extra effort to convey the before and after effect, which is why, for instance, the platitudes that your father and I spout still seem fresh and urgent to us. We are attaching experience to our worries that is hard to express.
We know you think you know everything. We know you know nothing. But then, we probably know a great deal less than we think we do. Humility all round would be good here.
We have to learn that our cherished memories of you are not yours, and that our hopes and dreams for you will not match those you hold for yourself. This is the final knot to untie in the long process of letting you go – giving you back your independent past, your surprising self, your unguessable desires. We will need to learn who you are all over again. This is a perennial lesson life offers, as you’ll find, this extraordinary realisation that what is inside our heads is not the same as what is outside.
We all need to ask more questions, and listen properly to the answers.
And too often the questions parents ask are simply the base promptings of our fears and insecurities. I do know that any advice I give you based on my own fears is worthless. This is our problem, and you shouldn’t have to deal with it. Believe me, I’m working on it.
I realise how inconsequential and valueless parental love appears, now you stand on the threshold of the world. But that love is completely unconditional and you can always depend on it. I know it is the part of me that will never grow old, never weaken or fail. I don’t want anything from you in return, except perhaps that you not be too proud to ask for that love, if ever you need it. Dad and I will always be here for you.