September 3, 2020
Happy, happy birthday, Henry! Our little dude is getting bigger and smarter and cooler everyday. It’s amazing that you are now five: these years have passed so quickly, and you have grown so much. You are almost reading now and are definitely becoming your own person. I know you love your mommy more right now, but I know that our relationship will grow in the days and years to come.
I wanted to get you something cool, so I decided on a book that influenced me as a kid: Bernard Evslin’s The Adventures of Ulysses. Now I was older than you when I first encountered this book—probably about 10 or 11 and in sixth grade. One of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Farmer, introduced this book to the class. She had a stack of them and would pass them out once a week and read us a chapter. I was mesmerized: this Ulysses was a cool dude. The Cyclops; the Lotos-Eaters; Circe; the evil suitors—man this was cool! I hope you will become hooked, too. I know this had a lasting impression on me, as I became an English Professor, and I still teach Homer today.
The cover of the edition I bought for you is a bit different than the one I remember, but I’m sure the story hasn’t changed. I can't wait to read this with you.
I’m sorry your birthday is taking place in this pandemic year. You certainly don’t deserve to suffer the consequences of others’ foolishness. I hope that by next year, we can have a real party for you again. I often lament the state of the world these days: since you have come around, my perspective on many things has changed. I to be more selfish, but now I have to be selfless. When thinking about the world and seeing the decisions we make as humans, I always ask myself: “how is this going to a/effect Henry?” An implication of this question is that I’m now more empathetic towards my fellow human beings: I want the world to be a wonderful place for you, and I try to make decisions that will bring you the most happiness and joy. However, it pains me to admit: I think we’re falling down as a species right now—especially in America. I hope it will get better. I’m doing what I can to make it better for you.
I’d like to share one of my chief takeaways from this year—call it a bit of Dad-wisdom: avoid debt and those who will make you a debtor. This is a lesson that took me too long, unfortunately, to learn, as I am solidly in debt. I still owe for my students loans, my too-fancy car, my motorcycle, and my house. The more debt you have, the less freedom you have. Henry, stay free and avoid debt. As a corollary: avoid those things that would enthrall you with debt: corporations, banks, materialism. The American Dream is about freedom—not money; not stuff. I promise: the less stuff you have, the happier you will be. Choose experience; choose relationships. Travel like Ulysses: see the townlands and learn the minds of many distant people. Do not be distracted by material possessions, as they only lead to more and limit your perspective and freedom.
The odds are stacked heavily against you, I’m afraid. It’s just consider un-American not to have a bunch of stuff. And many of us show affection with presents. That’s OK. Do your best to not be taken in.
I’m not sure even I have learned this lesson yet, but if you do early, I promise you will have a happier life.
The photo on the left is one I took of you the other day when you were angry at me. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but I know I felt guilty for raising my voice (something I do too often, I’m afraid), and you were just sitting in the chair in front of my computer. I wanted to capture a real moment, and I think you gave it to me. I’m sorry for my faults as a parent. I need to try harder. Every day.
I love you, son.