Thursday, January 25, 2018
To Cade, on Your 18th Birthday
Walt Whitman wrote in an 1855-56 journal entry: "Understand that you can have in your writing no qualities which you do not honestly entertain in yourself. Understand that you cannot keep out of your writing the indication of the evil or shallowness you entertain in yourself. [What you love, think, grudge, doubt, etc....] will appear by what you leave unsaid more than by what you say. There is no trick or cunning, no art or recipe, by which you can have in your writing what you do not possess in yourself." I have carried this quote with me since before I carried you, and I have waited to write certain things (about my story, not yours) because I want the heat to be gone. I will not write certain things in anger, and I will not try to write them around anger because it's impossible.
What I really want to tell you about the Whitman quote, though, is I think the word "children" could almost be substituted for the word "writing." It's not a perfect analogy; still, in reading Genesis, we have an airplane's view of some of the earliest people, and sad to say, they run together a bit. They're all the same. Each generation seems to make the same mistakes as the generation before.
The seventeenth year of your life will go down in history as the year in which I learned: you didn't fall far from anybody's tree, either. I guess it had seemed for about 17.5 years that you miraculously embodied all of your dad's and my positive qualities and none of the especially negative ones. But the negative qualities are there, too. You are--for the most part, for good or ill--your dad and me thrown into a bag and shaken.
Here's the bad news: you are imperfect. Sinful, even.
Here's the good news: you know your dad and me. We, your parents, have been 100% present, so you know our weaknesses, mistakes, sins. Surely you can do a bit better than we have done. Surely you can do a bit better than you have done.
Here's more good news: if you read Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings," you'll see that ease and perfection don't make for a particularly gripping story. Also, Enoch. "[He] walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" (Genesis 5:24). There's not much more to Enoch's story. Admittedly, he fathered Methuselah and a bunch of other kids; otherwise, what a snooze. There's not much of a plot when there's no trouble.
And here's the best news of all: Jesus.
I love you. I haven't fallen far from anyone's tree, myself. I am like your nana: I love my children without condition. There is nothing you can do or say to make me stop loving you. Also, I am like your papaw: I have my convictions. I will neither support your terrible decisions nor play pretty with anyone who does or means you harm. I have pressed further into my own character over these painful months. Don't you remember Liz Rosenburg's Monster Mama? We read it over and over when you were a little boy; we knew it by heart. "I am your mother, even if I am a monster."
I have been your "fast-moving freight train" for eighteen years. I am weary. I recognize that it's past time for boundaries: that you must learn to take care of yourself. I pray you'll be fearless like Patrick Edward; "use your powers for good, never for evil"; "remember that strength is for the wise, not the reckless"; and be proud and defensive, always, of your mother.
Happy manhood. I love you. What have I said. What haven't I
You know where to find me.