Guest columnist Frank Cavallaro: Boys, Living Dangerously

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Frank Cavallaro, a long-time resident of East Meadow, Long Island, is father to three daughters, Laura, Jennifer and Kim , and two grandchildren, Olivia, 8, and Luke, 6. Schooled as a graphic designer, he worked at several advertising agencies but eventually went out on his own, adding copywriting to his list of services. Later in life, he entered the financial services business, where he eventually became a teacher for continuing education in that industry. After retirement, Frank resumed a childhood love of working with his hands. From that he started a business of making and fixing things for homeowners. This is his third guest column for letterstomykids.org.

Happy birthday, Luke, my dear grandson,

   By the time you can read this, you will know that I never had the pleasure of raising a son. Not that it wasn’t a pleasure raising three girls, because it was.

   But now that I see you, a boy of one year of age, all kinds of thoughts bounce around in my head, thoughts that just don’t go with girls.

   Don’t get me wrong: I had fun with my girls, one of them being your mother. And in some cases I don’t think I would have treated them any differently when they were growing up. (I sense I am doing the same with your big sister.)

   I came across this book a couple of weeks ago, The Dangerous Book For Boys, and the title immediately caught my attention: somehow “dangerous” and “boy” make for a very natural combination.

   On reading it, I realized that it contained many of the experiences I had as a boy. And now, looking back at my childhood, I realize how exciting it was. (Not the school part, the playing part).

   As a boy, I had a great sense of curiosity, and I still do. As a boy, there were many exciting things to keep me occupied, especially over a long summer, my favorite season.

   In this book, you will find many of the activities I loved. My friends and I spent hours playing chess, making paper airplanes and boats from scraps of wood. Playing with insects – especially ants and spiders — was always fun and sometimes scary, especially with a 10-cent magnifying glass.

   My mom and dad purchased an old Wonderland of Knowledge encyclopedia, and, even today, if you looked at the pages that I referred to when molding prehistoric dinosaurs, you would see green smudges from the clay that I used to make hundreds of models of those monsters.

   Astronomy was another fascinating subject for me. I remember playing with my first gyroscope, the mysteries uncovered by a microscope, the wonder of magnetism, and just making things out of discarded wood fruit boxes, where we salvaged the nails and refashioned those boxes into swords and rifles or other useful objects (useful to boys, not girls).

   My friends and I made first-aid kits from what we found in our medicine cabinets and carried them around just wishing that someone would cut themselves so we could come to their rescue.

   Drawing and painting were also very important to me. Cartoon characters were my favorite subjects, but I also drew boats and so many other things.

   I guess my early childhood was one of creating. Even when we played Monopoly, I made checkbooks for the other kids so that we could be more like big people.
Trust me, as a boy, you are going to be making discoveries to your own wonderment and amusement.

   Now that I am older, I realize I never grew out of that sense of excitement that comes with exploring and creating, and now that I have real tools, I can make more things even better, with the same sense of pleasure and satisfaction that I got over 60 years ago.

   So when you get old enough to read this book, I hope that you, too, will create and explore, getting to know the world and the wonders that surround you.

   The book mentions building a tree house. I never had a backyard with a tree to build one in, but someday, maybe you and I could make one together in your backyard.

With love,

Grandpa

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My Blog Turns Two: A Preview Of Year Three

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For two years now, letterstomykids.org has in almost every respect remained very much mine. But in Year Three, LTMK will by and large change hands. It will be all but exclusively yours.

   Yes, I’m pretty much turning the reins over to you.

   Mostly, then, LTMK in the coming year will consist of guest columns. Newcomers will make debuts. Previous contributors will deliver encore performances. Almost all will be Moms and Dads, parents new and middle-aged and old, some grandparents, too, and maybe even Moms- and Dads-to-be. Instead of our looking so much in the mirror at my life – enough already! — I’ll be holding that mirror up to yours.

   At least that’s my plan for the moment.

   If I have my druthers, other kinds of guest columnists will step forward, too – historians, archivists, genealogists, psychologists, pediatricians and the like. They’ll act as third parties, attesting to the virtues of our mission here, that of persuading parents to preserve personal family history in writing. 

   LTMK will once again post guest columns on my favorite holidays: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. We may venture into other special occasions as well – Independence Day, Labor Day, Election Day, for starters – each of which offers parents opportunities for insight. We may hold theme weeks to lend a forum to columnists from certain sorts of communities – Queens residents, basketball players, classmates from my 1970 graduating class at Fair Lawn High School, writers, public relations specialists, tenants in our apartment complex, Jews (like me), Baby Boomers (also like me) and the like. Along these lines, contributors may reflect, variously, on what they do for a living, or on growing up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, or on the literary life, or on the ecstasies of playing hoops on a hot summer day when you can smell the asphalt beneath your sneakers baking away.

   Year Three will go somewhat beyond guest columns, too. We’ll also get a little newsy. I’ll be playing reporter, researching the landscape for trends – just Google the term “letters to my kids” yourself and you’ll see that stuff is definitely going on out there — and updating you more or less in real time. In this vein, I’ll probably get “linky,” connecting you with relevant data and likeminded sites. In keeping with this approach, I may at last get around to an ambitious project long incubating in my imagination, a look at the letters-to-my-kids premise in history, starting with letters from the Roman philosopher and stateman Cicero to his son Marcus and running right up to President Obama’s recent public letters to his two daughters.

   In Year Three, LTMK will also spackle in some miscellanea. Maybe we’ll hold a contest of some kind. Maybe, in a switcheroo, we’ll ask a kid or two to write a letter to his parents. Maybe I’ll post personal essays of mine either previously published or never before published. Maybe I’ll let loose some of the lines, by turns serious and silly, a few even aspiring to be epigrams, that I’ve compiled in my notebook over the years.

   Taking all this together – the guest columns, the news updates, the collage of loose ends and other oddities – you can probably surmise where I’m headed. I’m going into uncharted territory, ready to play it by ear. But through it all, the message trumpeted to parents will remain the same. Be your family historian. Get it in writing. Create a keepsake for your kids that can last forever.

   And with any luck, taking that tack will keep this site – now yours, please remember, more so than mine – fresh, provocative and occasionally even surprising.

My Blog Turns Two (And Stays Open For Business)

 

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   So why have I finally decided, after months of anxious indecision, to keep letterstomykids.org (LTMK) going?

   Well, I weighed all the pros and cons. And the pros easily outweighed the cons.

   Here’s essentially why the show will go on: It’s because of you.

   More particularly, it’s because LTMK gives me a rare and special opportunity to showcase guest columnists, mostly Moms and Dads, all of whom have something of value to say.

   It’s because of Mindy Gikas and David Rosen. They contributed columns making parental New Year’s resolutions as parents (below), then went on the “CBS Early Show,” four lovely kids in tow, to read the letters aloud on-camera.

   It’s because of Faith Tissot. She emailed me out of the blue after seeing me on CBS. She told me that, as an adopted child who once lost a baby in utero and later sought her birth parents, she went on to have two kids and write letters to both every month since the days they were born.

   It’s because of Seth Levin. He wrote a letter to his two-year-old daughter, Elliana, about how she is inspiring him to overcome his struggle with depression.    

   It’s also because of 41 other LTMK guest columnists, parents of all ages from around the country, who have chimed in over the last two years. It’s because this blog, in giving voice to others, serves as a megaphone to amplify my own.

   It’s because of the rest of you, too – all the LTMK cheerleaders out there – that I’ve decided to keep going. I love what you’re doing, you say. Your mission is so important, you insist. You can count on my support, you promise.

   Many such voices do a chorus make. And so in the last year I came to sense that this blog has started to create something of a community. And that we may all be playing a small role in bringing parents and children together, one letter at a time.

   Finally, it’s because of how Jeff Zaslow, whom I presumed to call my friend, once characterized my blog. A father of three daughters, a best-selling author and an LTMK advisory board member, Jeff died in a car accident in February (only a few weeks earlier, he had agreed to do a Father’s Day guest column for me). He called my blog “a high calling.”

   And that, in a nutshell, is why I have to keep going, at least for now. It dawned on me, thanks to Jeff and others, that wherever it is that I need to go with this blog, I may actually already be getting there, however slowly. With any luck, you’ll be coming along for the ride. 

   Tomorrow I’ll give you a peek at the outlook for Year Three.

P.S. – Mindy Gikas: http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-mindy-gikas-fin

 

P.S.S. – David Rosen: http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-david-rosenyou

 

P.S.S.S. – Faith Tissot: http://letterstomykids.org/mothers-day-guest-columnist-faith-tissot-why

 

P.S.S.S.S. – Seth Levin: http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-seth-levin-litt

 

P.S.S.S.S.S. – Jeff Zaslow: http://letterstomykids.org/jeffrey-zaslow-the-party-of-yes

My Blog Turns Two, But Will It Ever Make Three?

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   So why would I consider calling it a day with letterstomykids.org (LTMK) this week?    

   Well, for starters, you’ve now read just about every “letter” I wrote to my children. All through 2008 and 2009, I kept a hand-written journal for Michael and Caroline. Then, two years ago this week, I created LTMK and started posting all 100 or so entries, about 60,000 words, online. So almost everything I originally shared privately with my own kids I’ve now shared publicly right here.

   In that sense, I’ve largely had my say.

   My number-two reason has to do with time. Blogging takes time, especially if, as I do, you work for a living. And blogging well demands (and deserves) your best game. Besides, I have other important interests in life, including eating, sleeping and playing pick-up basketball in the playground around the corner.  So there was that, too.

   Then came the issue of whether anyone out there in the universe was paying attention to my humble little blog in the first place. Some days the answer appeared to be decidedly no. Some of my posts might get fewer hits than our apartment building has tenants on our floor alone (about 50). Two years in, my Twitter followers number all of a whopping19.  

   So even though I’m no stranger to rejection – after all, I pitch stories to media on behalf of clients every day for my job, and moonlight writing personal essays no editor ever expects to receive, much less asks to see – I’m only human. Even a blogger needs to feel some love.

   I’ve also experienced a few discouraging technical difficulties. My overall level of sophistication about the nuts and bolts of playing blogmeister leaves something to be desired. I have yet, for example, to adopt such standard practices as linking regularly to other bloggers, insinuating LTMK onto key blogrolls, and hitching onto Google Analytics.

   My problem here is that I would rather tinker with words than with widgets. All I really care about, when you get right down to it, is the telling of stories, whether mine or those of my guest columnists.

   And so, I figured, why blog any more unless I’m willing to commit to blogging right.  

   And yet I’ve decided to keep my blog going. Yes, that’s right. Even in the face of these concerns, plus all the others I’ll leave unmentioned in the name of brevity and decency, I’ll keep tilling this fertile soil, still very much at your service.

   Tomorrow I’ll explain why I’ve decided to keep it all going, and fill you in on my plans for Year Three.

My Blog Turns Two: Let’s Light Some Candles And Make A Wish

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   Yesterday letterstomykids.org reached its second birthday. So it’s time for my annual state of the blog report.

   The good news is that my sophomore year, compared to my rookie season, has turned out to mean more of just about everything.

   LTMK drew about 81,000 unique visits this past year, compared with about 50,000 for the previous year – an increase of 62% — bringing the two-year total to 131,000.

   More visitors posted comments, too, 94 versus 22, more than quadrupling for a two-year total of 116.

   More visitors took our pledge, too, with 61 over the last year committing to preserve personal family history in writing, matching 61 in our first year.

   In Year Two, 23 guest columnists, almost all Moms and Dads, contributed letters to their kids, as against 22 in Year One, bringing the two-year total to 45 (50 if you count repeat performances). .

   All in all, by most standards, a decent year.

   But for me, blogging in general – and LTMK in particular – is supposed to be about much more than mere metrics. (So is life, for that matter).

   Blogging is also about creating a dialogue with the public. For example, LTMK conducted its second survey, this time around Valentine’s Day. Among other questions, we asked 100 parents if they had ever told their kids how they met their spouses (results below).

   Blogging is about getting a conversation going with the media, too. “CBS This Morning” featured LTMK in a segment about parental New Year’s resolutions. Lisa Belkin, The Huffington Post’s parenting columnist, ran a story about my lineup of Thanksgiving columns from parents expressing gratitude for their kids. So did Janice D’Arcy, The Washington Post’s parenting columnist. 

   So by no means does more – more unique visits, more whatever – always spell better. Metrics, shmetricks, I say.

    Even so, for some months now, I’ve contemplated ending my blog today. Tomorrow I’ll explain why I’ve entertained the idea, and let you in on what I’ve decided.

P.S. — My LTMK update for Year One: http://letterstomykids.org/year-one-a-special-message-to-readers

 

P.S.S. — Results of my Valentine’s Day survey: http://letterstomykids.org/valentines-day-survey-have-you-told-your-kids

 

P.S.S.S. — The “CBS This Morning” segment On New Year’s resolutions: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7393406n

 

P.S.S.S.S. — My behind-the-scenes peek at the CBS experience: http://www.powelltate.com/insights/long_story_short/

 

P.S.S.S.S.S. — Thanksgiving story from the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/23/thank-you-letters_n_1110137.html

 

P.S.S.S.S.S.S. – Thanksgiving Story from The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-parenting/post/spending-thanksgiving-thanking-our-kids/2011/11/21/gIQAcn8jlN_blog.html

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Joe Scalia: Dear Jesse, Let’s Talk

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Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of six grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels “Freaks” and “Pearl” and three short story collections, “No Strings Attached,” “Brooklyn Family Scenes” and “Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.”


Dear Jesse,

Well, son, it has been far too long since we have spoken more than a few terse sentences on the telephone, almost a year and a half, and even longer since we have had any kind of meaningful conversation. Any word I have about you comes from your sisters and brother. But that isn’t much. They will never say anything to breach your confidence or alienate you from them. So my emails go unread, my phone calls unanswered, and you have slipped away. I miss you terribly. All of my attempts to tell you how I feel since you shut down communications have been misinterpreted and gone unanswered.

 

I have always worried about you. And since the accident two years ago that almost took you away, I worry even more. Your silence can’t just be because of the money you said you needed. This has gone on far too long for that. And though I told you it was a loan, frankly, Jess, I didn’t really expect to see a penny. I had hoped to hear, “Thanks, Dad. I’ll pay you back when I can.” Instead, you said I let you down, that I wasn’t the person you thought I was. Your words hurt and your silence that followed hurts even more.

 

I have asked myself many times what I could have done, what I might have said, how I should have handled matters then, but I am at a loss. Could it be that my expectations are unrealistic? Or are yours? Neither of us is new to this father-son thing. You aren’t a moody teenager; you are 28. And at my age, God knows having four kids has given me enough opportunities to get it right, or at least “get it better” now and then. Hell, we are both old enough to see the world a bit more clearly, to compromise without giving up on our principles, to forgive people for what they are or what they aren’t, to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. We are old enough at least to talk to one another.


I want you to know, because I love you, I will continue to send emails though you may delete them unread; I will call and leave messages on your phone you may never hear; I will post cards and notes as long as the U.S. mail is around to deliver them. Because I love you, Jess, I will never give up hope. I want you to know, my son, that I miss you terribly every day.Your loving father

P.S. — Since sending you this letter, I left you voicemails, filling you in family stuff but keeping it light. You eventually called me back and we spoke for about five minutes. You then called me about two weeks later and we talked again. I have no idea whether your change of heart had anything to do with the letter. But it makes no difference. I’m just glad we’ve connected twice since I sent it.  

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Father’s Day Guest Columnist Joe Scalia: My Son Jesse’s Accident

 

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Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of six grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels “Freaks” and “Pearl” and three short story collections, “No Strings Attached,” “Brooklyn Family Scenes” and “Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.” 

Dear Jesse,

You were in Boston just six months, a month to the day before your 27th birthday, when your roommate Mike was on the phone telling me you were in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital where he worked. Then he told me what had happened.

 

You had ridden your 10-speed bicycle down a hill, headed in the wrong direction on a one-way street, unable to see the traffic light ahead, and a car going through the intersection hit you.

 

Your mom and I rushed up to see you. In the car, I joked, “This is our longest time together since the divorce without our lawyers being present!” Neither of us laughed.

 

I had felt sorry when you told me some time before that you were moving back up to Boston. You had returned to Long Island from San Diego. For a short time I had you close and looked forward to your stopping by for lunch and spending afternoons together, even if they were brief and you had to get back to work. I hated to see you go, but I knew you had to. In the months that followed your move back to Boston, your savings ran out and you looked for a paying job with medical coverage, still volunteering and looking for ways to “save the world.”

 

At the hospital, the doctors told us you had flown over the top of the car that hit you and landed on your head. Witnesses at the scene who called the ambulance reported that you were probably dead. The impact broke your femur, tibia and ankle. They had performed emergency surgery as soon as you arrived, inserting a titanium rod to repair the big bone, with pins to hold your ankle. Your helmet saved your life.


The next afternoon, your mother and I went to the police precinct to look at your twisted bike. Then we drove to the site of the accident and walked over the intersection, noting the skid marks. We relived what must have happened to you.

 

In the two years since then, your bones have healed, your bruises faded, and rehab has enabled you to carry on with your life. You have no memory of the accident. But my image of you, my battered and broken son in a coma on a hospital bed, remains vivid and unforgettable.

 

Later, after I knew that you were going to be okay, I wrote this poem for you.

 

Jesse’s hands,
once so small and delicate,
have grown with him,
large and powerful,
into the hands of a man,
his fingers so strikingly
long and tapered, easily those
of a sculptor, an artist,
a classical pianist
with their two octave range,
the gentle hands of a lover,
a tender caresser,
a giver of flowers.
Seeing them now,
bruised and bloody,
makes me wince to think
just how those beautiful hands
bent and broke against windshield,
banged pavement, scraped concrete
that scored ruddy notes on skin
and tore away memory
and music they once
held securely.
Surly seeing him there
today after surgery
in the hospital haze,
his broken leg and ankle
held in place by rod and pins
may seem by far
the greater injury,
but it is Jesse’s hands,
once so small and delicate
held in my own,
that cause
the most pain.


I would have been grateful for a storybook ending with us all “living happily ever after,” but your accident was just the beginning of another, more serious problem that threatened to leave us both with deeper scars.

Love,

 

DadP.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow

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Father’s Day Guest Columnist Joe Scalia: Why I Write Books For My Kids

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Joe Scalia, twice divorced, is the father of four grown children and grandfather of six grandchildren. Born and raised in Borough Park, Brooklyn, he lives in Farmingdale, Long Island, where he taught English and Creative Writing for 33 years to reluctant junior and senior high school students. He has published five books: the novels “Freaks” and “Pearl” and three short story collections, “No Strings Attached,” “Brooklyn Family Scenes” and “Scalia vs. The Universe or My Life and Hard Times.”

 

Dear Janine, Ian, Jesse and Mikki,

 

I’ve kept journals most of my life, starting back when I was in elementary school with those black-and-white marble-covered copy books. In hundreds of journal entries I’ve explored just about every topic, humorous and serious, trivial and monumental, from my first crush to the pain of divorce to the deaths of my parents. And so many of those pages are filled with stories of each of you, and more recently, about each of my grandchildren.

 

At certain times over the years, circumstances prevented me from being there for you. Divorce had something to do with that. It was all a little scary for me. And so I became a certain kind of parent – “non-custodial” with “liberal visitation,” as defined by the courts – though seeing you only on alternate weekends and every Wednesday was far from liberal enough. Between visits, I missed you and I thought about you a lot.

 

In keeping the journals, my intent was to hold onto the time we had together. Writing it all down in a journal was my attempt at leaving a record, as I learned to find my way, of how I felt, what I was thinking and just how much I loved you. I got to say much of what I might never have gotten a chance to say aloud. The journals capture our jokes, how we played kazoos in the car, our attempts at haiku.

 

“The trees are turning/ I wonder if they’re dizzy/ changing all their leaves?”

 

I’ve filled more than a dozen books over the years and started a dozen more. Even today, I write in my journals. My journals eventually led to the four illustrated books that I hardbound and gave to each of you.

 

“Jennie” was for you, Janine, because you were so unhappy after Mommy and I separated.

 

“Jennie and Rollo”was for you, Ian, to help you get along with an older, sometimes bossy sister.

 

“Jeff-ery” was for you, Jesse, because you were having a hard time with the divorce and it was all about a little boy who was always getting into trouble.

 

“Maggi, Queen of the Coyotes and the Wolves”was for you, dear Mikki — it came from a dream you described in detail when you were still little.

 

Each of the stories was special to me because it was written especially for each of you. If you loved them then, I know in the coming years, as you watch your own children grow, that you will treasure them even more. .


And then there are the poems and stories I have written for my grandchildren, Brianna, Matt, Hailey
, Joseph and, the latest, the new kid, little Evan.

 

You have yet to read my journals.Maybe I never told you this, but here goes. If my journals prove anything, it’s what you’ve brought to my life: an inspiration that goes beyond words.

 

Love,

 

Dad

 

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Halfdan W. Freihow: The Parrots You Drew In The Trees

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Halfdan W. Freihow, husband of Henni and father of Gabriel, the youngest of four children, is the author of SOMEWHERE OVER THE SEA: A FATHER’S LETTER TO HIS AUTISTIC SON. An intimately confessional memoir, just out, it takes the form of a letter from a father to his young autistic son (Gabriel is autistic) and is a testament to unconditional love and the parent-child relationship. Halfdan, who grew up in Mexico, Norway, Spain and Belgium, and now lives on an island off the west coast of southern Norway, has worked as a publisher, reporter, translator and literary critic. Please see http://halfdan.autisable.com.

Dear Gabriel,

As you well know, it’s a complete mystery to me why you have given up on your drawing activities. For many years, at least since you were six years of age, you would spend hours a day sitting hunched over a sheet of paper with your pencils and your eraser, your head cocked horizontally just an inch or two above the page, meticulously depicting the details of whatever motive you were trying to capture.

You were amazingly talented. I remember once when you were around ten. You came to us with a piece of paper so covered in drawn details that we had to struggle to identify them.

“Look,” you said.

We looked, and told you how impressed we were that you had managed to create a whole town, complete with windows in every building, streets with cars and pedestrians and advertising signs.

“No,” you said, “look better.”

We did, and discovered that behind the sprawling city there was a big park, a forest almost, with countless trees, each one equipped with numerous branches and thick foliage.

“Wow,” we said.

“No, you have to look better!”

OK, we thought, and brought the sheet under better light, and discovered that the trees were no mere blur of foliage, but, rather, that you somehow had found the patience to draw thousands of tiny leaves individually.

“Unbelievable,” we said.

“No! Don’t you see?”

And then we did. Hidden in the dense foliage, on a small branch barely a half-inch long, two parrots sat facing each other. And so small that it almost took a magnifying glass to see it, we realized, they were both holding a knife and fork, and were sharing a delicate miniature meal.

At that point we had no words left to express our admiration.

This drawing now adorns the bedroom of your grandfather, who tells us that it still gives him a daily pleasure to study and decipher it.

You’re eighteen now, and I have no problems understanding that lots of other stuff appeals more to you than sitting by yourself and rendering on paper the world as you see it in all its glorious detail.

I’m also naturally delighted that you’re gradually taking your first cautious steps into a social life with friends. So while I privately miss your talented artistic depictions of the world surrounding you, it gives me great pleasure to assure you that as you gradually explore the vastness and wealth of social life, you’ll discover that it is as full of mesmerizing and surprising detail as even you could ever imagine in your parrot masterpiece.

Love, Dad

P.S. – Please see this video of father and son:


P.S.S.– Please see guest column from Joe Scalia tomorrow.

Kjære Gabriel

 

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Scott Nathanson: Play On, My Boys, Play On

 

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Scott Nathanson is the father of Gunnar, 10, and Gus, 7. He has lived for 20 years in the Washington, DC area, working as a lobbyist, researcher and organizer on arms control and environmental issues. He recently stepped back from the saving-the-world gig to do more Dad stuff and is now developing two books, a how-to guide for backyard birthday parties and a work of fiction about a superhero who discovers he cannot use his powers violently even for the greater good. He blogs occasionally on parenting and conflict resolution at http://stophittingyourbrother.wordpress.com/.   
Dear Gunnar and Gus,

If I’m to appreciate a single, essential element of being your Dad – that one distinctive quality that I took from both your Grandpa and your Zayde and tried my best to bring into your lives as well – it is this: Play.

Yes, play.

When memories of your grandfathers leap to my mind, I see your Zayde laughing as he battled snow and wind to hit me pop-flies on a frigid New York morning in December, knowing that because I lived in Atlanta most of the year, his next opportunity to play baseball with me would be after the next season was already over. And your Grandpa taking me down to Murphy Candler Park on a “sick” day so we could play Mets vs. Phillies, teasing me with the prospect of facing ex-Met Nino Espinosa, yet serving up the game-winning home run to my hero, Mookie Wilson (you remember who our cat was named for, right?).

Those flickers of joy glint like gold amid the silt of busy careers and broken marriages. And as I look back at my life with you two, it is those times that we have played that I carry most with me now.

Playing with the two of you, whether turning an oddly-shaped pillow into a game of “Zombie Touch and the Artichoke People” or using whatever we could scrounge on the ground for a game of Coconut Baseball in the Keys, helped me relocate a simple, all-but-lost joy inside myself, and unearth those precious gems from my own childhood.

And when your birthdays rolled around, your love of play kept Chuk-E-Cheese at bay, and gave me the opportunity to be everyone from Indiana Jones to Professor Dumbledore to Super Mario (important note: always go a size larger when wearing spandex costumes) as we gave your imagination life in our backyard. I hope that some of the delight I felt rubbed off on you as well.

And so I urge you, whenever possible, to unbox those childish things that society insisted you put away. Play the way you did when you were five-years-old, beating on a box, a table, a cushion, anything you could get your hands on to mimic the rhythm of Animal’s drum duet with Harry Belafonte. Play for the best of all reasons: because it is the incarnate of joy.

If you do, let me make one more request. Go put a colander on your head and pay it – and play it – forward.

Love,
Dad

P.S. – Please see guest column from Halfdan Freihow tomorrow.

Scott_nathansons_at_dodger_stadium

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Christopher Speed: Kindness, Above All

Chris_speed_with_declan
Christopher Speed, a dietitian in the public relations/marketing industry, is husband to Liz and father to a son Declan, 2, and a daughter, Maeve, now four months of age. Originally from Sydney, Australia, he moved to the U.S. 11 years ago and now resides in Midwood, Brooklyn where he enjoys the vast array of food that results from living among incredible cultural diversity. In his spare time, he plays the classical guitar, cooks and appreciates great beer and wine.

Dear Declan,

Each year I have set myself a personal goal of being kind, and with parenthood this undertaking has become more meaningful to me. I think this personal quest started long ago. My father told me when I was a child that the reason he was kind to me had nothing to do with his wanting me to be kind to him in return. Rather, he wanted me to appreciate how good it felt to receive kindness from my own father so that someday, as a father myself, I would in turn be kind to my own children.

Now that I am nearly 40, with a wonderful growing family and incredible wife, you have helped me appreciate what your grandfather meant. Kindness is one of the most important traits someone possesses that needs to be instilled in us and you’ve shown me that it can start at a young age.

You recently fetched a pacifier for your sister. You politely stepped aside at the playground so that someone could use the slide. And although I had to remind you to share your ball, you did so with great conviction and joy. You are inherently kind. And as you will soon realize, the world needs as much kindness as it can get. With so much political, social and financial unrest, kindness seems to have taken a back seat.

You’re still too young to recognize the significance of being considerate toward others. Still, you make me happy and proud each time you show me glimpses that you understand its value.It gives me the peace of mind that as a new parent I am guiding you on the right path. You understand that you never need a reason to be kind — except that it’s simply the right way to treat others.

All through life, you will get frustrated and disappointed. But you should always know that the kindness in your heart is important, and that it comes from a seed your grandfather sowed in me.

P.S. – Please see guest column from Scott Nathanson tomorrow.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Bud Hanley: Dear Matthew, You Are Our Son And You Will Never Be Forgotten: Part 5

 

Hanley_family_dressed_up

Bud Hanley, a registered financial planner, lives with Joy, his wife of 18 years, and their children, Lauren, 11, and Andrew, 6, in Honea Path, South Carolina. The Hanleys, owners of Legacy Financial Group, Inc., a financial and tax planning firm, are active in church and enjoy fishing in a backyard pond with their kids. They lost their son, Matthew, then an infant born prematurely, in 2002, and founded Matthew’s Hope Children’s Ministry the next year in his memory. The charity helps underprivileged children at Christmas and throughout the year, and also offers scholarships to deserving students. Bud has long written letters to all of his kids.

 

Today, Bud shares the last of his letters to Matthew. “I promised Matthew as he died in my arms that I would work hard to cause good to come to other people because he lived and that I would use every opportunity God gave me to share His goodness,” Bud says. For further details about Matthew’s Hope, you can reach Bud at budhanley@att.net. 

 

Dear Matthew,

   My son, you touched so many lives and you will continue to touch lives. As long as I live, I will tell of the miracles I personally witnessed . . . I will make you these promises . . I will work tirelessly to cause good to come from your life. I will tell the world about you to motivate people to help others in your memory. I will let your life be my testimony and I will share it with as many people as God gives me the opportunity . . .

   I will one day meet you in heaven. Until then, I will continue to live because I know you live . . . I know that your Papas and Grannys in heaven will take care of you . . . Hang in there my, little man, Daddy will be home soon.

Daddy

 

My little Matthew,

 

Good morning, my sweet baby boy. We miss you so much and wish God had allowed you to be with us. Your short life has changed ours and has impacted hundreds of others. We started a non-profit organization in your memory called Matthew’s Hope Children’s Ministry to help other children in our community. I could write a book sharing the many miracles that have taken place through Matthew’s Hope, but I’ll just share this one for now . . .

 

When Mommy was pregnant with you in the fall of 2002, we decided to pick out a needy family and buy Christmas gifts for them on our own. Our church and Sunday school class had done this and we always participated in that, but never had we done it ourselves . . . Our local schools send home an information sheet to the kids who are in need and the families fill it out with requests and sizes . . . Me and Mommy looked through the sheets of paper and one stood out to us.

 

It was a 12- year-old boy with a two-year-old nephew. They lived in a pretty bad home situation. The older boy, Chris Bagwell, returned his sheet to school and asked for socks and underwear and “if possible” a football. He asked for the same for his little two-year- old nephew and “if possible” a fire truck. That broke our hearts and impressed us that a 12- year-old would ask for such minimal and basic needs . . .

 

We loaded those boys down with everything from new jeans, shirts, shoes and coats to bicycles and footballs and fire trucks…and yes socks and underwear. Mommy went and bought the stuff the day before Thanksgiving and came home that night and we wrapped it all up with your big sister “helping” us. She was two years old at the time . . .

 

Then our nightmare began. The day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 30, 2002, your Mommy’s water broke and our ordeal began. You were born and died on December 18th. We flew home and buried you on December 21st. That night, we went and delivered those gifts to Chris and his little nephew.

 

I can’t begin to describe how happy and grateful that little boy was. He had never had such things before. It helped us so much to see the gratitude in his face and his words. He helped us as much as we helped him; he just didn’t realize it. He was so proud of what we had given him.

 

Well, several years passed and we often wondered what happened to Chris because he had impressed us so much. He even worked with his uncle to help bring in some money for his family.

 

We later started Matthew’s Hope and have helped many similar families since then. In the Spring of 2008, two women from Belton-Honea Path High School approached me and asked if we would like to provide a scholarship from Matthew’s Hope. We decided that would be a good idea and instructed them that our criteria would not be necessarily the straight “A” student, but rather a kid who had overcome bad circumstances and did well anyway.

 

They brought us several essays that students had written about why they deserved a scholarship and we chose one that seemed to stand out to us. The scholarships are given every year at a ceremony at Erskine College called the Evening of Excellence. Mommy and me went that evening and presented the scholarship to the recipient after briefly sharing a little about Matthew’s Hope and why we were doing it. It was a nice evening and we went home. We had just walked in the door when the telephone rang. Mommy answered the phone and all of a sudden the color drained from her face and she put it on speaker phone.

 

It was the young man to whom we had just given the scholarship.

He said, “This is Chris—you don’t remember me do you? But when I was 12 years old, you and your husband brought Christmas gifts to me and my nephew.”

 

Matthew, when he said that, I thought I was going to pass out . . . He went on to tell us that when we brought those gifts at age 12, he realized for the first time in his life that somebody loved him.

 

You see how God works? . . .

 

Love,

Daddy

 

P.S. – Next week Father’s Day guest columns from four more Dads will appear.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Bud Hanley: Dear Matthew, You Are Our Son And You Will Never Be Forgotten: Part 4

 

Hanley_matthew

Bud Hanley, a registered financial planner, lives with Joy, his wife of 18 years, and their children, Lauren, 11, and Andrew, 6, in Honea Path, South Carolina. The Hanleys, owners of Legacy Financial Group, Inc., a financial and tax planning firm, are active in church and enjoy fishing in a backyard pond with their kids. They lost their son, Matthew, then an infant born prematurely, in 2002, and founded Matthew’s Hope Children’s Ministry the next year in his memory. The charity helps underprivileged children at Christmas and throughout the year, and also offers scholarships to deserving students. Bud has long written letters to all of his kids.

 

Tomorrow, Bud will share the last of his letters to Matthew. “I promised Matthew as he died in my arms that I would work hard to cause good to come to other people because he lived and that I would use every opportunity God gave me to share His goodness,” Bud says. For further details about Matthew’s Hope, you can reach Bud at budhanley@att.net.

My Matthew,

   Today is Saturday and I have experienced a parent’s worst nightmare. I had to bury you today.

   On Wednesday, December 18, 2002, your Mommy and I went to NYU Medical Center at 6:30 to begin what would be the hardest day of our lives. It began with Mommy waking up around 5:00 with a temperature of 100.6. Dr. Young had told us that if her temperature was 100.4 or more, he wouldn’t do the procedure.

   Mommy was determined to get you all the help she could, so she took two Tylenol and took a cold bath to lower her temperature before we got the hospital at 6:30 . . . When we arrived at the hospital . . . Mommy even put the thermometer on top of her tongue to keep Dr. Young from knowing she had a temperature. Around 7:30, they came for your Mommy to take her down to the operating room. My wait began.

Around 8:30, they brought her back to monitor her One of the nurses touched her and knew she was warm . . . She was having some contractions. Fear struck both of us. We just knew that Dr. Young would cancel the procedure. We had come so far and it sickened us to think that after all we had overcome, we wouldn’t get the help we so desperately wanted for you . . .

   After 45 minutes of monitoring, the contractions stopped . . . so at 9:45, they took her back to the operating room again and began the procedure . . . One hour passed, then two. After the third hour passed, I began to get worried.

   Then at around 1:00, I received word that the procedure and recovery was over and that I could see her. When I arrived, she was still very groggy and she was complaining of severe pain in her left hip . . . Dr. Young had told us to expect some contractions due to the procedure, so when they started, we weren’t worried about it. This continued, getting progressively worse . . . very painful and more frequent. I realized that my worst fears were coming true.

   By 3:00, Mommy was in full-blown labor and we knew that you were coming. I began to pray like I’ve never prayed before . . . By 3:30, we were whisked into the operating room and the miraculous process of preparing for you began. They not only had to prepare the room for your birth, but also a neonatal team had to be assembled to care for you immediately after birth. There had to be 20 or more people there awaiting your arrival.

   At 3:44, you were born. Your tiny body emerged from a breech position. The team of doctors desperately began to work with you. As they worked with you, you pee-peed and pooped. This was encouraging to the doctors and to us.

   They then took you up to the neonatal intensive care unit and continued to work with you. Mommy had already instructed me to leave her and stay with you wherever they took you and I promised her I would. But they wouldn’t allow me to go with you. They said they would need an hour or so to get you stabilized and get everything done to help you. I reluctantly consented and waited with Mommy . . .

   Finally, about 5:00 they came and told us we could see you before they did the next round of x-rays and procedures to check your lung development. When we saw you in the NIC unit, we both cried our hearts out. You were so very tiny and you were having to go through so much to try and live. Your Daddy’s heart was shattered. I would have gladly accepted everything you had to endure if I could have. We spent only a few minutes with you and then we had to leave so they could continue to help you. We returned to the room to wait some more.

   Finally about 10:00, Dr. Edith McCarthy, the neonatologist who was in charge of your care came to our room. Her face clearly showed that she was about to give us bad news . , , Until then, I hadn’t even entertained for one second the possibility that you would be anything but fine . . .

   As Dr. McCarthy began to speak . . . she told us that there was not enough oxygen getting to your brain and other organs and that the chest x-rays revealed that your little lungs had not developed. She told us that there was only one other thing they could try. It was a high-speed ventilator that may help and it may not. She told us that, due to the high speed, it could violently shake you and could cause bleeding in the brain.

   I could not do it.

   That’s where we had to stop and leave it all to God.

   Mommy and I had to make the decision that no parent should ever have to make. We had to remove the ventilator that was keeping you alive. At around 11:00, we went down to the NIC unit and Dr. McCarthy arranged for a private room for us to be able to hold you and spend some time with you. She had prepared us, saying that you would likely only live a few minutes. They brought you to us and we held you and cuddled you. We talked to you and told you we were with you and that we loved you. We called Papa and Nana, Papa and Grandma and Great Granny. They all spoke their love to you.

   I believe you heard them.

   As your Papa cried and prayed, he begged God to take his life right then and spare yours. As I heard him pray, I knew that that was a prayer that only a parent could pray. I felt so sorry for all of your grandparents . . . After everyone had spoken to you, I held you close to my face and wept. As I walked with you and rocked you in my arms, I told you how much you meant to me and how I loved you. I told you that it was okay to stop fighting. I was speaking words to my only son that I never dreamed I was capable of speaking . . .

   I held you as you left this world.

   I believe God allowed you to hear us and you somehow knew of our deep love for you            . . . Looking back now, I know we could never have endured the pain without the presence of God in that room . . .

   You are my son and you will not be forgotten.

 

Love,

Daddy

 

P.S. – Part 5 will appear tomorrow.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Bud Hanley: Dear Matthew, You Are Our Son And You Will Never Be Forgotten: Part 3

Hanley_family

Bud Hanley, a registered financial planner, lives with Joy, his wife of 18 years, and their children, Lauren, 11, and Andrew, 6, in Honea Path, South Carolina. The Hanleys, owners of Legacy Financial Group, Inc., a financial and tax planning firm, are active in church and enjoy fishing in a backyard pond with their kids. They lost their son, Matthew, then an infant born prematurely, in 2002, and founded Matthew’s Hope Children’s Ministry the next year in his memory. The charity helps underprivileged children at Christmas and throughout the year, and also offers scholarships to deserving students. Bud has long written letters to all of his kids.

 

Over the next two days, Bud will more of his letters to Matthew, written as the baby struggled for nearly three weeks to survive and also after his death. “I promised Matthew as he died in my arms that I would work hard to cause good to come to other people because he lived and that I would use every opportunity God gave me to share His goodness,” Bud says. For further details about Matthew’s Hope, you can reach Bud at budhanley@att.net.

 

Dear Matthew,

Four more days have passed . . . Since then, we went to the Anderson Hospital on Saturday and the fluid index was 6. This was great news and it gave us all a great sense of relief and we thanked and praised God for the great news. The weekend passed and everything seemed to be okay.

 

Then on Monday . . . the fluid index was 1.8. This news crushed us. We were so confident that the hole had closed and the fluid was still there. We are now looking at the option of going to New York to see Dr. Bruce Young.

 

Last night he informed me that your Mommy was the only person with a spontaneous rupture that has qualified for the procedure. The qualifications are: going a full week without delivering, no bleeding, no infection and no signs of labor. He said that he couldn’t explain why you haven’t already been born. Almost 100% of women whose water breaks deliver within a week . . . I pray every day that God will provide that “living water” for you to survive on . . . I am totally helpless and at the mercy of God. I am learning what it means to totally surrender to Him . . .

 

Hang in there, my little buddy. I love you with all my heart.

 

Daddy

 

My Little Miracle Boy,

. . . We have made it to 24 weeks tomorrow . . . The miracle continues to unfold and you continue to fight and appear perfectly okay . . . We know that you are okay because your Papa and Great Granny says there is “Living Water” there.

 

. . . We decided to come to New York City to see Dr. Young . . . After about two hours there, we went on to have an ultrasound . . . It was comforting for us to hear him say that your growth was right on target and your heart appeared perfectly normal. That news only reconfirmed what we already knew. We know that God is taking care of you and sparing your life for a reason. . . The doctors continue to be amazed at how this has played out . . .

 

During the day yesterday, we kept seeing this other couple. Everywhere we went, they were there too. Finally, at the end of the day, we decided to introduce ourselves to them and find out why there were seeing Dr. Young . . . They were here for the exact same reason we were. This lady was the second case of a spontaneous rupture who had qualified for this procedure . . . We went on to have dinner with them and learned all about each other. We know that God orchestrated this meeting . . .

 

Tomorrow morning, we have to be at the hospital at 6:30 a.m. Mommy will have the procedure done sometime after that . . . I look so forward to the moment I can hold you in my arms and cuddle you. I will tell the story of this miracle as long as I live.

 

I love you,

Daddy

 

P.S. – Part 4 will appear tomorrow.g.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Bud Hanley: Dear Matthew, You Are Our Son And You Will Never Be Forgotten: Part 2

 

Hanley_couple

Bud Hanley, a registered financial planner, lives with Joy, his wife of 18 years, and their children, Lauren, 11, and Andrew, 6, in Honea Path, South Carolina. The Hanleys, owners of Legacy Financial Group, Inc., a financial and tax planning firm, are active in church and enjoy fishing in a backyard pond with their kids. They lost their son, Matthew, then an infant born prematurely, in 2002, and founded Matthew’s Hope Children’s Ministry the next year in his memory. The charity helps underprivileged children at Christmas and throughout the year, and also offers scholarships to deserving students. Bud has long written letters to all of his kids.

 

Over the next three days, Bud will share his letters to Matthew, written as the baby struggled for nearly three weeks to survive, and also after his death. “I promised Matthew as he died in my arms that I would work hard to cause good to come to other people because he lived and that I would use every opportunity God gave me to share His goodness,” Bud says. For further details about Matthew’s Hope, you can reach Bud at budhanley@att.net.


My precious baby,

 

Your Mommy and me saw your heart beat for the first time last Tuesday . . . That was our first doctor visit . . . That made it official . . . I pray for you every day . . . You are due to arrive on Mommy’s birthday.

 

Love,

Daddy

 

My Little Man,

That’s right! You’re a little boy . . . I’m going to have a son . . . I need your help. Right now, with all these girls, I need some help balancing it out. You will be my little buddy . . . I think of all the things we will do together and I just bubble over inside.

Love, Daddy

 

My little Matthew,

. . . Yesterday about 10:30, the worst fear I have ever experienced came over me. Around that time, your Mommy’s water broke. We were putting up our Christmas tree and playing Christmas music. Your sister Lauren was helping me put the lights on the tree. We were having the time of our lives . . . You are only 21 weeks old right now. If you are born now, you won’t survive. As I write this, we are literally taking it one hour at a time. We arrived at the hospital at about 11:30 yesterday. We were scared to death, but hopeful and certain that the doctor would be able to stop the process and everything would be all right. Dr. Herring arrived about 1:00 and confirmed our worst fears. She confirmed that the water had broken . . . She told us that there was nothing she could do to stop your birth and that it could happen at any time. She said that 70% of the time, delivery takes place within a week of the water break.

   So that’s where we are . . . We are praying tirelessly for you, my little man. As I write this, I am not certain if I will ever hold you and play with you. I’m not sure that you and I will be able to play with the football I bought you two days ago. There are many things I’m unsure of right now.

   But I am sure of this: God is in control of this situation . . . and I pray . . . God is blessing your little tiny body right now. You are already beating the odds and with every passing hour and every passing day . . . We believe with all our hearts that you are a miracle baby and you are going to be okay . . . God is orchestrating this miracle and we are witnessing it . . . If God will grant this miracle, I will forever thank and praise Him . . . He is going to keep you from evil and protect you from harm . . .

 

Love,

Daddy

 

My little Matthew,

. . . Your Mommy came home from the hospital Monday afternoon . . . You were still doing well . . . You are a fighter and your Mommy is a fighter. You weren’t supposed to make it this long . . . We are still taking it one hour and one day at a time. Everything I read on the Internet says that you have a very slim chance of survival. That may be true in earthly terms, but in heavenly terms you have a 100% chance. Matthew, God is going to take care of you, and Mommy and me will see you alive and healthy. If God sees fit to take you to heaven, we will see you there one day . . . You are in God’s hands and His grace is sufficient for all of us . . . God has a purpose for this happening and one day we will know why . . . We love you, little man.

Daddy

 

My little Matthew,

   . . . Two more days have passed since I last wrote . . . You survived from Wednesday to Thursday on little to no fluid. This can’t be medically explained. But it can be divinely explained. God’s hand is on you and he is keeping you. . .

   Dr. Dellinger did an amniotic infusion to give you some fluid to help your lungs develop properly. Your Mommy gladly and willingly had a 6-inch needle inserted into her belly to provide you with this precious fluid . . .

   We found out about a doctor in Tampa, Florida who does a procedure which can patch the hole where the fluid is leaking. We called in hopes that they could help us. We were too late. You are a little over 22 weeks along and they won’t take anyone over 22 weeks. I begged and pleaded with them to help us, but they wouldn’t.

   However, they did tell me about a doctor in New York City and I called this morning to check on that option. It appears that it may be a possibility. I am waiting on a call back now from them. If there is any possibility that they can help you, we are going to New York .It doesn’t matter what the cost is, we are going. We will give up every possession we have if necessary to find a way to help you . . .

   I believe God can stop that leak . . . You keep fighting and I’ll keep praying. If we do this, God will keep working . . .

   We are longing to see you and hold you. You will be a special baby, a miracle baby . . .

I love you,

Daddy

 

P.S. – Part 3 will appear tomorrow.

Father’s Day Guest Columnist Bud Hanley: Dear Matthew, You Are Our Son And You Will Never Be Forgotten

Hanley_kids

Bud Hanley, a registered financial planner, lives with Joy, his wife of 18 years, and their children, Lauren, 11, and Andrew, 6, in Honea Path, South Carolina. The Hanleys, owners of Legacy Financial Group, Inc., a financial and tax planning firm, are active in church and enjoy fishing in a backyard pond with their kids. They lost their son, Matthew, then an infant born prematurely, in 2002, and founded Matthew’s Hope Children’s Ministry the next year in his memory. The charity helps underprivileged children at Christmas and throughout the year, and also offers scholarships to deserving students.

Bud has long written letters to all of his kids. Below is his latest letter to Lauren and Andrew. Over the next four days, Bud will share a series of his letters to Matthew, written as the baby struggled for nearly three weeks to survive and also after his death, both soon after and recently. “I promised Matthew as he died in my arms that I would work hard to cause good to come to other people because he lived and that I would use every opportunity God gave me to share His goodness,” Bud says. For further details about Matthew’s Hope, you can reach Bud at budhanley@att.net.

Dear Lauren and Andrew,

I am amazed at the gifts you are to me, and sometimes overwhelmed at my responsibility as your Daddy.

I started writing to you both long before you were even born. I wanted to share my observations about our lives, our community and the world around us. More important, I wanted to feel close to you, and for you to feel that closeness even many years from now when you read my heartfelt words.

Lauren, I remember so well the day you were born 12 years ago. The ultrasound informed us that you were a little girl, and my heart just exploded with love. At that very moment I promised you I would protect and love and support you.

When you were a toddler, I went into the swimming pool with you. Sometimes you were scared, but you always seemed to know you were safe with me there.

Now you are about to enter the years every Dad dreads – the teen years. I wish I could always protect you from pain and fix your problems. But I’m learning that I have to teach you to handle any obstacles. That’s hard. You’re my baby girl.

Sometimes I will have to pull back a little and let you spread your wings.

Luckily, you are independent and strong willed, qualities you inherited from me and your Mom. You’re definitely a risk taker.

You’ve grown into a beautiful young lady, smart and funny, too But my favorite quality about you is your heart. You are sweet and compassionate.

My prayer for you, my sweetheart, is for God to bless you and one day let you fly higher than the sky.

Andrew, you recently made the best decision you will ever make. You accepted Jesus into your heart. I’m so proud of you, my little man.

When we lost your big brother, Matthew, I was unsure I would have the courage to try to have another child. Our family had a void from losing Matthew that I doubted could be filled. For almost two years that void grew only deeper and wider. But then you came along.

Losing Matthew was more devastating than anything that has ever happened to me. I would walk to the moon and back if I could have him back. But maybe because God took him I have you now.

You are 100% boy. On any given Saturday, you will get me in the yard playing one sport after another with you. Last Saturday we started the morning off with some baseball, then moved on to football, then fishing, then back to baseball.

The other day you looked at me and thanked me for teaching you what I have taught you. Here’s part of your list. How to catch and hit a baseball. How to throw and catch a football. How to fish for bass. How to love Jesus.

In such moments, I realize that however much I fail at anything, I’m still succeeding. Thank you for that, my little buddy. Thank you, both.

Love,

Dad

 

P.S. – Part 2 will appear tomorrow.

Family Money: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

My grandmother was going to buy me a car. Never did (nor, by the way, had I ever asked her to).

My parents were going to help buy us a house. Never did (once again, it was offered rather than requested, much less expected).

My father was going to give us his inheritance from his mother. Never did.
So even though money – the having of it, the anticipation of it, the use of it – gave me pleasure, it also gave me (and Mom) some pain. We went through more than a few difficulties with my family over money.

So. Let us now ask a big question. Why this fixation with money?

Well, let me acknowledge this. Nobody in our family started off rich. My grandfather Benjamin came over from a small town in Russia at the age of two with nothing, went to college and managed to succeed as an accountant with his own firm. My great-grandfather Isidore was a tailor, and his daughter, Gertrude, grew up on Madison Street on the Lower East Side, sleeping in the same bed with her three younger brothers.

So yes, money was important to my family because originally nobody had much of it and money meant sheer survival.

What’s my point here? What am I trying to teach you? Is it that I’m bitter about these experiences?

No (though I’ll admit to being disappointed in my family). Rather, it’s that we have to watch out how we treat each other, how we see each other and ultimately how we judge each other. All I ever want for you is to be happy, no matter what form it takes or how much money it brings you.

Family Money

Money
Dear Michael and Caroline,

With my family, so much of life came down to money. The giving and taking of money, promises about it and lies about it.

Money did us all some good, but it also caused plenty of harm. No one in my family ever seemed to have quite enough of the stuff. It seemed to be talked about all the time – worried about, bragged about, reflected over.

Money always felt like a character in the room, a character who begged many questions. How much money do I have? How much should I have? How should I spend it?

Okay, then. Let’s talk turkey now. I never wanted for money as a child growing up. Never felt the twinge of need for anything. Always had money in my pocket – enough for candy or a soda or a comic book and, later on, scotch and marijuana.

My allowance was maybe $5 a week when I was 10 or 12; we’re talking 1962 or 1964, when you could live well on $100 a week. My bar mitzvah in 1965 yielded me $5,000 – no small sum at the time. My grandmother was always slipping me money – a $10 bill here, a $20 bill there.

So I had no complaints.

And I believed everyone in the world lived the same.

Then, as I got older, I noticed certain goings-on, started to piece together the money puzzle. My Uncle Leonard seemed always to talk about money – his money and how much of it he had. At family gatherings, usually Passover and Thanksgiving, he would tell us how he now earned $1,500 a day as a lawyer, how he paid only $100 for a sweater in France.

One time – oh, this is a classic – his wife Monique got into the act. I had just gotten my first full-time job. It was 1977 and it was with a weekly community newspaper called The Eastside Courier. I was quite excited because now I was going to get to be a professional journalist, and looked forward to telling my whole family. And no sooner did I share my news at the dinner table than Monique asked me how much the job paid.

I told her $175 a week.

She looked around the table and said, “Is that even enough to buy toilet paper?”

She deflated my pride in an instant, and I never forgave her for that remark.

Then of course came all the promises about money, most later broken.

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.

Say Hello To My 2012 Father’s Day Guest Columnists

Father_and_baby
Five fathers of all ages from around the U.S. will perform a special act in honor of Father’s Day this year. Starting this Monday and extending over the next two weeks, each father will go public with a letter he wrote to his children. They’ll do that in my second annual Father’s Day special here at letterstomykids.org (LTMK).

The lineup:

Christopher Speed, a dietician and public relations specialist in Brooklyn, will tell what his father taught him about kindness that he has passed along to his son Declan.
· Scott Nathanson, a former lobbyist in Washington D.C., will tell his sons Gunnar and Gus why he believes so strongly in the value of play.

Halfdan W. Freihow of Norway, author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Somewhere Over The Sea: A Father’s Letters To His Autistic Son,” will share a letter to his autistic son, Gabriel.
Joe Scalia, a former teacher in Long Island, New York, will post a recent letter intended to reconnect him with his estranged adult son, Jesse.
Bud Hanley, a financial advisor in South Carolina, will deliver a five-part series and reveal his letters to his son Matthew, who died shortly after his premature birth almost 10 years ago, and the charity established in his honor.
As it happens, other fathers increasingly appear to be doing likewise – putting personal family history in writing as a legacy to future generations – whether in letters, journals, “Daddy” blogs or memoirs. More than ever, Dads are evidently doing what Dads are seldom known for doing in public, much less in private – opening up and expressing themselves, writing down what they might never say aloud..

Richard Haddad, a former and future LTMK guest columnist, has long written letters to his children, Ashleigh and Jonathan. Frank Cavallaro, likewise an LTMK contributor, has done the same with his three daughters, Laura, Jennifer and Kim. So have others.

Of course, fathers writing letters to their children is hardly new. The practice dates back at least as far as ancient Rome, when the philosopher and statesman Cicero wrote letters to his son Marcus. More recently, President Barack Obama went public with a letter to his daughters Sasha and Malia.

Please share the upcoming guest columns with the world at large to help spread the word. After all, fathers (and mothers) who commit to the simple practice of writing down personal family history create a legacy that lasts forever. Thank you.