Guest columnists Barry Kluger and Kelly Farley: Law Should Give The Sandy Hook Parents Time To Grieve

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Barry Kluger lost his daughter Erica in 2001. He is a former media executive and is President and CEO of The MISS Foundation, a global bereavement organization (www.missfoundation.org). Kelly Farley lost his daughter Katie in 2004 and his son Noah in 2006. He created the Grieving Dads Project (www.grievingdads.com).

Dear parents of the Sandy Hook School tragedy,

Like many of you, we have watched the nightmare that came out of Newtown, Connecticut over the last few weeks. Some of us look at the horrific event and believe the pain the parents are feeling is unimaginable, while others understand what this pain feels like.

We speak from experience. We know the pain of losing children, and even though our losses were several years ago and in circumstances far different, we can relate to the parents who now grieve over the Sandy Hook tragedy.

We are both bereaved fathers who lost our children (Erica Kluger, Katie and Noah Farley) in 2001, 2004 and 2006. We each have translated our losses into actions designed to give other bereaved parents more time to grieve. In 2011, we established the Farley-Kluger Initiative (www.FarleyKluger.com) to amend the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 to include death of a child. Right now, you get up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off after the birth of a child, but only a customary two to three days to bury that child.

 

No doubt, most managers and the companies are compassionate enough to provide such parents much more than two or three days of bereavement leave. But sadly, we have learned in the course of our efforts on the Farley-Kluger Initiative that many parents feel pressure to get back to work immediately, for fear that doing otherwise might cost them their jobs.


The grief that comes from the death of a child never goes away. It lasts a lifetime. It eventually lessens in magnitude as we learn to deal with it, and we survive in spite of it. We all know what to do when we lose a job, but we have no idea what to do when we lose a child. No one and nothing, even our faith, prepares us for what we will feel or will have to do. The dynamics of such invisible wounds are universal. Sometimes we are unable to feel at all or cry, or we cry, but feel we should cry more.

That’s why we want to change the law, and why we are taking steps to advance that change early in the next session of Congress. We have sent petitions with more than 41,000 signatures to members of the U.S. House and Senate and met with more than 45 legislators, including many in the Connecticut delegation. Next month, we will be back at it, only now representing the parents of the Sandy Hook School victims.

 

Hundreds of thousands of parents over the centuries have lost a child to illness, accident, war, murder and suicide. Each story is heartbreaking. And all of you now belong to a club no one wishes to join, and only those of us who have walked in your shoes understand the indelible sadness. Though Newtown is unique in its terrible circumstances, you will never be alone, nor should you ever be forgotten.

 

We ask all of you — and others who were spared tragedy — to join us in this fight to make a difference. We never know when we, too, will have to walk this path.

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Guest columnist David Rosen: You Caught Me When I Fell And Now I’ll Be Catching You

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David Rosen and his wife Deborah live in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with daughters Allison, 10, and Jessica, 7. David has worked in pharmaceutical and healthcare public relations since 1993. Laid off at Bristol-Myers Squibb four years ago, he wandered the earth in search of his next position. In 2010 he went back to school to become a New Jersey state-certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and today answers the call in the towns of Cherry Hill and Berlin. He’s also a volunteer firefighter with a unit of the Cherry Hill Fire Department that coordinates rehabilitation of firefighters during incidents. Last month he landed a position at Ogilvy Public Relations in New York.

 

Dear Allie and Jess:

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote you a letter and told you how you have helped me through these last few, tough years for me. I promised you I’d be there to support you and be your “cornerstone.” I promised to spend as much time as possible with you, all to help you grow and catch you when you fall (http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-david-rosenyou).

I’d like to think I’ve succeeded. Yes I’ve been around more since getting laid off at the end of 2008. But in 2012, even with my crazy hours as an EMT, I was more involved — general family time, coaching soccer and running you around to all your activities.

You’ve both matured so much in the last year. You took a huge step in going to sleep-away camp for the first time. I know it was harder on your mom and me than it was for you to go away for the summer. You both ran to the bus when it was time to go. Your excitement comforted us. But we felt sad because you were leaving us for the first time.

But then you both did something – you climbed the steps of the bus, turned around, and flashed us those big, beautiful smiles — and that strengthened us. In that split second, everything become okay – we knew we had prepared you for those weeks away. You in turn prepared us to make it through those long summer days without you. Showing us your strength made us stronger.

You also showed us through your commitment to your schoolwork and the sports you participate in that the lessons we’re trying to teach you are getting through. You’ve proven yourselves as leaders on the soccer field and dedicated and disciplined with your karate lessons. Your growing confidence makes your mother and me so proud!

Best of all, you continued to help me — to help me to see what’s truly important in life. You continued to support, comfort and tolerate me. It was hardly easy. Even though I returned to public relations for a few months, that job ended in January. I went back to being home and job searching. I put in long hours every day looking for a job and playing taxi driver for the both of you. And then I went to work at the Cherry Hill Fire Department or Berlin EMS where I gave my time to help others in need. Only sometimes did you understand why I was away so much.

But you accepted it. You made sure the time we spent together — at Phillies games or at your soccer and softball practices — really counted. I often wished I could freeze time so those moments would last forever. But then the next day would come and turn out to be even better.

In 2013, I promise to be there for you as much as you’ve been there for me.

Love,

Dad

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Guest Columnist Mindy Gikas: Patience, Patience And More Patience (My Mantra For 2013)

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Mindy Gikas and her husband, Reverend Basil Gikas, live in Mahwah, New Jersey, with Justin, 13, and Lillianna,11. Mindy is a Senior Vice President of Human Resources for a firm in New York City and Father Bill is a Greek Orthodox Priest in Wyckoff, New Jersey.

Dear Justin and Lillianna,

Wow, what a year it’s been! We’ve been on a roller coaster of exhilarating ups, sinking downs, unexpected twists, and scary turns. We started the year leaving our old church and coming into a new parish. Then we dealt with Dad’s surgery, followed by the seemingly endless search for a new house, then finally got settled in a new area, and started in a new school, and made new friends, and on and on. Thank God, we’ve weathered it all. I’m truly proud of the way you’ve both managed the ride.

Last year I published my resolutions for you on this website, letterstomykids.org, in the hopes of really keeping them (http://letterstomykids.org/new-years-eve-guest-columnist-mindy-gikas-fin). Here we are a year later and I’ve had mixed results.

Lilli, last year I resolved to spend more time with you and to listen more. Though it hasn’t always been easy to find the time — we’ve been so busy juggling all the demands of daily life — we’ve grown closer this year. I’ve seen you grow up before my eyes from my little girl into an amazing young lady. You have good judgment (or so it appears). You’re also smart, motivated, beautiful and self-assured.

In the coming year, I resolve to continue to be there for you, to help you, to support you and to listen to you – even when some of what I hear about life in middle school may be scary to me (like boys, parties, etc.). I also promise I won’t mediate every argument between you and your brother, but will resolve to remain impartial — except when the screaming gets really loud and then I’m retreating to my room to let the two of you battle it out. Sorry about that!

Justin, last year I resolved to give you more space and more freedom to manage your school work and we both know that didn’t really work for either one of us. When you’re left on your own, the school work didn’t get done and mediocre to bad grades were the result. My frustration and helplessness often got the better of me and I often lost my temper (okay, there was lots of yelling and screaming) and for that, I’m sorry.

This year, my resolution is to have more patience. I’ll keep on top of you to make sure you do what needs to be done because I love you too much to let you neglect your school work, but I will do it with patience. I’m not quite sure yet what that will look like when I come home late from work only to find you haven’t done some major homework assignment due the next day, but we’ll see. I’m hoping I won’t lose my temper as often, I’ll try to keep calm, help you if you need my help, and remain firm that you need to work harder, complete homework assignments on time and study for tests. Perhaps with more patience on my part, we’ll both be less stressed out and your grades will improve as well.

Finally, your father’s and my faith in God helped guide us through this roller coaster year. We continue to keep our faith in Him as we move into a new year of new challenges and opportunities. My final resolution for both of you it that you too will keep your faith in God and allow Him to guide you always – no matter how uncool you think that might be.

Happy New Year. I love you both more than you can ever imagine.

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Guest Columnist Eliza Schleifstein: In Death, We May Discover Life

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Eliza Schleifstein lives with her husband Todd and daughters Darcy, 10, and Emily, 7, in Randolph, New Jersey. Still practicing public relations after all these years, but now as a freelancer, she works with advocacy groups and pharmaceutical clients to help raise awareness for disease categories and new treatments, but only when she is not playing chauffeur. Eliza has been writing letters to her children for them to read when they are older since Darcy was born in 2002.

Dear Darcy and Emily,

It’s about 3 a.m. on Monday, December 17, and I can’t sleep. You’re going back to school tomorrow. Because of the tragedy in Newtown, the police will be there. Counselors will on hand to talk with you about what you’ve heard about Newtown if you need. Kids in elementary school should never have to deal with anything like this.

When I heard the news the Friday before, the phrase that popped into my head was, “There but for the grace of G-d, go I.” It’s sad we live in a world where this could happen anywhere, but unfortunately, the fact is that it can happen, even with armies of adults working every day to keep you all safe.

For a while now, I’ve wanted to write something for you both about how a child copes with death – more particularly, how I coped with the death of my mother when I was six years old. What I learned from the biggest tragedy of my life and what you both should take away from it. But I was unable to write a single word.

Until Newtown. The murder of 27 people, including 20 children who are the same age as you are, Emily, broke through that resistance.

My mother died after a long battle with cancer. But because I was so young, I had no idea she was going to die. So her death felt sudden. Most of my memories of her are of my visits to her in the hospital. I grew up marked by a certain unmistakable sadness. I spent most of my childhood afraid that something bad would happen to my father, too – that he, too, would die – and I would be left without any parents.

Here, then, is what I I learned at the age of six. Life can be cut short. Life is fragile and every day is precious. And no matter how hard you try, picking up the pieces is very difficult and takes time. Yes, you have every right to take time to be sad. The deaths of loved ones, like your Grandma Dorothy, or events like those in Newtown, Columbine and Aurora – and on 9/11 – where many people perished, are horrible to live through.

But pick up the pieces you must. You have to live your life and accomplish something in order to honor the lives of those no longer physically here. In trying to be the kind of parent my mother would want me to be — and always to advocate for you – I honor my mother.

I want nothing more to raise you both in a bubble and always keep you safe. But my mother would have wanted me to be a different kind of parent. She would have wanted you to take the opportunity to live your lives to the fullest, even in the face of inevitable risks. That’s the most important lesson I learned from losing my mother as a child, and that you can now learn from Newtown. Never live your life in fear of what could happen. Look forward to every day. Do what the lost children of Newtown would do at this very moment if they could. Take the hands of your friends. Run out to the playground. Enjoy being alive.

Love & Kisses,

Mommy

P.S. – Let me leave you with one other thought. Six teachers died on that Friday in Newtown, essentially acting as human shields to protect their students. They, too, were moms and dads and children and siblings. They, too, are now mourned by family members. When they signed up to be teachers, it was because they loved to teach. Unfortunately, though, they found themselves with no choice but to become human shields. They adored their students as if they were their own flesh and blood and protected them without worrying about their own lives. So it is at your school. Your teachers, your principal and the whole staff also love you and your friends as if you were family. I have no doubt they would have acted the same. So when you go to school today, please give the staff an extra big hug or a high five. Today is probably even tougher for them than for you. Now they grasp as never before that caring for children is the biggest responsibility any adult ever faces.

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Take The Pledge To Write Letters To Your Kids (Part 3)

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Dear Readers,

Once again I’m extending to you a one-time offer to take the pledge to write letters to your kids – except of course technically this is my second offer.

Once again, too, taking the pledge is available free of charge – only now I’m offering a discount.

So if you’re under 100 years old, you get 15% off.

And if you’re older than 100 years of age, you get 20% off.

And in case I forgot to mention it, if you take the pledge, you’ll never be hungry again or get fat.

In fact, you’ll be happy 24 hours a day, year in and year out, even possibly well into your afterlife.

So here, to bring us home for the week, is a question just for you. Why else, among all the possible motives at your disposal, should you take the pledge to write letters to your kids?

Here are my top seven reasons:

1. It will make you feel good.
2. It will make your kids feel good.
3. It will make the world a better place.
4. You’ll learn about yourself and your life.
5. You’ll realize just how very much you love your kids.
6. It will make the world a better place (I said that already, but it’s worth repeating)
7. My best friend, Al, likes this blog. So does my favorite doorman, Carlos. And if it’s good enough for Al and Carlos, it should be good enough for anyone.
So ask yourself, “Do I want a bright future? If the answer is “yes,” then take the pledge now.

P.S. – Take the pledge here: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

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Take The Pledge: Write Letters To Your Kids (Part 2)

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Dear Readers,

So here’s a New Year’s resolution I urge you to make for 2012.

Write letters to your kids. Get it in writing. Preserve it for posterity.

That’s what this blog is all about. Letterstomykids.org is drawn from journals about my personal family history that I wrote for our kids, Michael and Caroline, over the course of two years.

Now, as January 1 nears, I’m calling on all you parents (and grandparents) out there to do the same.

But why take my word for it? Look below at the endorsements my humble little blog has accumulated from The New York Times,The Washington Post, CBS News and Huffington Post.

Chances are, if the White House were even remotely aware of my existence – a big “if,” I know – it would probably recommend it, too.

Ditto the GOP, for that matter.

That’s why my home page invites you to “Take The Pledge” (below). Just click the link and scroll down to the pledge icon. Click again to close the ad there and click once more to answer the question, “Will you pledge to write letters to your kids?” (Presumably your answer will be “yes.”

Voila! Three clicks and you’ll see your voice counted.

P.S. – Take the pledge here: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

P.P.S. – Media coverage about my blog: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/letters-to-my-kids/

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

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7393406n

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/23/thank-you-letters_n_1110137.html

P.P.P.S. – See part 3 tomorrow.

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Take The Pledge: Write Letters To Your Kids

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Dear Readers,

From today through Friday, letterstomykids.org will hold its third annual Take The Pledge Week.

Without further ado, then, I hereby officially invite you to take the pledge to write letters to your kids.

“Why should I?” you might ask yourself. “I’ve made enough pledges – to stop smoking, to circumnavigate the globe, to master quantum physics – to hold me for life.”

Well, for starters, if you take the pledge, you’ll lose all your extra weight overnight.

You’ll also be able to earn at least a million dollars a day working from home in your spare time.

Can any other pledge you know make such claims?

Ah, but here’s the clincher. Taking the pledge to write letters to your kids is now free.

True, it was free before. But now it’s even freer.

In fact, it’s twice as free. That’s a 50% savings!

Here’s the catch, though. It’s a one-time offer only. Or at least it will be until the second time it’s offered. The third, too.

So act now. Happiness guaranteed or your money back, no questions asked.

P.S. – Take the pledge here: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

P.P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Guest columnists Kate and David Marshall: If Life Is A Journey, Here’s a Map (part 3)

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Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net

Dear Emily and Ben,

We’ve been working on mapping out our lives—past, present and future—using My Life Map. We each made a map for our whole life and a set of maps for the next ten years focusing on different parts of our lives: family, friends, learning, work, service, and play. As we map our own futures, we again find ourselves wondering what your next steps will be. We hope you’ll think about mapping your lives, too. Guess what life mapping journal you’re getting for Christmas?

We want you to be happy. What do you need in your lives to be happy (kids, mountains, ample playmates, a loving marriage, stimulating career, doses of solitude)? What do you want to be known as (lawyer with a heart, marathoner, master pie maker, innovator…)? What do you want to be known for (popularizing wind energy, making people laugh, designing a new product…)?

These questions aren’t easy, we know, but they are important. You’ll be asking yourselves these questions again, many times, in your life. Each time life surprises you (unexpected baby, job opportunity or loss, relationship changes); each time a major life transition approaches (graduation, marriage, empty nest, retirement); and whenever the path you’re on stops feeling right, you’ll stop and reassess. At least we hope you will.

Figuring out your work lives is probably center stage for both of you now. How do you picture yourself practicing law, Emily: what kind of law, what kind of firm? Ben, how will you use your engineering degree: what kind of projects, what kind of team? None of these decisions are irreversible, but they are big choices nonetheless. Does it feel overwhelming? We are honored to talk things through with you.

Other parts of your future lives deserve some imagining as well, not just work. Emily, since you haven’t had much time to play since you started law school, what do you miss? What sort of play do you want to bring back into your life or to start, once you have time—travel, painting, hula hoop? How do you each see yourselves contributing in the future: coaching youth soccer?, donating to a food bank?, raising wonderful children?, opening a free clinic?, volunteering for a political campaign?

Does long-term planning make you squirm? It’s okay:

1. Angst is normal. We adults try to make kids think we just naturally have it all figured out. But that’s not true; it takes work.

2. It’s easier than you think, if you use a tool like My Life Map that breaks it into bite-sized pieces.

3. You will not be a failure if what you write in your life map does not come true!

Sometimes things turn out the way we planned them, and sometimes they don’t. As a young girl growing up in rural New Jersey, Mom’s dream of faraway lands eventually led her to living in exotic places such as Mexico, Germany and…California. On a life map Dad made in his twenties, he wrote that he’d be a minister living in Asia about now. As you know, he’s not, and we don’t. He’s not a failure for not having done what he imagined, but re-reading that map now, and seeing how important spirituality was for him then, reminds him to pay attention to that part of his life now. On another map, he imagined himself going to Harvard Business School. He did fulfill that goal.

Lastly, we hope you will listen to us over the coming years, but trust you not to be directed by us. We might be able to suggest good paths, but only you know what the right path is for you. Where we might imagine you to be in five or ten years is not nearly as important as where you imagine yourselves.

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Guest columnists Kate and David Marshall: If Life Is A Journey, Here’s a Map (part 2)

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Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net

Dear Emily and Ben,

When you were young, we sometimes wondered what you’d be doing as adults.

Emily, your favorite German word when we lived in Germany was “Hund,” and you playfully insisted on wearing a rubber doggy nose for a remarkably large part of your pre-school life there, so we were not surprised to see your passion for dog training in high school, nor that you went to college planning to study pre-veterinary medicine.

But you developed other interests along the way as well—history, politics and government, and more—that excited you more than Organic Chemistry, so you’re now halfway through law school. You always loved our winter visits to New Hampshire, so that you picked colleges in Connecticut and Minnesota made sense, too.

Ben, when you were young, we painfully stepped on enough stray Lego pieces, and heard you gleefully calculate enough statistics for your many sports teams, from T-ball team on up, to know that you were destined either for a career in sports announcing or for something that used math and science.

In a way, you’re doing both now: watching a 49er or A’s game with you is always educational, and you’re about to finish a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. Living in California now works for you as well—you get to ride your bike year around, stay close to your 49ers, and take quick trips to the snowy Sierras for a skiing fix. Heaven.

We’re proud of where you both are now: you’ve chosen courses of study that make use of your talents and interests; you’ve developed meaningful relationships; and you are actively learning valuable professional and life skills.

It’s hard to always have our lives perfectly balanced between family, friends, learning, work, service, and play, but over a lifetime, we hope that you’ll find the balance you want. Years ago, your medical doctor Aunt Teresa counseled us that every meal you eat doesn’t have to have every food nutrient in it, but you should have all the major food groups over the course of a week. Life is like that, too.

Since you’re both full-time students, formal learning is the dominant force in your lives now. Other parts of your life are on the back burner. Emily, with the intensity of law school, you may feel that the “play” part of your life is on hold, but have faith that play will become a bigger part of your life in a few years. Ben, you’ve managed to keep playing by being part of the Triathlon Club (but can you please explain again how swimming/biking/running until you drop is fun?).

With limited time and money now, traditional “service” may also be on the back burner, but we’re impressed by your commitment to making a difference when you can even now, with your kindnesses to family and friends, Ben’s regular blood donations, Emily’s labor law clinics, and by both being educated voters. You do what you can, with what you have, when you can.

We love watching you shape your lives in ways that work for you and look forward to seeing what’s next. Thank you for continuing to make being parents a joy.

P.S. – Please see part 3 tomorrow.

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Guest columnists Kate and David Marshall: If Life Is A Journey, Here’s a Map

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Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net

Dear Emily and Ben,

We finally traded in our mini-van “Sandy.” We loved that van. She wasn’t glamorous, but she let you have the childhood we wanted for you.

With Mom at the wheel, Sandy shuttled you and an assortment of buddies to elementary and middle school, soccer practice, and scout meetings. You stuffed her many cup holders with granola bar wrappers as you snacked between band practice and trips to the store for science project supplies. We loaded her with Thanksgiving turkeys for family feasts here, both practical and fun Christmas presents, your first bikes, and our first computer.

When you were teens, she bravely offered herself as your learn-to-drive car. She rose early to drive through morning fog to Ben’s soccer tournaments far and wide; to Emily’s dog sport trials at county fairgrounds in the valley; to road trip vacations to Oregon and Vancouver. Like Mary Poppins’s bottomless carpetbag, she barreled down Highway 5, magically loaded with Ben’s bed, desk, bike, and the rest of his college gear to and from LA for four years. We loved each and every one of those 141,000 miles she drove in service of your many interests and our family vacations.

Saying “goodbye” to Sandy made us look back at how much you have both brought to our lives: the German that Mom learned alongside you in toddler playgroup when we lived in Munich; the joy we both felt as you discovered a love of reading; the friends we made while sitting on the soccer side lines; and the permission that being with you gave us to have moments of pure silliness. Having to come up with answers to your many, many questions about how the world works kept us learning.

At times, you have been our muses: your curiosity about Dad’s unusual upbringing in the Ecumenical Institute helped convince him to write his memoirs about it. Emily’s discovery of the dog sport of agility gave Mom a new hobby when she took over for you after you left for college—who knew that running through timed obstacle courses with our dog could be so much fun? Ben’s interest in golf gave Dad a new hobby, too. Your curiosity, drive, and pure energy gave shape to our lives for many years.

When we were writing about our pasts in our life planning journal, My Life Map, we were struck by how much better you’ve made all sections of our maps—place, family, friends, learning, work, service and, most definitely, playing.

We missed you each when you left for college in 2004 and 2007. The sudden quiet was deafening. With no flurries of activity as you swept through the house, no homework sprawled across the kitchen table, an empty sink and laundry basket, and no Cheerios in the cupboard, it was clear that a new phase had begun. But we were happy for you: you were in college learning, growing, deepening and broadening your ideas, building lives.

We miss Sandy, and all that she stood for, but we’re also excited about the new car. Mom has named her “Vicky,” in part because she is a Prius V, but also to celebrate our Victory as a family. We had no idea what an adventure raising you two would be, but it has been an extraordinary success. When we look back at the start of our little family—our marriage, each of your births, how hard we all worked to take care of each other, and how much we’ve all grown—we are proud of us. We’re thankful for the opportunity to raise two amazing humans. Victory!

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.

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Dispatches: Dear Son (Letters From George Patton and Ferdinando Sacco)

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In England in 1944, as General George S. Patton prepared his troops for battle, he wrote a letter to his son George, then enrolled at West Point. Though the letter is father to son, it comes across more as a communiqué from officer to soldier, and as a mission statement about personal conduct in war. In the letter, Patton, who as commander of the Third Army captured more prisoners and liberated more territory in World War II than any other army in history, in effect lectures the 21-year-old cadet (at the end he acknowledges having given a “sermon”). For example, he addresses the issue of courage versus cowardice. Of those who act timidly in combat, Patton writes, “You will never do that because of your blood lines on both sides.” The peptalk also urges the son to take risks and be self-confident (“You can have no doubts about your abilities as a soldier”). Most memorably, he advises him to be true to himself, because unless people are themselves, they are “nobody.” http://artofmanliness.com/2011/08/21/manvotional-a-letter-from-general-george-s-patton-to-his-son/

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In 1927, four days before he was to be executed by electrocution for murder during an armed robbery, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco wrote a letter to his son Dante. “Whatever should happen tomorrow, nobody knows,” the doomed anarchist wrote from his jailhouse cell in Charlestown State Prison in Boston. “But if they kill us,” he wrote, he encouraged his son to remember always to smile with gratitude at the friends and “fallen persecuted comrades” who love him. He urged Dante to be strong so as to comfort his mother, and to do as he once had – “take her for a long walk in the quiet country, gathering wildflowers” and “rest under the shade of trees between the harmony of the vivid stream and the gentle tranquility of mother nature.” http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/SaccoV/sacltrchar.html In 1950, folk singer Pete Singer wrote a song, “Sacco’s Letter To His Son.” http://www.peteseeger.net/sacco.htm

Dispatches: Dear Son (Letters From Cicero, Lord Chesterfield and Robert E. Lee)

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Back in the day, namely 44 BC, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote an essay, three books long, that took the form of a letter to his son, also named Marcus. In the essay, titled De Officiis, the Roman statesman and philosopher detailed how to live and behave honorably, meaning mostly how to fulfill personal duties and observe civic obligations. Published after his death – only, as it happened, the second book produced by the printing press after the Gutenberg Bible – this classic of wisdom and common sense, though lofty in its aspirations, offers practical advice anyone can use. A case in point: We must live for others as well as for ourselves, Cicero wrote (“Our country, our friends, have a share in us”). http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=542&chapter=83344&layout=html&Itemid=27

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Philip Stanhope, also known as the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield – or, if you prefer, simply Lord Chesterfield – took a similar path with his namesake, Philip. For more than 30 years, from 1737 to 1768, the aristocratic statesman, literally a man of letters, wrote 400-plus letters to his son, who was born, as they say, illegitimately. Those letters sought to overcome the presumed taint of illegitimacy, offering guidance in topics ranging from history and politics to literature and geography, as well as personal instruction about basic manners. Every word wound up compiled in a book called Letters To His Son On the Art of Becoming A Man of the World and a Gentleman. “A man’s own good-breeding is the best security against other people’s ill manners,” Lord Chesterfield wrote. http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chesterfield/letters/

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In 1861, Robert E. Lee, the general who led the Confederate Army in the Civil War, wrote a letter to his son, George Washington Custis Lee, himself a Major General (for the record, he also wrote heartfelt letters to his daughter, Annie). In plain language, the military leader gives his son personal, practical advice about basic tenets to follow in life. Say what you mean to do and then do it. If you have an issue with someone, tell him to his face. If a friend asks for a reasonable favor, grant it. http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/to%20his%20son.htm

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow.