To My Son, I’m Sorry You’re Reading This
Boy, that headline sounds like the first line in a suicide note. No, no, Harrison, my son, this is not a suicide note. It’s an apology letter. Or an explanation. Maybe a clarification. I’m not sure what your mother has told you, or what you’ve already heard or read, but I feel it is imperative that you have some background, context really. It's only right that a son knows who his father is — the kind of man his father is.
As I write this, you’re sitting in one of your swing/chair/command center things that occupy the breast milk-stained hardwood floor of our apartment. Even with Mommy’s socks and hair ties, and Eddie’s toys’ guts and tennis balls strewn about, things were much cleaner before you and all of your stuff arrived. We just finished the afternoon’s tummy time exercises and Mommy wanted me to put you down for a nap. But you’re in no mood to nap so there you are, giggling in that bouncy swing, rocker thingie just outside the office door discovering what your hands are for by shoving them deep, deep into your oral cavity.
Just before tummy time, I was changing your diaper when you shit in my hand while simultaneously spitting up on your face all while maintaining eye contact with me. It was disturbing. The poop came slow, bubbling out of your little asshole like the bubbling crude did for Jed Clampett. I might be the only parent in the universe who takes issue with his infant child shitting and puking on itself. I don’t care. I’d rather be my own person than conform to the masses even if it would make my life easier. When you were done puking on yourself and squirting dookie into my hand, you laughed. You laughed maniacally. I like that about you.
But there are a lot of things I don’t like. Such as the routine puking on yourself. I spent most of my twenties mastering the art of puking in public without getting a drop of vomit on my persons. It’s a point of pride. I don’t like that you can’t be reasoned with. I don’t like that your entrance into this world has made it uncomfortable for your mom to ride her bike, though it's getting better. I don’t like that there have been times already when you just being here — on Earth, in our home, in our lives — has contributed to incredible stress for me and your mother. We’ve taken that stress out on each other and that ain’t cool. I don’t like how when you’re tired, you are harder to get to sleep. That’s counterintuitive and just stupid. I don’t like that putting you to sleep requires an hour — sometimes two, sometimes three — of us getting you mellow and heavy-eyed, and placing you in your crib only to have you burst into shrieks over I don’t know what preventing us from enjoying a game of cards, some stupid shit on TV or a bit of sleep ourselves. I don’t like how needy you are.
All of these things that I don’t like aren’t personal. None of this is you. This is just what babies do. Babies are awful. That said, as far as babies go, you’re a pretty good one. I know there are much more intolerable babies out there, and if I were a gentler person, I’d feel bad for those parents. But I don’t because most people who have kids know what they’re signing up for. And if they don’t, then they deserve the misery that comes with having a baby and all its crap move in with you.
Before you were born, I referred to you barely affectionately as The Turd. Sometimes I still do. I was not looking forward to being a dad. All the worry and responsibility I’d have… What’s fun about that? Then, toward the end of Mom’s pregnancy, I couldn’t wait for you to get here. I had become a little excited to meet you but mostly it was because I was ready to get on with the inevitable. Like yanking out a tooth or ripping off a bandage or diving into cold water. “Let’s get on with the damn thing,” I began telling people. People, mind you, who struggled to find anything to talk to me about other than your arrival. I was tired of it.
Thing is, Harry, your dad is kind of a grump. I tend to operate best when I’m miserable about something. It gives me a cause, something to fight against because things can always be better. We can all always be better. Or so I have convinced myself. I have trouble processing joy. The day I married Mommy was the hardest day of my life because I didn’t know what to do with all those good feelings. But I’m trying to be better about not being so insufferable. Because I do find joy in most things. I’ve never been bored for too long. I’m always down to try something new and see how weird an adventure can get. I hope I instill that in you — that need for adventure, that desire for fun at almost all costs.
In the 12 months that you have been a part of my world — I’m counting the nine months in utero as well as your three months on the outside, because life begins at conception and all that crap, but also because Mommy’s pregnancy was harder for me than you actually being here because the unknown, the anticipation of things is where true anxiety lives — I’ve said and written some pretty snide, sardonic, maybe offensive, emotionally charged things that may have, or would have hurt your feelings. I don’t regret those things but I am sorry if anything did sting. That’s why I’m writing this to you now. I want you to understand.
My mentor and college writing professor, Dr. John H. Irsfeld would say that you should never bully the reader. What he means is that it is best to let the reader absorb the writing and form their own thoughts about it without any prompting from the author. I did this a lot with him.
“Irsfeld, you’re going to love this one. It’s really, really funny.”
“Goddammit, Himmel, don’t bully the reader. I’ll decide how funny it is.”
All this said, I hope I haven’t bullied you. I hope you know that I’ll always be honest with you and that I’ll protect your privacy as best I can. Nothing annoyed me more as a kid than when I heard Gramma talking about me to her friends. When other people talk about you, they prevent you from being the author and narrator of your own story, of your life. Or at least that’s how I thought of it. Now I know that Gramma had nothing better to talk about with her boring suburban mom friends.
But having kids does give you something to talk about, which is why we do it. And since I’m a guy who has always used material from his life to fuel whatever project I was working on or boring conversation I was having, how could I not talk about you? At a certain age, we do become the authors of our lives, and I’ve been writing pure roman à clef since the moment I took on the assignment. Well, sometimes it was straight memoir. And, OK, sometimes it was absolute fiction built on the ideas of strange ways to make things better. Point is, I’m always pulling from the well of my own life, and baby, you're in that well.
And people will always talk about you. They’ll form their own opinions of you. They’ll smear your name in mud and shit — like the stuff you squeezed into my hand earlier today — and call for you to be hung in the town square whether you deserve it or not. Or they’ll say great things about you and ask you to run for office or shower you with awards whether you deserve it or not. You can’t control what people think or say about you, you can only control what you think and say about yourself. And even then, that’s hard.
Though your name and likeness have been the topic of much since Mommy presented me with three positive piss-stained pregnancy tests, I have tried my best not to say or write anything that could influence people’s opinion of you. The issues I have, the things I’ve said and done in the public forum relating to you have been strictly about me and my issues, my perceptions.
You’re not yet your life’s author. It will be fun to reconcile the different versions of the same story when we’re both older. I look forward to that day… Maybe Father’s Day 2048.
Mommy and I have not plastered you all over social media. And we won’t. It hasn't been a social media blockade but we won’t post photos or videos of you doing embarrassing stuff that could define and hinder you for the rest of your life like that David After Dentist kid. I might share that with our family and friends, but not the world.
But that’s not really true. Because I’m a writer and you’re a part of my life and I’m going to use you in things. Maybe just inspiration maybe true journalistic accuracy, but you will be used. Like to help me sell books. Sorry about that. Your mother has to deal with it. So do your grandparents, and aunts and uncles. No one is safe. Talk to Mommy about it, she can help you deal with it. I will promise you this: Whenever I write or talk about you, I will do so with respect. Even if I’m totally calling you out for being an asshole, I’ll do it respectfully. That’s what I’ve tried to do with every asshole I’ve ever called out.
Here’s the thing, kiddo… You’re growing on me. More and more every day. I don’t feel weird telling you I love you like I did at first. All I want to do is nom-nom-nom on your squishy, squishy cheeks. And if the day comes when you’re angry with me for the things I said about and did to you — like calling you a turd — that’s OK. You can extract your revenge by never going sailing with me again or choosing not to let me play with you or putting me in an off-the-interstate nursing home. Or worst of all, you can become a writer and make a career shitting all over me by publishing your daddy issues. Though I hope you don’t become a writer. I want you to be better than that.
However, if you do come to feel that slighted by me, content to feel I deliberately betrayed you, my first-born son, here’s my advice: Grow up, you fucking baby. I’m probably just kidding.