In this, a manifesto of my thoughts and goals for you and to you, will come a thesis of who I am and how I see things; this is scary for me, almost as difficult as the notion of bringing another being into the world, but there’s perhaps no better time to reflect–in the moment where I think I know, but really I’m just about to begin knowing.
To my generation to come, a letter written upon the reversal of what was the decision to try to not bring you into existence, a summation of thoughts that I have about the world which you are about to enter into and some notes about personal preparation for this event.
I’ve been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award winning book Between the World and Me, in which the author pens a letter to his teenage son about what it means to be black in the world—you’ll probably recognize his style and blatant copy of the book’s format in this writing. In it he talks a lot about bodies. The black body, he asserts, is under consistent and persistent threat of being taken away, the world has formed in a way to make it thus. And I think of your body being born into the world. It will be born into a mixture of struggles, but also an undeniable privilege. We all wrestle with identities: body shape, size, color, ability, etc… They’re all conflated into this weird way we experience the world, and I cannot deny that being an able-bodied straight white male in this broken world is the apex of privilege. You will benefit a lot from this.
Even so, your mother has struggled a bit with this sense of identity and you will inherit a portion of this. Being bicultural is a unique experience—the ways in which people caused her to de-belong as someone both Indian, Persian, and Swedish tied all sorts of knots in her perception of the world. In addition, while still being of the age where one is immensely shapeable, she left it all to come to the United States, a nation of supposed immigrants. This blood will run through your veins and will make you bicultural, which, depending on how dark your skin is and where we end up living will either be of much importance or of little. I have every intention of drowning you in the pluralism of that identity, but monoculture is aggressive and will preside over us if we’re not careful.
Your identity will nevertheless be shaped, by me, your mother, and the barrage of influences in the world. The world is a good place and you’ll be told of its greatness, with stories of you can do anything swirling throughout your little brain. You’ll also be told of the great evil lurking behind every corner—even within you. As your parents, we’ll guide you along, nudging you left and right, but knowing that you must wrestle with this never ending conflict of inherited good and bad.
If you’re a boy—and it feels important to speak this out before I’ve learned what they’ve discovered your chromosomes to be—you must learn to be good. They’ll mostly throw lessons of toughness at you, expectations to fight, to protect, to lead—and this is fine, there’s nothing wrong with being protective or tough. Just remember that neither your mother nor I care if those qualities are at your forefront, we see no need to conflate masculinity with brutality. We will teach you kindness and confidence and empathy and how to stand up for oneself and how to love others and to pursue justice. These aspects of your character are important to us, the rest is for you to figure out.
If you’re a girl the rest applies just the same, we will teach you all the aspects listed above and let you figure out who you are from there, whether it be tough (like your mother) or fragile (like me). Only I know you will have to work harder to accomplish the same things as a man, it’s the reality of the world you are entering into, one in which the nation of my citizenship has not chosen to elect a female as leader for the 240+ years of its existence. We plan to grant you every opportunity to do whatever you’d like, no matter what that may be, and I will stand there beside you, encouraging you to push through every barrier you ever come up against.
All this being said, I’m nervous for the day we meet. I’m great with long term commitments, that’s no problem, but the love and affection of the day to day grind of being a parent worries me. I’m not the best at being excited, those who’ve given me gifts may have seen the poor acting job I’ve put on. My grandest form of expressing affection is this way-too-long piece that you won’t have the ability or desire to read for like 20 years. Yet here I sit contemplating the decision to move forward with this, knowing that I can never give you everything you’re going to need. I am a mountain of flaws, with the inability to express—nay—feel the way that I’m supposed to, the way that makes one excited instead of bored when videos of babies pop up. They say these things change when you have one of your own, but I’m afraid I’ll be quite bored by you when you first appear (hopefully, if you ever do read this, I will have influenced a sense of humor in you so that you may laugh at this half-joke).
I should mention faith as it is my reflex to do so when one talks about flawed parents, even as I try to figure out faith separate from the cultural context that was presented to me, these reflexes still pop up. Your Heavenly Father is perfect and without flaws, this is the truth they will point you to as you try to understand my failures—and I will teach you this too, as bored as I am of this cliché. The Fatherly relationship of a higher being was never extremely profound to me, but the writers of the Scriptures use it often enough to teach it as a characteristic. Understanding God can be hard, but it will often shift back and forth between easy and tough throughout your life. The portrait of the perfect Father will give you an understanding of a God with intentions of an intimate relationship and Jesus and the Spirit echo this; we’ll pray that this enters into your life as your mother and I have found it to be of the utmost importance.
Never be afraid to ask questions, either to us or to God, as we will never try to trick you, and God has no ego to be bruised. Life is not a game in which we are meant to figure out all the answers, and even if it were, we are right there alongside you trying to discover what’s up and what’s down. We do believe truth exists and will teach you what we know, but never to the sole purpose of wanting you to be just like us.
I’ve found Jesus’ grand statement “love your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself” to be a useful sticking point to fall back on. If God is love, then all of this being and doubting and barely getting by is wrapped up in this notion of a force for goodness—this notion of love. With love there must be a sense of the other and this sense of other is elevated—no matter what—to the highest level possible. Within this all kinds of things can occur, but the principle overrides them; we choose that other person despite anything that could have ever occurred. This is how I see God’s interaction with humanity (basically) and our interaction with one another. It is love that is the driving force of daily life, it puts value in each person that exists, and pushes us beyond the ways in which we act in kindness.
I’ve thought of three different “Don’ts” that I believe I shallowly live by. This way of phrasing things goes against my education where I was taught to view the world through the appreciative rather than the negative, the asset-based view is said to be more inspiring and utilizes the human spirit, trusting that within each of us is something already of value. Yet, writing often comes down to what sounds best, so what you get here is more for your aesthetic pleasure, rather than what will actually help you to be a better human–sorry.
Don’t be boring – I’m oft frustrated at the ways we casually slip into monotany and monoculture. The world is a vibrant place, filled with exponentially exciting things and the ever present potential to expand beyond what exists (like why would you create a normal sentence when you can create one with two different uses of alliterations, e.g. this sentence). Every time I think I’ve begun to grasp what is possible, the universe shakes my understanding. Why then must we continue conforming to the world’s most simple patterns? Populism is an inevitable piece of culture, but it doesn’t have to be the path you follow. Be you, but check yourself, your motivations, and what you like. There’s a crowd for everyone, the possibility for personal thesis will always exist, find yours and do your thing.
Don’t be dumb – As stated above, the vastness of the universe is astounding. There are literally theories we rely on to explain how everything works that we know are not true, but we need to put something there, an algebraic X, to build our thought systems around, lest it all collapse. There is a lot to know and knowing it is such a pleasure. Dive deep, get your hands in the thick of it and don’t allow yourself to be swayed. Deciphering things for yourself is exhausting, but how else can we live?
Don’t be mean – A world devoid of empathy will be the death of us all. We’re always teetering on this edge, but despite our evolutionary instincts to survive at all costs, we’ve managed to integrate kindness into our world. It’s quite miraculous when you think about it. I’m not sure there’s any virtue more important than empathy. Love is the outpouring of empathy, the result of seeing the other, recognizing them, and acting in their favor. Love often gets relegated as a few feelings that one feels for those we are evolutionary inclined to enjoy–family, lovers, those similar to ourselves, but when we can experience the life of another in our own brain the potential of the world is grand. This is of course an optimistic outlook, but most world belief systems require the ability to interact with others; the greater the existence of empathy the more likely we are to thrive in this world. Empathy is both at the core of our being and an unnatural piece of who we are–the anti-getting ahead. Live your life like that one dinosaur from The Tree of Life
, that’s all I can tell you.
We’ll probably put a lot of pressure on you to live up to some sort of ideals–morally, spiritually, academically, etc… These are to train you in ways that we feel will be beneficial for you. We’ll start off hard, it’ll be rough at times, but one day we’ll loosen the reins, letting you go out your way into this world I’ve described. Just remember there are ideals that are true and good, but when humans try to find ways to force those ideals into something practical and consistent they often get bent out of shape. Just look at the Pharisees in the Bible or any new and exciting movement that grows into something official; they get twisted into competitions of who can claim the moral high ground. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a great virtue, but a corrupt law. It’s the way it goes. But we’ll try to make it fair. We’ll try to lead out of love. Justice and grace can feel like opposites, but they are deeply intertwined. We’ll walk that line for you.
I think I’m most excited to find out who you are. I mean, I know the great sociological debate is how much we will make you who you are, versus how you will naturally end up, but no matter which it is you will end up as your own individual mix of influences. You’re really a great experiment that I can’t wait to observe. As someone who gets really into particular interests, I can’t wait to see what you’re obsessed with. Can I get you to reject Minions, or are they so culturally prevalent that you’ll still love them no matter how many Miyazaki films I force you to watch? But honestly, I cannot think of a thing you could be into that I would not support–of a thing you could do that would tear my love away, I’m excited to see how you play out.
Daughter or son to be, welcome to existence. The future is yours.