In July of 2008, I began writing letters to my son about my life. The first one, written shortly after his birthday, was titled, My Memories of the Day You Were Born. I have since followed that with four other letters. One described how I met his mother and our first date at the junior-senior prom in high school. And there are more to write.
I thought the letters were a great idea. But a recent email from my son has made me reconsider.
In thanking me for a Christmas gift, my son mentioned his wife “can’t wait to hear more war stories.” The phrase “war stories” stung. It was used, at least in my younger days, as a derogatory comment. As in “I’m tired of listening to your war stories.” It suggests the stories are exaggerated and meant only to somehow glorify the narrator. That was not my intent, though I will be among the first to say vanity was a prominent motivator.
I have a notebook binder in which I keep copies of the letters in clear plastic sleeves. The working title is “Love, dad: Revelations of a father to his son.” “Love, dad” is my usual sign-off in correspondence to my son. But “revelations” is the key. I had hoped my son would not only find the letters interesting but instructive. Maybe, I hoped, it would open the door to certain traits he sees in himself. I was blind-sided by “war stories.”
People are different. My son is out-going and sociable where I am introspective and generally prefer my own company to that of others. He is blue-collar where I am white. And, if I judge his letters correctly, he is one of those narrow-minded Republicans, where I am flexible and progressive and known to vote for Democrats. Still, I don’t see how that makes a difference when family matters come to bear.
I know this. I will continue to write those letters for a while. I think they are important. And no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin thought so too. In his autobiography, Franklin begins with a letter to his son recounting his life’s important moments. And, if I may say so, I think he did it with a little too much vanity.
So, even if the “revelations” are only “war stories” to my son, there has been a surprise beneficiary. Me. I have been enlightened somewhat about my past. I see myself in a different way now. More selfish, more wrong-headed, yes, but also more adventuresome and principled than I thought.
And you never know. There is the chance my son was only jabbing me with “war stories.”