Hi, Dad. It’s me, TJ. I heard somewhere recently that a good way to deal with your emotions is to write a letter to the person making you upset, so I thought I would give it a shot. You probably won’t pay much attention to what I have to say since I’m only twelve, but there are some things I need to get off my chest. I won’t have any experience with my own kids for another twenty years or so, but it seems pretty obvious, even to a child, that a lot of the things you do aren’t very fatherly.
- Don’t make me choose sides. When you and Mom got divorced, my brother and I were forced to split our time and love between the two of you. Even though you’re not always very nice, we still wanted to spend time with our dad. It was hard enough having to deal with not getting to see you every day. Making us feel guilty for not spending enough time with you didn’t help. And accusing Mom of trying to keep us away from you was confusing and frustrating and infuriating for our pre-teen minds. What we really needed was more love and emotional support during such a critical transitional time in our lives.
- Don’t pout. Remember that time when I was five or six when I wanted to watch Ninja Turtles and you wanted to watch Jeopardy? (It would be really cool if there were a machine that let you watch two things at once, or at least record something so you could come back to watch it later.) You could have handled that a couple different ways. You could have sacrificed watching your show, knowing it would make your young son very happy to get to watch Mikey and the gang take down the Shredder. Or you could have just told me to suck it up and go find something else to play with because it’s Jeopardy time. Instead you threw a fit. You turned on Ninja Turtles, made it abundantly clear, even to a five-year-old, that you were not happy with the outcome and sulked. And when I tried to give back the remote control because I felt like I had done something wrong, you continued your tantrum and let me know we were going to sit there and finish Ninja Turtles because I had to watch it so badly.
- Control your emotions. Everyone gets mad, Dad. And that’s totally ok. It’s normal, healthy. But keep it in check. When you put your fist through a wall at the slightest provocation, you teach your sons that intense anger is not only acceptable but normal. Even worse, it’s terrifying for me when your rage is channeled in my direction.
- Be more tolerant. It’s the nineties, which means you’ve had a long time to adjust to how things are now. It may have been ok to tell off-color jokes and make crude comments about women and minorities when you were growing up in the fifties, but it’s a different world now. Do you really want to bring me up thinking people are better or worse because of the color of their skin or their gender? And do you really expect me to one day teach those ideas to my kids?
- Teach me valuable lessons. Ok, so I’ll admit I wasn’t always the most willing student. Trying to teach a kid to fish when there is a Super Nintendo waiting at home is kind of like asking a dog to eat kibble when there’s a steak in his bowl. And I wasn’t really interested in learning guitar, though I wish I had paid more attention now. But I will someday own a house that will need a lot of work done. I’ll someday own a car that needs the oil changed. It would have been great if you’d have shown me how to hang drywall or change a spark plug. Now I’ll probably have to learn how to do those things on my own. I hope there is someplace I can go to watch thousands of how-to videos when I grow up.
- Celebrate my achievements, even the little ones. Whether it’s a picture I’ve just drawn for you or getting straight As on my report card, you could at least pretend to be impressed. And when I someday get accepted to college, I want you to be proud of me. Don’t say something like, “Well, anyone can get in there.”
- Don’t make me feel guilty. How am I ever supposed to learn to make my own decisions if you always make me feel guilty about the choices I make? Sometimes I would rather hang out with my friends than with you. And when you call me late at night after you’ve been drinking for hours, I don’t really want to talk to you. It’s not because I don’t love you, you’re just not much fun when you’re drunk.
- Don’t drink so much. There were many nights growing up when I was afraid to go to sleep, not because of what I might see in my dreams but because I wasn’t sure what I would wake up to. Would I sleep soundly until sunrise or be woken at midnight by the sound of a glass shattering against the kitchen wall? Would all remain silent until the next morning or would there be shouting and crying? I can’t imagine how you didn’t feel even a little guilty when your son would look at you when you cracked that first beer and ask how many you were planning on drinking that night. When I have kids, I don’t ever want them to be afraid of me or what I might do after a few drinks.
I guess that’s all I have to say for now. You’re not the greatest dad on the planet, but you’re the only one I have. It would be great if things were different, if you cared more about your kids than about the booze, if we could just have a normal family that does normal family stuff. But that’s not the case, so I’ll have to make the best of it. I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and the reason I’m your son and you’re my dad is so I can learn from you. When I grow up and have my own sons, I’ll know exactly how to be a good dad.
I’ll just do all the things you didn’t do.