Dear Mom and Dad,
This is the third letter in my 30-day letter writing challenge. I don’t know if you know the existence of this blog, much less read it. If you do, likely you will have learned far more about me than I’ve shared with you. Sometimes you may have been surprised, sometimes embarrassed, sometimes ashamed, often worried. I expect that when you held your first-born baby girl in your arms for the first time, you did not imagine that this would be her grown-up reality.
Parents in the 60s—especially those from fairly strict and conventional households—imagined their daughters would grow up to live the “American dream for girls.” The dream that included the hardworking husband, 2 kids, nice house with its manicured lawn, and the oft-mentioned picket fence. Instead, you got me. You got a wild child with a mind of her own—one that came with enough neuroses to fill half the DSM-IV, a string of failed relationships (primarily lesbian…did you see that one coming in 1964?), a child conceived through alternative insemination, and an utter lack of attention to small details such as how to balance a checkbook or dust on a regular basis.
You got an independent, free-thinking, slightly to the left of left, artistic bohemian rebel. One that gave you a true run for your money during her high school years. She made you proud in college and then gave you a title to go along with her name when you introduced her on her rare trips back home (“This is my daughter the art director from Boston”) before she lost her battle with a longstanding panic and anxiety disorder and her life began to unravel along with her mind. I will likely open up that further can of worms in another letter down the road, but we’ll leave that messy little chapter for now.
What I am most impressed with is the fact that you are still, after all these trials and tribulations, so proud of me. You’ve bailed me out of sticky situations more than I care to count and yet you continue to be there for me. I worried about moving home again, being so close to you, and yet you seem so completely happy about it. We enjoy our time together and so far we’ve dodged any major bullets of contention.
So many therapists throughout the years have been quick to try and blame those neuroses on my upbringing (“let’s talk about your mother…”). What I’ve learned, finally, is that I have a pretty normal, functionally dysfunctional family. Dad, by nature you are quiet and close to the vest with your feelings. You aren’t a hugger and you don’t let your guard down often. What you do, however, is pick up the pieces for me whenever I let them fall. You take care of the practical. That is where you show your unmitigated love for me. You do what you know you can do. You take tremendous joy in your grandchildren and you have become a major male role model for my son. You love my mother with all of your heart and it shows. I admire you more than I can say.
Mom, I think we can both agree that you prefer to be nonconfrontational and sometimes your resentment can build up until it explodes all over me. In turn, I have become overly confrontational. I push and push and push a thing until it falls off the edge of the known world. You are unbelievably brilliant. Your dedication to your continued education, even as you approach 70, is astounding. You are one of the most well-read people I know (leading to lengthy theological discussions with Li that tend to leave me picking at my fingernails) and your sermons are brilliant and thought-provoking. From you, I have inherited a bit of a knack for writing. It has replaced my ability to draw as my first love. You never stop telling me how proud you are of me, no matter how I have disappointed you in the past.
I grew up with two parents who love each other enough to stick it out for the long haul. You both value your friendships and each other. You are extraordinarily intelligent people. You enjoy life and all that it has to offer. Your wanderlust knows no bounds but you know where home is and open your arms to us all. You are both spiritual in your own way and maintain your Christian values in your daily comings and goings.
There are many, many more things I could say to you and as I mentioned, they may come up in future letters. In the meantime, I guess I want to say that I know now, at 45 years of age and with a child of my own, I have finally realized that you are just people. Parents aren’t perfect. You don’t get some golden certificate of higher knowledge just because you have a child. You make mistakes and we all learn from them. Most of the time, you get it right. I blame you for nothing and I thank you for everything. My fervent hope is that, for all the times I’ve stumbled and fallen along the way, you still have faith that I’m going to be okay and you’ll always be there to hold out your hand in love when I’m not quite.
I am so proud of you both and I am proud to be your daughter.
With a heart full to bursting, I love you.