A dozen sections, arranged chronologically and by subject, include everything from Thomas Jefferson’s marriage advice for his newlywed daughter Martha to Samuel Clemens’ (aka Mark Twain’s) letter as Santa Claus to his three-year-old daughter Susie.
The letters are endlessly quotable. In one, author F. Scott Fitzgerald compiled a list of things his twelve-year-old daughter should and should not be concerned about. (“Worry about courage. Don’t worry about the past. Don’t worry about growing up.”)
“Consideration of others at all times, be they right or wrong, is an acknowledgment of your own limitations, ” writes fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker before sending his son off to the Air Force.
Famous photographer Ansel Adams might just as easily have been an award-winning writer; “I am wondering, in the afternoon of my own life, just what your day will be,” he writes to his son.
In her prologue, the book’s editor mentions letters are dying art forms—the book includes few recent letters because email and telephone calls have replaced them. But I’m old enough to remember life before the internet and cell phones, and my own father wrote me a letter every week I was away at college. (Well, until my senior year, when we both got email.)
I still have a file folder crammed with those short notes and long epistles, plus many of the cards and letters he’s written since. They run the gamut from routine recountings of the previous week to serious messages from a dad watching his daughter grow into adulthood. And many, of course, included Standard Publishing stickers.
“Did you REALLY email us at 5:53 a.m.? Did you get up that early…or STAY up that late? Take care of yourself!”
“It’s exciting to anticipate how your life will turn out. Of course, I realize the bigger issue may seem to be passing pre-calculus this semester. So we’ll pray about that first.” (I passed with a C.)
When my roommates were noticed more than me: “Don’t feel bad about being ‘in the shadow.’ There’s probably more light there than you realize.”
As I struggled with my first year away from home: “All your mother and I want is for you to have and be and do what’s best for you. A large part of that is finding God’s will, which I’m convinced is often not just one answer. We anticipate that you will always be a source of light, wherever you choose to shine.”
Years later, in response to an email headed “Fun for your Wednesday,” asking for reasons why I shouldn’t date a cuter-than-snot atheist: “I was expecting a funny pass-along email or one of those silly cartoons, any of which I would have called ‘fun.’ This correspondence I would put in another category, something close to ‘life and death.'”
On a birthday card: “What a wonderful thing to call you…our friend! It is wonderful compensation for realizing how old we are, now that you are an adult.”
And always, at the end of almost every letter, “You know we love you.”
I’m a bit biased, but I think some of Dad’s letters rival the best of anything from Thomas Jefferson or Ansel Adams. I’m lucky to have them, and lucky to have him.
Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.