I write to you so that one day, when you’re older, you might have some sense of what is happening here. Not that we know. All your mother and I know is that it’s an uncertain time in America, and uncertainty can feel pretty scary. Not “Halloween-scary” or “all-the-lights-off” scary, but the fear you feel when you worry about the people you love the most, when it feels like their futures are fading and you’re helpless to fix a thing.
Sweetheart, it’s true: I cannot do anything to solve the larger problems. But maybe I can guide you through. And in doing so, guide myself through, too—or at least remind myself who I hope to be.
To begin, there’s no place for hate in any of this. Hate is the weight we can’t bear. What is hate but the way the heart feels when it hasn’t felt the alternative? To combat it, you need only show it love. Need only use your heart to prove to another heart that there’s no reason to be afraid. It’s never easy, but each beat is another chance to get it right, each breath another chance, too. For as long as I breathe and as long as I beat, your daddy will do his best.
Because we can’t hate—not ever. In doing so, we confirm that hate is contagious. We spread it rather than serve as the cure, we propagate what we hoped to diminish. When we hate we concede to our lesser selves, rotting the parts of us we love the most. True enough, hate is sometimes the most convenient emotion, but what’s convenient isn’t what’s right.
More often, what’s right is the hard thing; the thing you want to do least. But also, it’s the thing that you must do. Likely the reason you don’t want to do it is because you don’t want to fail. I understand that. But know that even a failed attempt is worth something. It’s possible to accept defeat and still continue the fight, to lose a battle but go on to win a war. Admittedly, the losing battles never feel good, but I swear to you, you always feel better for fighting them.
But remember, too, that not everything need be a fight. No one says you have to dislike the people you disagree with. In fact, disagreement, at its best, is confirmation that you’re being heard. It’s confirmation, too, that you’re listening. When your mommy and I disagree, it simply means we’re engaged in a dialogue without an obvious answer. It means we’re trapped in a forest with no clear trail. But the more we talk the more we trod that trail, and eventually, we always find our way out together.
As for America, well, that trail still needs some trodding. And I fear that much of our talking has ceased. If people loved their country the way they loved their children, then our love would be unconditional. But I’m not sure our love for country is. Sometimes it feels like we only love America when she loves us back, and sometimes it’s hard to feel her love. Keep trying. She needs us now more than ever.
I don’t mean to scare you. Surely everything will be just fine for you. After all, you were born with the privilege of your skin color. But not everyone was. Which means when you’re old enough, you’ll need to put that privilege to work.
For now, it’s mommy and daddy’s turn. We’ll do what all good parents do and fight for the world we desire. It needn’t be a perfect world, but it ought to be the one you want. What world do you want? Surely a world more compassionate than what we’ve managed so far. I believe this because you’re more compassionate. And you’re hardly alone. Your entire generation will be better than ours. That’s the way we’ve raised you.
Finally, if you remember nothing else, please remember this: no person is ever as good as his best moment, or half as bad as his worst. Always, we live our lives in the in-between. Which means we need to find ways to forgive when the worst reveals itself, and find ways to commend, too, when its warranted.
Now I know we’re feeling a lot of uncertainty, but there are some things you need to know for sure. Know that I will always tuck you in at night and kiss your cheek in the morning. And I’ll always chicken dance with you, sing show tunes with you, read you Goodnight Moon until dawn. I can promise you a smile every day we’re together, which should be easy since I’ll be with you.
It’s easy to forget, but once, everybody was somebody’s child.
Even if that’s all we share, at least it’s a place to start.