Dear Atticus, on change

Mike contributed this letter.

Matching outfits

Dear Atticus,

Early in April I took you to meet a friend and she asked me how I had changed since you arrived. What had I come to appreciate more about life? She didn’t mean for me to share “how precious sleep” was to me. It was intended for me to think about how you are making me a better man, how you are helping me to better appreciate the world around me. I didn’t have an answer that I found sufficient. But I often think about that question.

I know I have changed since your birth. I know I am happier than I’ve ever been (and that is saying something because your mom and I were pretty happy before you arrived). Your complete helplessness those first few months gave me purpose. You broke through my hidden rooms and softened hardened parts of my heart. Cradling you while you slept made me cry like I hadn’t done in decades. I was proud to be your father. I was determined to give you the love and tender care you deserved. I longed to instill in you the hope I have for this world: that one person’s actions can change the world, but even if they don’t, at least that person can leave the earth knowing it is a little better than how they found it.

You’ve lived on Earth less than a year. However, in that time, you have done exactly what I have hoped you would do with your life. You have made your part of the world a better place. You have healed broken hearts. You have shared your joy with others who needed it. You have made two very selfish people give more of themselves than they ever thought possible. You have had a small carbon footprint thanks to your cloth diapers, second generation clothes, toys, and books (I’ll explain that one to you when you are older).

Another way that you’ve changed me is that you are making me better at my job. On the first day of school this year, I told my class about you. I showed them a slideshow of your best pictures from this year (they “Oooohed” and “Ahhhhed” in the right places). I then let them know how you make me a better teacher. I have seen at the beginning level a person who needed to be taught everything. The patience needed to teach my students grew enormously. I’ve worked with your mom to teach you how to eat, sleep, drink, play, sit up, roll over, stand up, learn language. We are teaching you to be filled with wonder, to ask questions, to figure out how things work. All of that takes patience. It takes repetition. It takes an understanding that you don’t know how to do those things. I realize that you want to do those things, both to please us and also to push yourself.

When talking to a friend who is a priest earlier this year, he shared with me how frightening it is to have kids because they can innately model your negative qualities (as well as your good). He said I will see you do something wrong or annoying and I’ll instantly know that is something that I do or have done. I try to be aware of my actions, my choices, because I know that I am, at least for a time, a role model to you. Therefore, you also have changed me because you have exposed my insecurities and my faults. I don’t want to pass those on to you so I’m trying to face them or figure out a way to keep you from picking them up. It will take courage, honesty and consistency.

I want to teach you how to be part of a family, how to be a good friend, and how to work well with others. The best way I can teach you this is by, first, modeling my expectations and then guiding you when you don’t know how to follow my example. I won’t write out a sad tale of woe, but I know that in order to teach you these things, I need to be a better relative, friend, and coworker. I am saddened that it has taken me this long to figure it out. I hope I have the courage to change or the honesty to tell you how painfully lonely it can be sometimes to live this way. I want to change because I know it will be best thing for you (and, coincidentally, me).

Can you believe that your tiny little self has had that much of an impact on such a tall, bearded man? I can’t believe it myself.


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