Dear Son: A Father's Letter
(To the reader: this post is a contribution from a guest writer. The author, Jerry Tujague, is the Director of Technology at a Catholic high school in Kansas City, and he is the father of seven (7) children - 5 sons, 2 daughters. Jerry wrote this letter to his sons and was asked to read it to all the junior boys on the school’s junior class retreat. Despite Jerry’s humility and reluctance to share this letter, it has proven to be an inspiration for many men - and sons.)
I’m writing this because we could never have this conversation in person. I just want to let you know how I feel about you and to tell you some of the things that often feel too awkward to say. I know our relationship hasn’t always been the best through these years. I’m sorry for that. I hope you know how much I love you and how much I want the best of everything for you.
I remember being your age and promising myself that I’d do a better job of being a dad than my dad did. I knew he loved me but there seemed to be something missing. He just didn’t get me and what it was like to be a teenager. He did a great job of providing for us, and we were wanting for nothing. But I knew in my teenage heart that I’d somehow be a better dad than he was.
I didn’t know then how complicated being a dad could be. You don’t remember, but when you were a little child it was so easy to connect with you. From the start, you were always the bright spark in my life. It was so much easier then to hug you and to let you know how proud of you I was. Coming in the door and getting a hug from you was like a breath of life for me at the end of a long day. We could sit and play or read and it was so easy to be together.
Time is a strange thing. It’s hard to appreciate what you have until you’re looking back at it. Those days are gone and exist only in happy and bittersweet memories. How can happy memories make me so sad? Did I hug you enough back then? Did I really appreciate what I had? Probably not. Oh, to have those little hugs again.
Those were the easy years to be a dad. You thought I was the greatest thing in the world. As you got older you wanted to spend more time with your friends. I stopped being so smart in your eyes and slowly started to become someone on the outside looking in. It got harder to get hugs, to express my feelings and to connect with you. The distance hurt some, but life is busy and complicated. Time kept marching on. Life became a lot more about getting you from one place to another for all of your activities. I think during that time I may have tended to focus more on the logistics and the daily grind. You were doing things on your own and facing the world with all of its challenges and dangers. I watched you succeed and fail, make mistakes and come out triumphant. You were still a shining light in my life and I shared your joy and triumphed with you when you succeeded, but the harder part was letting you feel the pain of failing or making mistakes. Every pain in your life was a small pain in mine too. I still loved you then as much as the day you were born.
Did I show you that?
Did you realize that?
I’m not sure I did enough.
These memories are more painful than those from when you were younger. I feel like there were some missed opportunities. You were finishing grade school. Family was still a large part of your life. Did I spend too much time worrying about my job and providing for the family? Was I focused on some of the wrong things? When you asked me to come throw the football and I was too preoccupied with some pointless thing, and I told you “not now”…
What was I thinking?!
How could I be so stupid?
Time cranked on whether I was ready for it or not. Your high school years have probably been the hardest for me and you. That’s when the walls went up. Somehow, I went from being the world’s greatest dad to being something that was standing between you and “freedom”. Did I act with too much justice and not enough mercy? Was I deaf to your cries for help as you struggled through these years?
If this ever happened…
I am so deeply sorry.
That’s not what I meant to do. Even though sometimes you made it your business to be as hard to love as you possibly could, I still loved you as much as the day you were born. In fact, there was so much more to love in the man that you were becoming but the painful thing is that I had fewer and fewer ways to show you. Those darn walls we build. You will never know the number of prayers, rosaries, and petitions I made asking for wisdom, fortitude, and guidance.
I remember when I was a teenager, how many hats I had to wear to please all of the people in my life. I had to be a good son, a good student, a good brother, a good worker, and a good friend, just to name a few. I remember feeling that it was so hard to please all of these people. It was as though I had multiple personalities. Sometimes I didn’t even know which one was me. Do you feel that way sometimes?
I never really showed any of them which one was the real me. I was afraid they wouldn’t like some of the parts. That’s what I wanted to change when I became a dad. I wanted to be friends with my kids. At the time, it seemed like such a simple solution. I was naïve in this. As a teenager, I didn’t realize that one of the most important parts of being a dad is to help guide your child, provide a roadmap for them, and be a rock that they knew would always be there. My first job is not to be your friend; it is to be your dad, but I still so desire to be your friend.
We have had some rough times. Things didn’t always go as I planned, and I didn’t always make the right calls. When things went wrong and we ended up shouting and you told me you hated me, I sometimes wished that I could hit the replay button like on the zombie game we used to play. If I could just relive that moment, I would control my temper and take back some of the things I said or maybe try to see it from your point of view.
By this point in our journey, hugs and easy affection have become nearly impossible. You think they’re awkward, and I probably don’t try hard enough to break through your walls. How did I let this happen? What I have found through years of mistakes and missteps is that the same walls that we put up to keep ourselves “safe” from others also block out God. Because we have free will, God doesn’t just tear down the wall and hit us over the head with the right answer or the solution to our problem. Instead, He lets the wall stay in place but keeps reaching out and loving us anyway. What I want you to know is that I love you so much. I always have, and I always will. Just as there is not a way to make God stop loving you, there’s nothing you can do to take away my love for you.
I often think of God as a weaver and our lives as the tapestry. If you’ve ever looked at a tapestry as it is being created, it’s hard to tell what all of those threads will yield. And if you look at it from the backside, it’s often ugly and discordant. One thing that my years have taught me is that in the moment it’s happening, you may not understand the purpose of that particularly painful thread that’s entered into your life. Given distance and time though, as well as openness to God’s hand, that thread can transform you into an even more beautiful creation than you already are. You are a continuum of who you were, who you are now, and who you will become. God is much better at weaving the fabric of our lives than any dad can be. In my goal of making you into a good strong, Catholic man, I may have messed up the stitching. I am sorry for that. Know that I am only a man, and I make many mistakes. I know that in His infinite power, God can use this for His good.
Your life is just beginning. One day you might want to be a dad. Although I tried to be the best dad that I could be, I hope you are a better dad than me. It hurts my heart to know that there were probably times that you felt like I didn’t love you enough, that you felt misunderstood, that I was unjust or just not paying attention.
Will you please forgive me for that?
Being a dad can, at times, seem painful and thankless. But it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I thank God every day that he’s given me the blessing of having you in my life.
I love you son,
You may reach Jerry Tujague via Jeffrey at: firstname.lastname@example.org