Dear Mom & Dad,
It’s a good time of year to honor ancestors. Many traditions focus on ancestors who have passed away. My genealogical research indicates that the overwhelming majority of our ancestors are in this category. In fact, of direct living ancestors I have but two: the two of you. However much we honor the dead, we should surely not neglect the living. And so therefore I thought this would be a good time to say “thank you” for all that you’ve done for me.
First and foremost, I’m grateful that you brought me into the world. I’ve been around enough to know that simply being alive is not an unqualified good. Some have called this existence a “veil of tears,” and certainly suffering and pain are plentiful. Even so, after four decades (plus some) I can say that I’m glad to be here. The basic existential question was one reason I dithered so long on the question of having a child of my own. The notion that my daughter might somehow regret being born still haunts me, vaguely, however absurd that might seem. Thus I want to remove all doubt: Thank you for the gift of life.
One key reason I can affirm and celebrate the joy of being alive has been my general freedom from want. Granted, I was born in a prosperous nation at a prosperous time. But you worked continually to make sure that all the material needs of our family were covered. I never went hungry as a child. I never did without any basic necessity. I’ve seen enough poverty now to be grateful for that. Thank you for providing food, shelter and clothing.
We didn’t just eat, we ate well. For as long as I can remember, you were always interested in a healthy diet. You never made an obsession out of it, but you read books about nutrition and varied our menu as your understanding evolved. Our fare rarely strayed outside the American mainstream, but it was always wholesome and nourishing. Junk food was not forbidden, but it was never encouraged. As I’ve grown I find this orientation to food has served me well. I don’t struggle to like food that’s “good for me.” I’m predisposed to like it already. Thank you for inculcating a love of healthy food.
The solid foundation you provided allowed my curiosity to flourish, and you always encouraged my personal development. You provided a great example by being curious yourselves, always interested in learning more about the world around us. We traveled regularly and visited museums and cultural centers around the country. You were always reading and took me to the library often. You sent me to schools which were funded with your taxes. You helped me with my schoolwork and valued academic achievement. We hosted exchange students, and you even sent me overseas for a year. It was a difficult time but rewarding as well, an experience I wouldn’t trade. You sent me to college, and I was able to concentrate fully on my studies; I didn’t have to work a job or accumulate an enormous debt. Now I’m gainfully employed at a university. Thank you for funding my education and encouraging the life of the mind.
There are so many things you did as well. Big and little things. You generally respected my autonomy and freedom. When you disciplined me you were even-handed and fair. You taught me the value of a dollar. You taught me to tune out commercials when watching television. You taught me that racism was wrong. You taught me to be honest in my dealings with others. Thank you for teaching me these values.
It hasn’t always been easy. We have had our disputes, and they have not always been trivial. I know you often worried about me during the wild years of my youth. I know I have not always been the most grateful or gracious son. There were times when you were very close to giving up on me. But you didn’t, and in the final analysis, that’s all that really matters. Thank you for that. Thank you for loving me.
You know that I’ve only scraped the surface?