Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day Letter to My Sons

Dear Boys,

It was Valentine's Day 12 years ago that your mother and I went on our second date.  It just worked out that way.  We met at a restaurant in Alexandria, VA for dinner, then returned to my apartment in Arlington.  We watched The Simpson's Valentine's Day special.  I bought her a small box (4 piece) Godiva chocolate sampler and a Bart Simpson Valentine's Card, perhaps like one a classmate gave you today.  It had a butt-naked Bart with Cupid wings and bow and arrow with the caption, "Will you be mine, man?" Your mom loved it.  It was understated but romantic, and a little silly.  I can't tell you how long I agonized over what to get the woman whom I just met for Valentine's Day.

We talked that night.  A lot.  And about you.  Not specifically, but in more than just theoretical terms.  As we chatted and gradually exposed to each other whom we were, we shared about our previous relationships.  How was it that you, I wondered to your mom, seemingly quite a catch, was 30-something and single?  Well, your mom explained, the person she was with before, among other things, didn't want children.  Your mother, of course, did.
I remarked, "that's a coincidence, the same thing happened to me."
"You mean you don't want children?" she asked nervously.
"No," I hesitated, "my girlfriend didn't."

We paused.  We stared at each other.  For a while neither of us spoke.  Our second date.

We covered a lot of territory that night.  Easily three or four date's worth.  We discussed love and family and our respective plans for a future.  It felt easy.  It felt new and exciting.  I didn't know it in the moment, but I had fallen in love.

It's bittersweet recalling that night.  And it seems strange, in some way, that your mom and I didn't really make a big deal about Valentine's Day over the past few years.  Of course there would be some flowers and cards, and we'd almost always retell that story to ourselves - "can you believe it was only our second date when we talked about children?"

And so it was.

Why do I share this with you?  I don't know - I guess it's part of our family history, the beginning in fact, and I want you to know it.  And I also want you to know about the love your mom and I had.  Still have.  And how much that love existed early on and was behind and a part of us wanting to come together. To create a family.  To create you.  But perhaps more than that, I want you to know of love.

You'll probably come to a point in your life and wonder, like we all wonder, if you are "in love," or not.  And how do you know if you love someone, or not?  Is this the right person for me? And so on.  They are questions with no answers.  At least, no answers that someone else can satisfactorily give.

However you come to understand your love for another, know this:  Love will scare you.  And it will scare you for many reasons.  But one reason it will scare you, if you are at all like your daddy, is because you will be afraid, once you have it, that you will lose it.  Falling in love is to risk losing another.  And the greatest loss is the reflection of the greatest love.   You need to find your way through that fear.

There are several variations of the Saint Valentine story, but we generally understand that he was martyred, beheaded perhaps, for marrying Christians a long time ago, which, believe it or not, was a crime in Rome.  He accepted the ultimate risk in the name of love.  Was he afraid of dying?  Maybe.  I don't think we'll ever know.  But that didn't stop him.  He believed in something bigger than he; bigger than Rome.  He believed that when two people truly love each other, they should be together and that joining together be sanctioned publicly.  He died because he believed in love then acted on it.

When I was young, in my teens and twenties, and even early thirties, I was afraid to act.  I was afraid to act because I was afraid to lose.  Recalling those days conjures the dull grief and aching suffering of loneliness.  I look back through a different lens now and have a measure of compassion for that young, fearful boy.  I probably wasn't too different from my friends, though I felt different.

And now I again experience grief and suffering.  This time it is the searing, white-hot stabbing pain from the grief and suffering from losing my beloved.  My dad, your grandpa, was right when he quoted Tennyson at your mom's memorial service - it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved.  I say that having experienced both.

I hope some day you each will wonder about the nature of love.  I pray for you that some day the fear of loss does not prevent you from enjoying the grace of full love.  And while love may not come when you want it, or even with whom you think you want it, always remain willing to love.

And be willing to lose.



  1. Lessons for us all. Thank you for sharing John.

  2. Beautifully written wisdom for all ages.

  3. Wow, John! Adam and Bryan are lucky to have you as a dad.

  4. You are a beautiful writer. Thanks for this lovely post. I will share it.

  5. Breath taking, really. Thank you for putting it into words. :)

  6. I linked to this post on my blog about 2011 posts that moved me... FYI. Have a good 2012.