The launch of One Hot January, a Second Wind Publishing release, is imminent. One Hot January deals with the science fiction elements of time travel and alternate realities. Much of yesterday’s science fiction has become today’s reality—we’ve put men on the moon, satellites into orbit, and routinely launch space shuttles. We have laser technology and personal communication devices (cell phones). Are alternate realities created each and every day, the result of the choices we make or fail to make? Might time travel one day be possible?
As part of the upcoming new launch celebration, I’m asking readers to consider what they might tell themselves if they could write a letter and send it back through time to themselves, at age eight. To stimulate your creativity, here’s one that I wrote to myself.
Journal Entry No. 51: Letter to Myself About Dad
Three things you should know about Dad. One: His bark is worse than his bite. His eight-year stint in the Marine Corps, during which he fought on Okinawa and returned stateside to serve as a Drill Instructor, left him ill-prepared for fatherhood. He no doubt suffered from what today is called post-traumatic stress disorder. In a few years, after you’ve gotten your driver license, he’ll make a habit of checking the odometer on the family car when you bring it home and tell you it’s a father’s duty to distrust his son. Don’t believe him. In the end, when it matters most, even as he takes with him to his grave all he saw and endured on Okinawa, he’ll trust you as if you’d once shared a foxhole together. You need not fear him; in your fourth decade you will discover the teddy bear inside him, and yes, the pupil you always thought yourself will become the teacher. He will hold you in much higher esteem than you ever thought possible.
Two: He means well even if he isn’t very nurturing to you. In a couple years you’ll take a spill from a bike that doesn’t belong to you and is much too big for you. Dad will scold you and the lesson you will learn is to avoid risk. You already dream of playing major league baseball and you’ll want to play little league, but he will dissuade you, fearing a risk of injury and, perhaps more important, your disappointment should you fail. Understand he means only to protect you―just remind him that he joined the Marines to avoid the sentence of serving on an assembly line for forty years to retire with a gold watch, and that playing baseball carries with it far less risk than does going into battle. Remind him of the words of Robert Browning: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Three: Although he doesn’t show it, he loves you. It’s true, the notion of “pay it forward.” An unhappy childhood, the youngest of three boys, and the weight of sixty-five years of guilt over violin lessons―unable to stand up to his own father, he allowed him to pay for lessons unwanted and in later years accused himself of thievery―perhaps accounts for his hands off approach to fatherhood. He’ll tell you he wants you to live your own life and, too late, you’ll realize that some decisions you, as a young man, should not have made without his wisdom and guidance. You’ll be angry at him, blame him for a lot of your shortcomings and failures, in both career and relationships with women, and for your difficulty in bonding with men. Understand that he may be responsible, but he is not to blame. He may have left you handicapped in many ways, but you have the good sense within you to choose the paths down which you travel. You can unlearn all that his absence from your youth teaches you.
As an adult you will continue to seek the approval he withheld when you were a boy, and which he will continue to withhold until the final year of his life. Understand that setting goals and reaching for your dreams—doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do—doesn’t require approval from anyone.
Dad is right: no one gets out of this life without regrets, and you’ll be no different. You’ll feel the perceived weight of his disapproval of many of the sins you’ll commit. In your fifth decade, ten years after Dad’s passing and as you realize there are fewer grains in the upper bell of the hourglass than in the lower, you’ll come to understand a lot about why he was the way he was and so you’ll come to forgive him. The forgetting will be more difficult. Use it to your advantage.
Wisdom: it comes alone from living. Yet it’s no substitute for the teachings of a father, the man whom a young boy first aspires to emulate. This letter is not intended to save you from bloodying your nose, to prevent you from ever riding the bicycle too big for you. It is instead intended to assure you that you have within you the power to risk and to change, the strength to make choices, even if some of those choices aren’t always the right one. You also have within you the ability to forgive yourself your transgressions, as God forgives you, even as others choose not to. Yet choose wisely, knowing that yesterday’s mistakes can’t be undone, but that tomorrow is a blank page.
With no children, I cannot pay it forward; therefore this letter is my sincere effort to pay it backward, in the hope (what is a man if he cannot dare to hope?) you will pay it forward―for the three of us.