Dear Caleb (A Letter to My Son)


Several years ago, I was inspired by a piece written by Tim O’Brien, a renowned writer, published in Life Magazine. It was entitled “A Letter To My Son,” and it expressed O’Brien’s views concerning the late-in-life (for him) birth of his son, Timmy.

O’Brien is, perhaps, best known for his 1978 novel “Going After Cacciato,” for which he won a National Book Award. The New York Times said about the book, “To call ‘Going After Cacciato’ a novel about war is like calling ‘Moby Dick’ a novel about whales.” I was a voracious reader of Vietnam-war era tomes, and “Cacciato” was a sterling look at the war from a vet’s perspective (O’Brien served in Vietnam ).

I had retained the copy of Life that contained his “Letter to my son,” thinking that it was something that I’d like to be able to share with my son at some point, or with grandchildren. Keep in mind, please, that Caleb Alexander Akerley hadn’t even been conceived yet, let alone born. Now that I’m in the habit of putting my thoughts in print (online), I’m inspired to write my own letter – this time to my 4-year-old Caleb. So, here goes:

Dear Caleb:

First of all, let me tell you something that you already know quite well. I love you madly. You are, to me, the sweetest, brightest, most loving person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.

You are, indeed, a miracle baby. Your mother was vulnerable in her pregnancy with you, and suffered from fibroid tumors; eventually ending up on bed rest for the final three-plus months of your gestation. We regularly trekked to St. Francis Hospital for stress tests, meant to ensure that you were healthy. Let me tell you: not only were you healthy in the womb, but you performed way beyond expectations.

We’ve been speaking excellence to you since we first learned that you were on the way. Let me honest about this – not being sure whether you were male or female, we began to consider you to be Stephanie (your mom wanted to name her daughter after her grandmother). Believe me, there was no disappointment when we learned that we were having a boy. Don’t forget that “boy” rhymes with “joy.”

A man named Tim O’Brien wrote a letter a long time ago to his young son, and he told him that he was a bit concerned about his age at the time that his son was born. He was 58 years old when his son Timmy was born, and he didn’t know if he’d be able to enjoy all of Timmy’s growing up period. I am in a similar situation. When you were born, I was 56; but I was convinced a long time ago that I’ll live to a ripe old age and, furthermore, I’ll be in good shape during my latter years.

I’m not concerned about being unable to shoot some hoops with you when you’re a teenager. My plan is for you to join me in my regular game on Wednesday nights in New Britain when you’re a little older. I’ll look forward to coaching you in whatever sport you might want to pursue. I already know that you enjoy basketball, football, soccer, baseball and more, but I won’t rule out anything else for you. The world is, truly, your oyster. Grab it.

Tim O’Brien cited his yearnings in his letter to Timmy. Let me reflect on some of my own. I yearn to watch you marry some day, and I look forward to your children joining the family. O’Brien told us how he had learned “that a grown man can find pleasure in “a squeal…a grin, in the miraculous utterance of the word “Daddy.” For me, I’m in ecstasy when you come down the stairs in the mornings when you awake and tell me, “I love you, Daddy.” For you, these words are automatic. I don’t think you know, at this point, how powerful they are. You can reduce me to virtual nothingness with that phrase.

You’ve learned so much in your 4 years. When I hear you rhyme, singing a brand new song of your own composition, I’m thrilled beyond comprehension. When you say, as you did this weekend, “Mommy, you didn’t dry my hair properly,” I consider that there are millions of adults who can’t use an adverb at all, let alone, properly. Your gifts appear to outweigh even my deepest aspirations for you when we were waiting on your birth. We don’t even have to hover over you while you eat; to be sure you’re getting your vitamins. Most everything that’s appeared on your plate, you’ve eaten without hesitation.

You astound me, you thrill me, you make my day, you are such a wonderful boy, a polite, somewhat rambunctious, quizzical, investigative, curious, rhyming, singing, drumming, piano-playing, wondering, charismatic, caring, handsome, cute (I know you hate that!), and you’re funny. You’ve got one of the best senses of humor I’ve ever known.

To quote O’Brien again, “I would trade every syllable of my life’s work for an extra 5 or 10 years with you.” That’s so true for me, Caleb. Obviously, I don’t look forward to the day I have to leave you behind on this earth. A father’s “chief duty is to be present,” according to his letter, and at some point in your life, I will no longer be present. My prayer is that you’ll be able to savor all the moments we’ve shared together, and that I will have instructed you well, so that you will be the man you are capable of being.

We like to say that our departed relations are “up there, watching us.” Clearly, this isn’t something we know to be true; but if it is true, then you can rest assured that I’ll be watching you every step, bubbling over with pride at my boy reaping the success that was his destiny from the beginning.

There aren’t enough words in my copious vocabulary to describe my love for you. I suppose that’s all that needs to be said.

I love you, Caleb.


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