On Christmas Eve 2020, this message from a long gone father to his daughter, older now by decades than he was when he wrote it, seems meant for us all.
A father’s letter
by Stanley Ehrman
My friend Wendy had what she describes as an extraordinary relationship with her dad. They liked and trusted each other. They enjoyed each other. They laughed together, the tears running down cheeks kind of laughter. Though her family came apart when she wasn’t quite 8, and Wendy lived in Chicago with her mom while her dad and brother were in Hollywood, Florida, they were always there for each other at any time of the day or night. Recently, she and her brother have been reading letters her dad wrote her. She was thirteen when she received this one.
December 21, 1962
It was so nice receiving your letter and hearing all the news. As far as your comment about “wishing we didn’t have to be separated so much,” it makes me think back (and how right you were) to the time when you told me that we should at least enjoy each other when we are together. I think it was last summer, and I was singing the blues, so you decided to give me a good talking to and for a little pipsqueak you sure made a lot of sense and helped me to realize the truth in your advice.
Anyway, I know that you and I have really learned how to do that and are getting better all the time. I can tell by the wonderful talks we have, the pleasure we have just doing things together—cycling, walking, eating Royal Castle burgers, baking cookies, playing cards, listening to records, and I could go on and on, but most of all by the way we help each other say “happy goodbyes,” each of us trying to control our emotions to protect one another.
Spring will be here before you know it but don’t forget to enjoy the winter also, it has a great deal of beauty all of its own, if you will just open your eyes and heart to it. To wake early in the morning and be greeted by a beautiful white clean blanket of snow, to sit in front of a warm fireplace on a cold winter night with a good book, or talk with a friend, and so much more, especially at your age. Try to give your best and do your best to your schoolwork and education, as all of your efforts will be returned to you many times over—believe me, try it!
As Wendy read this letter to me last night, I felt like I was receiving a message for our time. We are entering into the depths of a long dark winter of illness and death, of political chaos and uncertainty, of food and financial insecurity. So many of us are unable to be near those we love and are being asked to do our best to say virtual “happy goodbyes.” It is, more than any other period I have experienced, a time when we are called to give and do our best with little direct reward, and when we need to keep the faith that our efforts will bear fruit.
And, yes, there is beauty in winter. This winter, there is the beauty of watching Joe Biden assemble an administration of professionals that looks like America and the small kindnesses that this hard time is giving us the opportunity to practice. Last night, I watched a video of a man in Fresno, California, literally take off his pants and give them to a homeless man whose cart had been stolen so all he had left were the clothes he was standing in, and what he was standing in didn’t include pants.
I want to give Wendy’s dad the last word. I read what he says as a blessing for us all, reminding us that such love is possible between people, whatever their relationship and wherever they are on their life journeys.