Category: Musings

A letter to my daughter on her fourth birthday

A letter to my daughter on her fourth birthday

My dearest Elizabeth,

Today you turned four. It took quite a bit of convincing before you believed that’s a good thing…I’m actually not sure you’re completely sold on the idea yet. “3” has been your favourite number since you learned, somewhere along the line, about having favourites, and you’ve not been very impressed with the idea of not being your favourite number any more.

But you proudly showed four fingers today when Oupa Kokkie and Ouma Iréne asked how old you are, so you’re already adapting. You’re truly amazing in how well you adapt to change…

2020 has been a year we won’t forget soon, and we’ve likely not seen the worst of it yet. I have darker days where I wonder if we’ll both still be around and that I can write you another one of these in a year’s time.

As I write this, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, with a virus that has infected millions, and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide since the start of the year. You’ve only left our yard a handful of times since March. You haven’t seen your friends or played on the beach, and are already completely used to the idea that your ballet classes takes place in our living room, with images of your teacher and fellow ballerinas being streamed onto the TV.

And you have been incredible. You’ve accepted the new normal with barely a complaint, and when we leave the house you wear your mask with a smile. You make art, you’ve started your own veggie garden (can’t wait until it’s time to harvest your first crop of butternuts), you tell stories, play games, go on adventures, help around the house.

And you care. You have empathy on a level that many adults will never achieve. I guess being stuck at home with your mom and me, each of us trying to deal with our stress in our own way, you can’t help but pick up on it. I am sorry for this – I wish I knew how to do a better job protecting you against this, as you shouldn’t be sharing these types of burdens with us yet – but it has brought out something beautiful in you.

I can’t express how much it means when you come to my office just to give me a hug, or when you walk up to me, look me in the eye, and tell me I’m the best. It’s a cliche, but you truly are a little ray of hope in our lives.

I admit, I’m afraid, not just for our immediate future, but for the world you’ll be growing up in once this is over. But when I look at you laughing and smiling and finding ways to cope without even really understanding what you’re coping with, I’m a little less afraid. Because I see a little girl who’s going to grow up to be someone who makes a plan, who knows how to find the hidden moments of joy around us, and who makes the best of what life throws at you.

This birthday I don’t have any sage advice for you. I only have thanks. Thank you for being you, for being the best little girl a dad can ask for, for hugs and giggles and kisses on my cheek and back-scratches and make-believe tea and crawling into my lap not because you need to be held, but because you can tell I need to hold you.

Love you more than I can say.

Dad

Once upon a time, there was a virus

Once upon a time, there was a virus

I think if one looks back through history, every generation likely encounters an event that changes the way the world works for them, that makes them re-think their assumptions and ways of doing things. For my grandparents’ generation it was World War II and the Great Depression. For my parents’ it was probably 9/11. And for mine it will likely be COVID-19.

Last night our president addressed the nation and declared a national disaster.

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A letter to my daughter on her third birthday

A letter to my daughter on her third birthday

My dearest Elizabeth,

Today you are three. Thank you for letting us be a part of the most amazing year. One where you’ve learned how to express what you want and feel, where you’ve spent every moment learning and discovering new things, on where you’ve started to make friends, and realised it’s okay to venture out on your own sometimes. One where you’ve revealed that you have the most incredible imagination, and that you care deeply for others.

The so-called “terrible twos” did not exist in our home. It was just a year of endless wonder.

Today I only have one piece of wisdom to impart:

It’s not about you.

I don’t expect you to understand this yet – many people go their entire lives without ever understanding this; I’m not sure I do yet – but I hope one day you’ll read this and understand.

You are amazing. You are beautiful, you are so smart it scares me sometimes, you are precious, you matter, and to your mother and me you are the most important thing in the universe.

But this life…it’s not about you.

The second half of the Great Commandment says, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself,” which is really just another way to say, it’s not about you.

The person you are, the gifts you have received, are not for your benefit. You may most certainly enjoy what you’ve been given, but never forget that ultimately your purpose on this Earth is to do good to others. For their sake, not yours.

In practical terms that means be considerate. Think how your actions, even your well-intentioned ones, will affect others. Put the needs of others ahead of your own. Be willing to come in second if someone else really needs the win. Do what’s right, even if it doesn’t feel good. Treat everyone with respect, even if they don’t give you that same courtesy. Share what you have freely, and never pass by an opportunity to serve another.

It’s not easy to live this way, and I think I fail at it far more than I succeed. But it’s the key to a fulfilling life, and the secret to fixing this mess we’ve made the world into – things are the way they are because everyone just tries to take as much for themselves as they can, but you have the power to change that. Each one of us has.

I hope this makes sense to you one day, and I pray that I’ll be able to set you an example of what it means to live this way.

With all my love,

Dad

Standing for something

It’s election year in South Africa. This fact was suddenly brought home to me on Sunday when, turning out of our street, we were confronted with election posters on every lamppost on the way to church. Only one party’s, by the way – looks like they decided to get an early start.

Election posters are only that big, so parties usually come up with a slogan that’s short enough to fit in while big enough that motorists can read them without squinting so desperately at the poster that they actually run into the lamppost supporting it. In an ideal world, that slogan will also tell people what your party stands for.

This party must have one hell of a copywriter, or they don’t stand for much, as they managed to keep their slogan to only two words:

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