An Open Letter To My Daughters
(A, P, S)
As my oldest child heads off to her university studies and creates her own life, there are now a few things I need to apologize for to all three of my daughters. As each of you enter your adult lives, I realize that I may have raised you poorly, and I wish to set a few things straight. So before you run off to your future, I’ve made a list of 10 things that I must apologize for.
01. I am sincerely sorry for not idolizing boy bands and pop culture and looking up to them as heroes. Studying history was vainglorious on my part. I love history and how the past continues to teach me who and what I am, but how could I have realized the emotional investment you would have made on whether or not Jay’s hair was in place or not? Well, to put it in your terms, "I can’t even." I apologize for not following celebrity tweets and tumbler posts. I know that certain celebrities are always in the headlines, and it must be difficult to juggle that kind of essential information with completing your geography homework. I simply assumed that if you wanted to attend a concert, you should at least know where the city was. I’m sorry that I’m not passionate about sports, or cars, or things. I’m sorry that when you wish to know what my passion is, I don’t have a simple answer for you. I have always been passionate about history and learning, and those types of things just don’t get the same airtime as football. As a result, I am sorry that I tried to teach you that everyone is woven together in the quilt of humanity. That any injustice to any person is an injustice to us all. So I regret that I modeled for you how (or at least attempted) to treat all people equally. All of us are immigrants and I apologize that your mother never became an American citizen, but rather, we both tried to instill our combined historical and cultural backgrounds into your self worth and image. I know how much easier it is to look at the world in black and white and make simplistic judgments. So, you know, sorry that I cynically criticized popular movies and tv shows. Oops.
02. I’m sorry I didn’t buy you the latest fashions. I know how your peers looked down at you for wearing J. C. Penny clothes and how certain cliques excluded you based on your fashion sense, or lack thereof. Brand names get you momentary popularity, but it’s not as important as one might think. It’s temporary, and as young people, it’s hard to know that, as you haven’t been in your future yet, but I have. Being the youngest of five myself, with three older brothers, I was the only kid in high school in the 1980s with bell bottoms and it never became natural for me to be concerned about fashion. I forgot that for high school social circles, looks are often much more valued than character. Pity.
03. My sincerest apologies for being fair. During our AYSO soccer games in which I was sometimes the referee, I am sorry that I called you offside, or blew the whistle for a penalty that you happened to commit. I regret not teaching you the killer instinct and to push the envelope by shoving and tripping your opponent when the referee wasn’t looking, because that is seemingly how you get ahead in this country. Fair play is relegated to failure. Sorry that I did not instill in you the killer ethic, where you win at all costs. When we had our evenings on the Wii racing one another, and you would "naturally" win and tell me, "it’s just a race, Papa, it doesn’t matter who wins," I’m sorry that I laughed with you rather than teaching you that nothing matters but first place. Only beating others will bring you happiness, not just doing your best. Sorry that I forgot to teach you lessons on the harshness of today’s dog-eat-dog society but rather just had fun. I hope you at least enjoyed the time together. I did.
04. It is certainly too bad that I didn’t just accept your problems. When you came home and complained about "that girl," or "that stupid teacher," or "him," I’m sorry that I asked why you felt the way you did, or discussed how the other person might have felt, or asked what you might do to fix the problem? I should have just jumped on your side, ridiculed the other person and defended you. Obviously, it is much easier to look down on others and feel good about yourself when others suffer. Sorry that I tried to instill empathy in your heart. Take it out on me when I’m much older. Much older.
05. I apologize that your mother and I talked directly to you about sex, instead of suggesting that it is an icky taboo and running away at it’s very mention. Sorry that your mother and I want to you have a wonderful love life, full of pleasure and love. I should have shamed you, and met every boy you ever liked at the door with a shotgun. Sorry for educating you about birth control, and giving you options at your young age. I hate double standards, and I can’t imagine keeping from you the healthy relationship that your mother and I enjoy. I know you will have one too. I’m sorry that I taught you that violence only changes behavior, not attitude. Perhaps if I had punched you on the arm, pushed you around, or whipped you with a belt you might have become stronger and better able to deal with adult life. In the same vein, I’m sorry I treated your mother as an equal, rather than exemplifying the "male is in charge" role. It’s really too bad that your mother is a strong, liberated woman who makes her own decisions and lives her own life, together with me. I should have shown you how a man has to rule his own castle. Instead of embarrassing you when I told the school that those T-shirts stating, "Nice story babe, now go make me a sandwich" were extremely offensive, I should have just let that go. Believing as I do in equality and democracy, I just couldn’t. My bad.
06. I’m sorry that I didn’t buy tons of junk food or fast food for you. Your mother and I worked hard to learn how to make fresh, home-made dishes for you the best that we could afford. I know how hard it is to go to someone’s house where they have tons of cheetos, chips or soda. Going to school and bringing your own lunch must have been difficult when your friend’s parent brought them burgers or tacos. I know that it is seen as a status symbol and while you ate your whole grain sandwich and a piece of fruit, Susie the popular girl had her mother hand deliver her a bag from McDonalds. And Suzie was always skinny. And pretty. So ... I guess I’m sorry I taught you the stupid lesson that life isn’t fair all why simply trying to nourish your bodies with healthy food. Well, that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to!
07. I’m sorry I didn’t buy you a new Mercedes when you got your driver’s license instead of making you ride to work with me. I know how judgmental people are when you don’t own your personal vehicle. It must have been very embarrassing to walk into school with your teacher/father after exiting a beat up old Ford. Learning internal worth as well as the value of a job and earning your own money is a hard lesson indeed. It’s too bad your parents weren’t rich. Of course, it’s your fault for picking such lame parents. So there!
08. I apologize for not teaching you to whine and blame others. Sorry that I asked you to work hard for yourself, to attend a university in which you could enlighten yourselves, where you might think beyond what you already knew and challenge your beliefs. If things did not work in your favor, I know how frustrating it must have been for you to listen to me to tell you to study harder, to work toward your own goals and not just blame others. When you don’t get admitted to the university you want, I hope you try harder to better yourself rather than blame the university for denying you while investing in its diversity programs. If you want, you can blame your upbringing as well as me personally. It’s usually my fault anyway.
09. So sorry that I want you to prove your ideas, to support your beliefs and to use logic and reason. To do that, language skills are paramount in clarifying your meaning. Therefore, I am sorry that I didn’t talk down to you, that I always tried to use the best language I could. I should have used baby-talk and kept your vocabulary at a weak level, full of colloquialisms and slang so you could fit in better at school and be cool. Your mother and I worked hard at raising you to be bilingual, even if we did fail at it. Language is important, and statistics show that the more diverse your vocabulary, the more successful you are in life. Sorry, I just did it again.
10. I’m sorry I didn’t cheer for you when you won something, or constantly said I was proud of you. Pride is vain, and pride is reserved for things that matter. I’m not proud of your third grade paint-by-number, but I am extremely proud of who you’ve become. Pride is not given easily, it must be earned, or it is worthless and cheap. Earned by things that matter, not by things you should have done. I’m sorry I wasn’t proud of you for cleaning your room, or doing your homework or following rules. These are things you should be doing anyway, these are expectations. I’ll be the proudest when you earn a degree at a university, become an independent individual, and live a happy life on your terms.
So there is my list. I am apologizing for trying to instill in you a sense of self worth, for setting you up for a lifetime of learning, being loved and long term personal investments. What else was I to do? Perhaps if I had spent less time pushing the greatness that humanity has to offer, you would be able to handle the transformation from child to adult easier. I see plenty of people who are "cooler" than you, who escape reality, hang out every Friday night, party, drive fast and play hard. And then I look at you three, and I think to myself, the beauty of literature, art, music, poetry, and the compilation that human history has brought us ... I see it in all of you and your potential to effect the future. You guys are awesome. You always were. And for being the unique individual each one of you have become; well, for that I will never apologize.