Sage: Fifty Months

This letter is even more delayed than last month’s. It’s been a very busy few weeks. We’ve spent several evenings and weekends working at the new house — painting, doing repairs, and so on. In fact, we had to have an electrician and an HVAC tech come out to fix a problem that, at one point, we were concerned might burn down the house before we ever even lived in it.

I thought about leaving that note like that, but someday you may want to know the story. It’s not really that much; we had a power surge, we smelled smoke, and when your mother went to check the breaker box in the garage, the whole garage was full of smoke. There was trouble with the main neutral line coming into the house, and we had to get it fixed. We were fortunate — we were there when it happened, you weren’t (so you didn’t get freaked out by our reactions or by the smoke), it was a fixable problem, and Grandma and Grandpa were able to basically house-sit the next day while the technicians came out to fix the problem.

Also, recently… our dog, Chelle, died.

By the time you read this, I wonder how well you’ll even remember her. She was nearly 15 years old, and her health had been up and down for a while, but we had reason to believe she would have been with us at least a few months longer, if not a couple years. But one morning, she seemed to be having an uncontrollable seizure. Later, we learned that she had basically suffered a stroke, which had triggered seizures, and it may have been due to something like a brain tumor. Essentially, the time had come for her last days; or, more specifically, her last day. We made the choice that the best thing we could do for her was let her pass on peacefully. I held her in my arms as the veterinarian administered the drugs; it was like she fell asleep on my lap.

That was very, very hard on you. It was on us, too, but Chelle was your first pet, and you loved her very much. You cried a lot, and you talked about it a lot. You started asking us difficult questions about death… like where heaven was on a map and how we could drive there to visit.

You’ve been a huge help to us lately. You love helping out with things like clearing the table, carrying bags, putting things in the trash. You helped us paint your room in the new house. You’ve told us, more than once, that if there’s something we need to have done that you can do, just tell you, and you’ll do it for us, because you love helping.

Things are about to change again, as we get ready to move into the new house. We’re not that far away from that happening. I hope that it’s a smooth transition, although I expect you won’t be quite used to not being in the same house as Grandma and Grandpa. That may be a little tough on all of us at first. But you’re very excited about having a room big enough that you can have a friend or two over for a sleepover (eventually).

I wish I could give you more updates on your own personality. I feel a little guilty that it’s difficult for me to do that this month, but it’s been so full of events that the day-to-day things have been hard to notice. I know that won’t be a pattern for long.

Oh! I remember the other thing! You’re on the verge of a reading breakthrough. You’re recognizing which letters make which sounds, and so far you’ve spelled three or four words without any help. (My favorite so far? You know how to spell ‘love.’)

Sage, you make us so proud. Remember to be who you are, and we will always be there to support you.

My advice for you this month may sound easy, but it’s not.

Know what you believe.

Lots of people will try to tell you about doctrine and dogma and rules and ethics and morals, and it’s always a good idea to listen, but ultimately no person on earth can tell you with absolute certainty what’s correct. I don’t just mean this about religion or politics. I mean you need to be able to know what you believe just to be able to be okay with yourself, sometimes. There are people who will tell you that it’s not okay to take even a single pen from your workplace, but they will break the law by speeding on the way home. There are people who will scream about the evils of war, but who will emotionally abuse their spouse. I’m not trying to make a point here about any particular action being “worse” than any other; maybe someday we’ll have conversations about that, but my intention here is just to say that you need to know what you’re okay with. You need to know under what circumstances you are okay with breaking a promise, or under what circumstances you would consider lying. (I believe that no matter what people say, everyone will do both of these under their own set of circumstances.) Know yourself.

Especially because by knowing yourself, you can make sure that you are being yourself. And when you are loved, you will be loved as yourself.

And Sage? I love you. Your mother and I both do, wholeheartedly, and we always will. Even if and when you struggle to know yourself or to be yourself, we will love you for who we know you to be. You may not always be the sweet helpful girl who wants to spend time with her parents, but you will always, always, always be our beloved daughter.

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Sage: 49 months

This letter is quite delayed.

I was pretty sick last month, for quite a while. I’m still not 100%, but I’m close.

This has been another big month. We’re making changes and progress. By your next letter, we might even be living in our new house; we’re still working on the final renovations, but we’ve gotten a lot done!

Soon, we’ll be getting you back into a daycare / preschool program. You’re very excited about this, and you’ve even planned some of the outfits you want to wear and some of the things you want to do there. You’re quite a planner; you’ll often say things like, “When I’m six or seven, I want to go on a Ferris wheel.”

You’ve made good friends with Uncle Matt and Aunt Lisa’s dogs – especially Ember, who will play fetch and tug with you. We house-sat and dog-sat for about a week, and I don’t think you wanted to leave. We also had a pretty good snowstorm while we were there, and you absolutely loved playing in the snow. You’ve told us repeatedly that we need to get you a sled. (There’s not much snow left at the moment – unusual for a Syracuse winter – but yes, we do want to get you sledding.)

You offer to help with just about everything – laundry, clearing the table, cleaning the floor. Sometimes you volunteer to do things just because you like to help. It makes us feel really good that you have such a generous heart.

Every month now, I’ve given you the same advice: be who you are. And every now and then I’ll remind you that this is harder than it sounds. Sometimes you have to figure out if the person you are is the one who follows her heart for herself, or if it’s the one who will sacrifice for people she loves. That’s never an easy choice; it would be wonderful if the two were never in conflict.

So here’s my second advice for this month: communicate. Talk to the people you love. A lot of love involves compromise, and you can’t reach a compromise if you don’t know what the other person wants or needs, or if they don’t know what you want or need. Be open. Be honest. Be real. It won’t always be easy, and sometimes it may even hurt if your wants and needs are incompatible… but it’s better to communicate. Nobody can read your mind, and you shouldn’t assume that you know how others are feeling or thinking.

I hope by the time I write the next letter, we’ll be in the new house and I can talk to you about all of those changes, and how you like your new daycare / preschool. I feel like the next few weeks will be big ones as your mother starts her new job and we finally start really settling in to our new lives here. Some of it will probably be tough on you, and on us, too. But no matter what, this will always be true:

I’m proud of you. You’re the most wonderful daughter I can imagine. Your mother and I both love you so much that it’s impossible to explain the full extent of it. And that will never, ever change.

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Sage: 4 Years

Your birthday was, obviously, nearly two weeks ago. You’ve been four for nearly two weeks.

Four.

Four years ago, you were still in the NICU.

Five years ago, I was still struggling with the fact that I wasn’t a father yet and there was no end in sight to that feeling.

In the past month, you’ve mostly settled in to living in New York. We’ve had a lot of changes, some of which happened after your birthday but will be in this letter anyway. We celebrated Christmas back in Indiana with your mom’s whole family. Your birthday too, actually. And then again back here in New York. In fact, you had so many different days that were used for presents that you’ve gotten confused about why you had some days WITHOUT presents.

It’s still a bit of a tough time for you. You’ve fought us on what you’re eating, when you’re eating, how fast or slow you’re eating; when bedtime is, what you’re wearing to bed, and what order bedtime tasks are done; what you want to wear, what you want to do, what you want to play. When it’s time to pick up toys for the night, you’re suddenly “sooooo tired” (that excuse doesn’t work but you haven’t figured that out yet) but we have to put you back into bed multiple times.

We’ve finally purchased our own house here in Syracuse, but we don’t live there yet because we have some reasonably minor renovations to complete first. We’ll be living very close to your new “best fwiend in da whole wide wuhld,” Lily. You’re extremely excited about this. We took you to see the empty house. You inspected it very solemnly and thoughtfully, asking for information about each room and clearly considering it, before finally declaring, “Good job.”

You are, without question, a chatterbox. You talk incessantly, to everyone, about anything. You have trouble listening sometimes (but then again, you are only four). You talk, and talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. And I remember my parents telling me that I was that way as a kid. I remember friends getting irritated with me for how much I talked. I know the feeling. Everything is exciting, and you’re learning so much so fast, and you’re sorting it all out in your head and you just want to share it with everyone! I hope and pray that I have the patience with you that you will need. It’s so easy for us, as adults, to forget about how magical the world is for you, and we forget to listen sometimes.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching in the past few months. I’ve realized that a lot of what I do is because other people want me to do it. A lot more of what I do is because I think other people want me to do it. Some of what I do, I do for me, but I feel guilty because other people don’t want me to do it (or I think they don’t). Some of what I do, I do for me with no guilt at all.

A lot of people tell you to do what makes you happy, and they take that as a very short-term thing. They forget that sometimes doing what makes you happy right now can hurt later on in life. You have to think about the difference between happiness now and happiness in the long run. And I think what will make most people happy in the long run is simply being who they are. Being honest about it. Build up what you love instead of tearing down what you don’t, and you’ll find others who love the same thing.

It took me a long, long time to realize that when I’m honest and real and genuine — when I’m me — I can find people who love me for who I am, not just what I can do for them or how I fit their idea of what I’m supposed to be.

Right now, you’re very, very honest. You like things or you don’t. You are having fun or you’re not. You want to go places or you don’t. Eventually, you’ll learn to compromise more on your behaviors, because that’s a necessary part of growing up. Some times, conformity will be necessary, and that’s just the way it is.

But never give up on who you are. Never cover it up just because someone else doesn’t like it. It’s not up to them to decide who you are. It’s up to you.

Be who you are, my beautifully kind-hearted child. Be you.

My other piece of advice for this month is simple, I hope. I wrote it a few days ago, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I want you to pay attention to it.

There is a difference between tolerance and acceptance.
There is a difference between acceptance and love.
Love one another.

I love you more than I ever knew was possible for a person to love. Your mother and I both do. You’re growing up to be such a wonderful young girl, and we love watching your kindness reach out to others.

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Sage: 47 Months

It’s been a long, hard month for us.

You seem to have more or less adapted to life in Syracuse. The first couple of weeks involved a lot of crying about missing people in Indianapolis and not really understanding why you were upset, which made you more upset. Since then, you’ve started to get used to the idea that we live here, even though we’re not in our own house yet.

You’ve really enjoyed being around my parents and making some new friends — in particular, Abel, Abbie, and Lily, all of whom I hope you get to spend a lot of time with over the next several years.

You’ve also gotten into a bad habit of getting up, repeatedly, after we’ve put you to bed. We’ve had to put you back to bed as many as a dozen times before you finally stop fighting falling asleep.

Some of this, we attribute to your age; some to you just figuring out what you can and can’t do, and who you are. Which, I guess, is pretty much all about your age, too.

The one thing that has really surprised me this month is that you’ve asked us, repeatedly, for siblings. Specifically, you want a younger brother — and two older sisters. Which is a little tricky.

We’re hoping that by the time I’m writing your four-year letter that we’ll own a house out here, although whether or not we’ll have been able to move in yet is questionable. (We hope to renovate the kitchen first thing.)

You know that you’re going to get to choose the paint colors for your room, and you’re very excited about that. You have definite opinions about colors.

I’m going to jump straight to the advice, here.

As always: be who you are. Always be who you are, even if who you are today isn’t who you were yesterday. It probably won’t be who you are tomorrow, either.

But along with that: pay attention to who your friends are. Not just which people are “really” your friends, because, for good reasons and bad, that can change, too.

What I mean is, when you have a friend, pay attention to them. Pay attention to what they like, what they don’t like, what they say, what they don’t say. Take notes, if you have to. (I have to; I’ve really just started.) It’s taken me nearly 40 years, but I’ve started to realize that to have the friends I need, I need to be the friend I need. It takes effort, sometimes. Take the time to make that effort.

I don’t think you’ll have a problem with that. You have a heart for helping others, like your mother does. And a great memory, like your mother, too.

I love you, Sage. More than I can say. Your mother and I both do. Thank you for being the most wonderful daughter I could have ever hoped to have. It makes being Daddy even more wonderful than I could have ever dreamed.

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Sage: 46 Months

You’ve moved! You live in Syracuse now. And last week, your mother was able to come join us all, so we’re all together again.

This has been a difficult transition for all of us, but I think you’re having the hardest time with it so far. You’re refusing to stay in bed — which is unusual for you. We’ve had to put you back to bed several times a night. We’ve tried just about everything we can think of, including getting you involved in the solution (which is the recommended method these days), but it hasn’t worked. Part of the issue with getting you involved is that you have an incredibly active imagination and when we ask you why something is happening or how, you’re coming up with answers that are much better stories than actual reasons. And when we try to extrapolate from those stories… well, it turns out they’ve become stories, and instead of thinking about the real issue we’re trying to address, you start adding details.

Here’s what I mean. We ask why you’re not sleeping. You don’t know. We ask if there’s something you’re thinking about keeping you awake. You say no. We ask if you’re feeling sad or scared. You say no — but your doll, Blue Baby, is. Assuming you’re projecting, we ask what’s bothering Blue Baby. Turns out she’s scared. Scared of what? Scared of shadows and ghosts and witches. What can we do to help Blue Baby? …And all of a sudden we’re off on an epic adventure idea, where your hands are waving in the air as you tell us about how Blue Baby needs to find a princess who has a potion that if you pour it on a rock the rock wakes up and becomes a dragon, and she could ride the dragon and it would breathe fire to scare away the witches, but the dragon doesn’t have any fire and so it has to go get fire from the castle but the princess doesn’t remember where the castle is and…

As much as I love your imagination, it definitely is not helping us figure out how to keep you in bed.

You’ve told us a number of times about people in Indiana that you miss. We know that they miss you too, and it breaks our hearts to hear you cry about it. You’ve told me over and over that you don’t want things to change.

I think part of the problem is that we haven’t had much chance to find kids around here for you to play with regularly. You’ve had a couple times to play with my cousin’s kids, Abel and Abby, but not often yet. You’ve met a few kids at places like the playground and the apple orchard, but they have been the type who are friends for an hour and then you may never see them again. We’re working on that. We want to get you back to having friends you get to see almost every day.

You are having fun, too. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all been miserable. You had a blast at that apple orchard. We picked apples and pumpkins, you rode a “cow train” (carts painted like cows pulled in a tenth-mile circuit by a tractor going slower than a walking adult, but you thought it was “WEALLY FAST!!!”), we snacked on apple cider donuts and listened to a sort-of bluegrass band… you had a lot of fun. You’ve helped make supper, you’ve helped clean up, you’ve helped with all sorts of stuff, and that makes you really proud of yourself (as it should)!

Today (a couple days late again, I’m sorry, I know), we had a very special moment. You wanted to read one particular book before bed — “The B Book.” Almost every word in the book begins with the letter B, and they add on to a single run-on sentence from page to page. (“Big brown…” “Big brown bear.” “Big brown bear, blue bull.” “Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon.” “Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon blowing bubbles.” etc)

You know most of the book by heart. You were cheerfully “reading” pages to me until I turned to a page with just one word on it, and you said, “I might need help with dis one. I don’t wemembuh it.”

I asked you what the letters were.

“B, A, M.”

“Do you remember what those letters say?”

“B says buh. A says aah. M says mmm.”

“So if you say them in order, what do you get?”

“Buhaahmmmm. Bam! BAM!”

“Sage — do you know what you just did?”

“No.”

“You just read that word, all by yourself. You sounded it out. You read it without my help.”

“But I’ve BEEN weading widout your help.”

“You’ve been telling me what you remembered. You didn’t remember this one, but you listened to what each letter says, you put them together, and you figured out the word. Honey, that’s what reading is.”

“Oh.”

(…you weren’t as impressed as I was.)

Things are new and different here. I know. There are going to be tough times, getting used to things. We’re doing everything we can to make those times easier — for you and for us, too. I’m so sorry that you’re not as happy with everything these days as you have been, but I know it’s temporary.

(Your mother just walked past me to head to your room because you’re singing. It’s after 10 p.m.; we put you to bed over two hours ago.)

Sage, this month, I want to remind you again to be who you are; and I’m going to give you two pieces of advice, not just one.

First: remember that people change. I was hesitant to come back to Syracuse, in part because I had changed a lot in twenty years and I wasn’t sure who would still be around that might expect me to be the person that I was. To my surprise, there’s not a single person that I’ve reunited with that I would say is the same person they were. It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. So I tell you to remember: people change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, but it happens, and you can’t try to stop it.

Second: SLEEP WHILE YOU CAN. OH MY GOODNESS, CHILD, YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO SLEEP A WHOLE BUNCH, AND BY THE TIME YOU’RE A TEENAGER YOU’RE GOING TO BE PRAYING FOR MORE. SHUT YOUR EYES, GO TO SLEEP, HELP US ALL OUT.

…but seriously, for your own sake, learn that naps and bedtime should not be taken for granted.

I love you so much, Sage. Your mother and I both do. I’m so happy to have you near me again; it put an end to one of the longest difficult stretches of my life.

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Sage: 45 Months

I wrote you a letter last night, but it didn’t post, and somehow I don’t even find a draft of it. So I get to write it again.

Well, by the time I write the next letter, you and your mother will have finally joined me in Syracuse. This has been one of the hardest stretches I’ve had in years; I miss you two so much, and I think of you all the time.

It’s hard for me to tell you how you’ve been changing over the past month, when I haven’t seen you very much. We talk on the phone most days, and we use Skype (I don’t know what it’ll be called by the time you read this, but right now it’s using laptop computers’ camera and microphone functions to talk to one another over long distances. It’s been around for a while, but it’s still not perfect; every now and then we lose connections or they freeze up) a couple times a week, usually, but it’s just not the same at all. I don’t get my hugs and kisses and “squeeze-pops.” I don’t get to scratch your back. I don’t get to push your hair back out of your eyes, which are so much like your mother’s eyes.

Your behavior hasn’t been the best this past month — I know that. Some of it is your changing circumstances, and the fact that I’m not there. Some of it is just because you’re three years old, and you’re testing limits. You have a tendency to answer a lot of your mother’s requests with an immediate, “I’m not going to do dat,” or “No, I don’t want to.” Sometimes, you’ve even said it automatically when she was offering you something you really did want.

It can be frustrating, but I’ll level with you — I’ve seen the struggles a lot of other parents have had with their own kids at this age, and even though I know most of those parents have probably worked just as hard as we have at being the best parents we can be, some of those kids are just flat-out obnoxious. I know it’s not a nice thing to say. I know those parents don’t want their kids screaming and throwing tantrums and all that, and I don’t blame the parents under most circumstances — and I know the kids are still just kids and haven’t figured out how to control their own actions to the extent that adults would like them to, so I can’t really blame them either. But it doesn’t mean I like it any better. I just accept it easier.

I really have no idea how old you’ll be when you read these. It makes it tough, sometimes, to figure out what to talk to you about. If I knew you’d read them at age 13, I’d talk about things that might be important when you’re 13. If I knew it wouldn’t be until age 30, I might talk about more serious matters.

If I thought you’d start reading them at 7, I might be a bit more careful.

But there’s something in particular I want to talk to you about this month. It’s tough for me to talk about, because a lot of people I care deeply about don’t agree with me, and in general I prefer peace to an argument. But sometimes, keeping the peace isn’t as important as doing what’s right.

I want to talk to you about a friend of mine. And even this is risky, because my perception of what happened is definitely only a small portion of the reality of it. We can never know someone else’s situation in its entirety. I only know what I saw. I can only tell you what it looked like to me.

My friend — for this letter, I’ll call him Elliott (not because that name has any connection to him that I know of, but because it’s the first name I saw on a book cover when I looked around from where I’m sitting right now) — was, to put it bluntly, difficult. He had a tendency to be overbearing. Loud. Rude. Offensive. He and I had a number of arguments that left one or both of us storming away. For someone like me, who prefers peace, it was at times hard to be his friend.

But at other times, when he would let his guard down and be real, he was full of so much love that it was amazing to behold.

Elliott was troubled; we all knew that. He had health issues, he had personal issues with family and friends, he had financial issues. He would laughingly tell us that he was a mess, and we all had to agree, quietly, that he wasn’t joking. But he had stunning levels of creativity as well, and it was impossible not to find yourself caught in the wake of his genius ideas and counter-cultural artistic concepts.

I spoke at his wedding. Technically, I presided over it (having gotten the simple, legal paperwork required by Indiana to have the right to do that), and it was one of the happiest days I had with him. That’s what Elliott meant to me. He was a mentor, a friend, and someone I just flat-out enjoyed.

This is where it gets to my perception of events, and people who were closer to him than I was may read this and pick it apart, telling me how wrong I am. That’s possible.

Elliott was gender fluid.

I don’t know if that term will stick around in the long run. It’s relatively new to the English lexicon and there are still a lot of competing terms, frankly, all trying to be claimed and defined. If for any reason that term has fallen out of favor, I apologize. If it has just vanished, I’ll explain.

When you identify as gender fluid, it means that your gender varies over time. At any time, Elliott could find himself identifying as male, female, a combination… it’s the sort of thing that’s very hard to explain to people used to living in a very binary world.

In case things have changed — and I hope they have for a lot of this — I’ll give you context for the way things are right now, from my perspective.

Most people finally accept that being gay is not a choice. Many people still reject that. The majority of Americans have finally come around to supporting marriage for all, not just “traditional” hetero, cisnormative couples, and the Supreme Court just this year finally affirmed that right.

(I’m hoping that you’re a little appalled that it took this long.)

However, there is still a strong social hierarchy in place, and in general most people want to believe that you have one sex and one orientation and that’s all that you should really worry about. You’re a man or a woman, and you’re straight or gay.

We’re just barely starting to see a movement to reduce the stigma attached to bisexuality and transgender. Even the vocabulary is still a hot topic, frankly, and I still make mistakes at times. If you find those, I really am sorry — I’m trying.

Anyway. “Gender fluid” is a term that many, many people don’t know — and a concept that has never occurred to most of them. It doesn’t make sense to them that someone could feel like a boy one day and a girl one day and never “choose” (as if it’s a choice). Even many gays and lesbians look down on this, despite the struggles they have faced for acceptance themselves.

So when Elliott would occasionally wear a dress, a wig, and make-up, people didn’t understand. They didn’t understand that at that moment, Elliott wasn’t looking for attention, or trying to “fool” someone into an encounter they didn’t want, or anything like that. People were cruel to her. People mocked her. They called her names. I don’t know of any physical assaults, but the statistics would suggest she probably dealt with that at least once.

And Elliott didn’t understand it either. Elliott didn’t want to be “that way.” Sometimes — rarely, but sometimes — he would talk to me about it. He actually preferred to hide his feminine “side” from me. I never had the opportunity to hang out with Elliott while she was female, although I did see her once when walking to my car downtown.

By this point, many of my friends reading this — because I do publish them openly as I write them — know who I’m talking about, and that’s fine. Many others don’t — either they somehow never knew about Elliott’s gender fluidity, or they don’t have any idea who Elliott was.

And also, by this point, many of my friends reading this are probably having one of three reactions. Some people are nodding as they’re reading this, because they know someone like this or they’re like this themselves, and because they know the difficulty of just day-to-day existence when most of the people around think this is impossible or shameful. Some people are intrigued because they don’t know much about this at all, and maybe they’re having a revelation that I had, and that I’ll mention in a bit. And some of them are having negative reactions; they’re sad, or they’re angry, because they don’t believe that this is possible. They believe that Elliott was just “confused.” Or that he was “sinful,” because the Bible clearly delineates male and female, etc, etc, etc… which I know Elliott heard more than once.

Now I want to be careful when I say this. Elliott had a LOT going on, and there are an incredible number of reasons that things turned out the way they did. I’m not trying to suggest that Elliott’s gender fluidity was the only source of misery.

The masculine side… the feminine side… the blended side… we buried them all together when Elliott was taken off the machines that were providing life, after cirrhosis from years of alcoholism took its final toll.

I don’t know that the lack of acceptance by “the world in general” led to Elliott’s alcoholism. There were lots of factors. But I do know that it was definitely one of those factors. It scared him. And even though he had friends who accepted all of this, he never accepted it completely himself.

I spoke at the funeral, as well.

I want to talk about that revelation that I had — the one I referenced earlier. How does one “feel like a boy” or “feel like a girl”? What exactly does that mean? In some cases, there is what they call “body dysmorphia” — when you genuinely feel like your body isn’t right. But in a lot of cases, it’s not even about the body, and it’s often not about an orientation, either. (Elliott said more than once that he was a straight man and she was a gay woman.) In a lot of cases, it has to do with what we perceive as masculine or feminine traits. The “norms.” The things we learn from a young age — that men are more stoic, and technically minded, and competitive, and that women are more emotional, and creative, and collaborative.

Those traits may have a statistical basis, but I think most people would agree that they’re not definitive. There are plenty of emotional men. There are plenty of competitive women. Society gives them hassle about it a lot of the time, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It also doesn’t mean that they’re any less of a man or a woman.

So with that in mind, I honestly suspect that a whole lot of people would technically be considered gender fluid. Another term — maybe not quite identical, but with a similar concept — is non-binary. That rests largely in the belief that it’s not an either/or scenario. And I really believe that if people weren’t so quick to stick to the gender-role concepts they’ve been taught all along, if people were open to considering their feelings and behaviors without judgment, that most people would have to admit that it meant they were, technically, non-binary.

And that, to me, means that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. 

Who you are matters. What you do matters. But whether that’s the girliest girl, the manliest man, or some combination that thinks both of those terms aren’t just silly but also inaccurate — that doesn’t matter.

Once you start thinking about that, you start to realize how binary we try to make the world. (Not even just for gender; mixed-race children have the lowest rates of adoption in the U.S., and how dumb is that? Our current President is mixed-race, for crying out loud.)

I tell you every month to be who you are. And I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but it scares me to give you that advice. I’ve told you — I prefer peace over an argument. So what if who you are isn’t someone that society wants to acknowledge? What if being who you are has some painful personal cost to it? That scares me.

But the world isn’t going to change itself. Right now, there are still so many people who can’t be who they are because of the fear of what it could cost them. I’m working to make it a better place. I’m doing what I can. And I hope that by the time you read this, if the idea of the gender fluid and all the other beautifully complex issues that center around personal identity haven’t been sorted out yet, that at least some significant progress has been made.

I don’t care what your gender or orientation turn out to be. I don’t care if you’re non-binary or as binary as can be. Not in terms of what you’d mean to me. I know it may seem like I’m flogging the “agenda” of openness and acceptance almost as if I’m asking you to be something, but if you figure out that you like every last traditionally feminine thing and that’s who you are, I won’t love you any less and it’s not possible for me to love you any more.

I will be nervous if it turns out that who you are is someone who will have extra societal pressures. But I hope that I’m bringing you up to be strong and resilient, and to always, always, always know that you are loved.

I guess that’s it. I wrote this last night and I don’t think I got quite so preachy. I guess it really hit me a few days ago when I was thinking about all the people I miss in Indianapolis, and I remembered again that Elliott is gone. And I really miss Elliott.

So.

Be who you are. As we say in ComedySportz: I’ve got your back.

And my other advice: when you meet someone new, remember what matters. Love.

I love you so much, Sage. Your mother and I both do. I can’t wait until I can get another one of your amazing hugs!!!

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Sage: 44 Months

This post is one day late, but I have another good reason. (You’ll eventually learn that “good reasons” and “excuses” are often indistinguishable from one another. I imagine that will be right around the time that you fail to turn in some homework or something.)

Yesterday, I went to work half an hour early; I got out half an hour early; and I drove straight through from Syracuse to Buffalo (about two hours and fifteen minutes) in order to have my first practice with ComedySportz Buffalo.

As I mentioned in my last letter, I’m in Syracuse. You and your Mom are still in Indianapolis. This has been a very hard four weeks for all of us. I spent two of those weeks in New Jersey for training, and two here in Syracuse. Meanwhile, your mother has been responsible for all of the chores, all of the child-rearing, all of the everything including trying to keep the house in order since we’re trying to sell it. Things have been moving very slowly on that front, and we still don’t know how long it will be before the two of you can join me here.

I miss doing ComedySportz. I actually did get to play a little bit more a couple weeks ago, when I drove from New Jersey to Virginia to play at ComedySportz Richmond, and I realized that leaving improv behind just wasn’t an option. I hadn’t thought it would be, but that trip confirmed it for me.

So I took the time to drive to Buffalo, spending more than twice as long in the car as I did at practice, because they are My People™.

I got home late enough that I basically went straight to bed.

Here’s why I would argue that it’s a good reason as opposed to an excuse: I needed that trip.

My advice this month is going to be tied up in all of this, and it’s kind of in three parts. The first part is the same thing I always tell you: Be who you are.

ComedySportz is, for me, where I can be who I am outside the home. It’s the closest I feel, other than with you and your mother, to being comfortable. And here’s the reason: ComedySportz is about improv, and improv is about the philosophy of “Yes, And.”

“Yes, And” means that you accept what is, and then you add yourself to it. It doesn’t always mean that you’re happy about what is, but you accept it. There’s a difference. If people are following that philosophy, then it gives you absolute freedom to be who you are. (When people are following that on stage, it gives you absolute freedom to be whatever character you want to be, which is almost as good.) So the second part of my advice — and I’m completely serious about this — try to learn improv. Even if you never set foot on a stage, even if you never perform for anyone but your fellow students, even if you don’t enjoy getting up in front: learn the philosophies of improv. I honestly, genuinely found it life-changing when I started learning. It will give you confidence, flexibility, and leadership skills. It will make you a better listener, a better friend, a better person. If you really devote yourself to understanding the idea of improv, you will love yourself more than you did before. I believe that with all my heart.

And ultimately, it may not be your thing. That’s okay. I’m not one of those parents that feels like you need to enjoy all the same things I enjoy. Which is what brings me to the third part of my advice: find Your People™.

(The trademark thing is just a dumb thing I find funny. Ignore it.)

One of the amazing things about the internet and social media is that you can find people who can understand you, who can appreciate you, and who can enjoy you, even if you can’t find them “in real life.” (I suspect that by the time you read this, there will be a lot of reasons why “real life” and “the internet” have kind of blended a bit.) If you can find people you can spend actual, real, physical time with, that’s best. If not, find them online. (Be careful, of course; it’s harder to see when someone is dishonest online.) But these days, I firmly believe that there’s never a reason for you to feel like you’re the only one who _________. Whatever that blank is, there’s someone out there who is/does/wants/knows the same. There’s someone — probably lots of people, actually — who will make you feel at home. Find Your People™. They’ll help you through an amazing number of things.

ComedySportz has become My People™. And yesterday, having said goodbye to you after a weekend together the day before, I desperately needed My People™.

I’m sorry that means your letter was late. But when you get to the age where you find Your People™ and they become closer to you than I can effectively be, you’ll understand this completely. Sometimes the family that loves you is exactly what you need; but sometimes, you need other people, too.

I love you so much, Sage. Your mother and I both love you so incredibly much. I miss you fiercely — you and your mother both. I know that there will probably be at least one more letter written while we’re still living apart, and I hate that. I hope that maybe somehow that can be the last one. I LOVE YOU!

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