It’s me. Well, you actually, just older. Maybe a little wiser.
You’re 16 now, right? I want to lay a few things out that are about to going to happen to you. I’ll share with you a lot of what I went through and what I think about it now. I can’t spare you all the pain and sadness. I won’t lie. It was rough and pretty ugly. But, I do hope to save you from some of the avoidable things that made things worse.
Grab a diet coke. I know you like those.
You won’t find this out for another year, but Mom is sick. She has breast cancer. Believe me, I know how close you are. I know she’s your best friend. I know she’s the one who is the glue in the family. I know you get so much of your drive and passion and stubbornness from her.
She’ll be in and out of hospitals a lot. Chemo. Tests. Other stuff.
Mom and Dad won’t really tell you what is happening, so I’d encourage you to help them talk about it. Ask them to be honest. You’re mature enough to understand and, believe me, you’ll later appreciate the extra time you spend talking.
You’ll see Mom get more tired. More fragile. Be gentle with her and be helpful around the house. Don’t wait to be asked to do some of the little things. As it turns out, knowing how to iron and do you own laundry is actually useful. Shockingly, she won’t miss a minute of anything you do. She’ll bundle up for soccer games. She wouldn’t miss a concert for the world. You’ll do a saxophone solo your junior year that will move her to tears.
A little aside....It’s actually one hell of a performance you’ll give. You’ll turn other heads and will end up being invited to tour Europe with a band. You’ll play in London. Cut a record at Abbey Studio. Jam in the Tube. Through it all, you’ll actually learn how to play for real! Your senior year, you’ll earn best performance at the state music contest and the instructor will invite you to work with the guy from the college. You know the one. The best jazz saxophonist in Chicago. I ignored the invitation. I want to make sure you don’t. Music has always been important to you. I know how deeply it moves you. Don’t pass this up. Don’t be shy. Meet the guy. You never know.
Back to the story.
In your senior year, you’re going to be offered music and soccer scholarships. Unfortunately, the soccer opportunities are out of state. Mom is going to say something like this, “No matter what happens, I want you to go to school where you want. I want you to pursue your passion and be great.”. It is at this very moment that I’m sure you’ll realize, like I did, that something really bad is going on. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck finding out about this earlier than I did. But, this was the first time I knew Mom was really sick.
I stayed. I chose the local college. No, it wasn’t as good and I gave up both music and soccer so that I could be available for our younger brother and sister. But, I think this was the right decision. It has been rough at times, but I know they appreciated you being there.
You’re going to be called at work and told to get to the hospital as fast as you can. This is the last time you’ll see her. I know you’re hurt and I know you’re afraid to lose her, but be sweet. And not just to her but to Dad as well. Talk to your brother and sister and tell them it will be okay. I forgot to do that.
I won’t lie. The aftermath is horrible. Dad doesn’t have a clue about how to handle this and he’ll initially try to overcompensate.
Don’t beat him up over this one. But, talk to the guy. I know you’re no great conversationalist (neither is he, right?) and small talk is hard for you, but try to put yourself in his shoes. You lost your Mom but he lost his wife. He loved her too and since she was the glue in the family, he doesn’t know how or what to do.
Empathize. Ask if he’s okay. Take him to lunch.
I didn’t do any of this and I regret it. You'll find out that life is about connecting. And right now, you're really disconnected. Take the time and take the initiative to reconnect with him now.
Cause guess what?
He’s going to remarry next year.
And if you don’t step up to help rebuild the family too, you’re going to really, REALLY regret it. This may take maturity beyond your years and you may not see it coming. But, unless you take an active role in being part of the solution, your family will never, ever be the same. If you take anything away from this letter, let it be this. Take the time to heal.
As it turns out, she has three kids, too. Don’t get the wrong impression. She’s actually very nice and, generally, her kids are too. But, left to his own devices, Dad is going to rebuild his life as soon as possible. I think I understand why he did this. I still don’t agree with it. It wasn’t good for us, but it must have been something he had to do for him. I get that, I guess. And even though you’re just down the road, technically, you’re “away at school” and you’ll quickly find yourself left out. Of everything.
It took a long, long time for me to come to grips with all this. I think I could have avoided the worst of it had I only asked him to take more time to help us all heal. You’re going to be fine, one way or the other. You’re going to be a good husband and a good father. You’re going to be really good at what you do. I’d offer some hints like “my top 5 things to do”, but you know what? I’m only going to give you one...
“...the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.”
You’ll appreciate the irony of that quote some day.