Things Better Not Left Unsaid

Before you go on, I should warn you that this might get a little mushy. If that makes you uncomfortable or leads you to roll your eyes, you’d best bail out now.

I don’t know if it’s because my wife is in New York and I’m in Budapest, or because I’ve been thinking about my father (who passed away a couple of years ago) lately, or if the city’s simmering summer heat has simply cooked my brain, but I do know that what I’m about to write was in part inspired by something I saw on Soul Pancake, called Street Compliments.

They had set up a booth with a mic, and at a little distance away a massive set of headphones. The idea was simply to get people to express what they liked about the people they loved to the people they loved – friends, children, siblings, partners, whatever. I stopped watching at about 3:15 because I could no longer see the screen, such was the mistiness of my eyes.

And it got me thinking. Compliments are sometimes hard to give, and sometimes even more awkward to receive. I’m not talking about the “Your hair looks good” or the “I like that shirt” kind of compliments. Those are easy. I’m talking about that ones that touch upon personality, character, self, the “I really admire how you handle yourself in stressful situations” or the “I really appreciate that you listen to me” kind of ones. When you think about it, those are the ones that matter, but they’re the ones we share the least. Saying those kinds of things face to face can be difficult though, even with people we love and are extremely close to. But writing them for hundreds of relative strangers to read, well, that’s another matter. So here goes.

To G, my 3-year-old son:

Our youngest being his usual cheerful self

You are, as your mother likes to say, “a ray of sunshine.” You are a supremely sweet, caring, and empathetic little boy. You say ‘sorry’ when you hurt someone and ‘thank you’ when someones does you a kindness, even without prompting of any kind. You honestly care about how other people – classmates, teachers, friends – are feeling, and you try to comfort them when they’re sad or hurt. You say ‘I love you’ at every opportunity, which is just about all the time.

I’m sorry that I get angry at you for stupid things. I’m sorry for every time I’ve pushed you off of my lap with a “G, just get off of me for a bit,” for every time that you’ve looked up at me and held out your arms and I didn’t pick you up and hug you.

You’re smart, and funny, and fun, and I love your manic madness, your penchant for stripping off your clothes and shaking your bum, your incessant questions. I love how you come over to me and lay your cheek on my chest, or climb onto my belly for a snuggle, or take my cheeks in both hands and deliver a sloppy kiss. Never stop asking questions. Never stop being funny. Never stop giving me kisses. And never stop taking your clothes off and shaking your bum.

I love you.

To D, my 7-year-old son:

DSC_1258I’ve watched you grow into the sweetest, most sensitive kid I know. You’ve learned to face challenges with grace, patience, and courage. You can’t imagine the pride with which I’ve watched you learn to read or the joy I take in seeing you lie on your bed, nose deep in a book. You are an amazing builder and engineer; the things you create are splendid, inventive, sometimes astonishing. I treasure your imagination – the way you put it to use it when you are knee-deep in Legos or when you tell a story.

The other day I saw something that said “A lot of parents would do anything for their children but let them be themselves.” I’m sorry for the times I’ve tried to turn you into my own version of who I think you should be. You should be yourself, follow your own interests, pursue your own goals. I’m sorry for every single time I’ve lost my patience with you, when I’ve raised my voice when there was no real reason to, when I’ve ignored or belittled things that are important to you.

You’re bright, you’re receptive, and you’re very, very funny. I love your sense of humor, your sarcastic wit, your clever turn of phrase. I love when you take my hand when we’re walking down the street, or rest your head on my shoulder when we’re sitting on the sofa. I love your interest in the natural world, in telling me things you’ve seen on NatGeo Wild, in relating obscure tidbits you’ve learned about natural history.

In short, my lovely, loving boy, I love you.

To my wife:

Susan on sledAfter 17 years together, what could I possibly tell you about how I feel that you don’t already know? I’m immensely proud of you. I’m proud of the way you’ve decided what you wanted to do, taken the steps necessary to achieve that goal, and made it happen. You’re a gentle, caring person, passionate about the issues that affect the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, the forgotten. I cherish your optimism, which acts as a perfect counterbalance to my own tendency toward pessimism. I love watching you handle the kids, how much you obviously adore them but don’t smother them, pamper them, or overprotect them.

I’m sorry that sometimes I’m not as romantic as I once was. I’m sorry I don’t bring you flowers more often, don’t remind you enough of how much you mean to me. I’m sorry that I don’t take as much time as I should for us to be alone together. I’m sorry that I often spend evenings with my face in my laptop. I’ll try to do better.

You’re an incredibly smart woman, and that comes through in everything that you do. I love that despite being a girl of the city streets – no, wait, that makes you sound like a hooker – despite being a city girl, you’ve always been game to come along on our outdoor adventures, been happy to camp and hike and, most  importantly, fish with me. I admire the way in which you work so hard to keep yourself fit, but are happy to dive into a plate of grilled sausages or gobble up a crème brûlée. The way you are able to keep everything in balance amazes me.

After 17 years, you’re still my friend, my travel-buddy, my editor, my companion, my lover, my love.

I love you.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Told you it was going to get maudlin. I suppose that’s inevitable when you undertake an exercise of this kind. But the thought of leaving these things unspoken is, well, inexpressibly sad.

27 thoughts on “Things Better Not Left Unsaid

  1. I got a lotta ‘splaining to do. I am the incredibly lucky woman who gets to share my life with this amazing man. I often tell people that we have a complete gender role reversal in our relationship. I am the one who works outside the home, takes frequent business trips, while he does the heavy lifting of raising our kids, does all the cooking, and takes care of the house. The role reversal even goes as far as me being the one to forget special events, like Father’s Day yesterday.

    This may be too little too late, but I wanted to tell him and the whole world some of the things I think and feel about him, but have yet to utter.

    To my beautiful, shameless, fisherman who has taught and continues to teach me what love is. Thank you for the past 18 years. Remember when we met and I said I didn’t want to have children, mainly for fear of the lifelong responsibility and terror that I would f#@! them up? That fear was eventually overtaken by a longing to see what our babies would look like and the certainty that you would be an amazing father. I was right.

    I love how you teach our boys to appreciate nature and to see, taste, and touch the world around them. I love watching you teach them how to climb trees, jump over rocks, and identify critters. Damien wants to be just like you when he grows up, and I should be so lucky.

    I am really sorry I forgot Father’s Day. I am sorry I have been so busy with work and not involved in the boys’ school lives. I am sorry I don’t help around the house as much as I should. I apologize for not telling or showing you that you are still the smartest, most sensitive, and sexiest man I know.

    Knowing that I have you gives me comfort and serenity, but you always remind me that the fire needs to be tended and stoked every now and again. I fell madly in love with you for so many reasons, but your writing about night fishing sealed it for me. I am so proud of you for sharing your wit and wisdom and vulnerability with the world. You kissed me recently and it made me weak in the knees. That, I am not willing to share. I love you and the life we have built together and the people we are still becoming together. You’re still the one and you always will be. Te quiero, mi amor.

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  2. The things I most enjoyed about this post were getting to know your family better and imagining you all together. It is clear what positive regard on a daily basis (along with all the snaggy bits like being impatient with them) does for children. Yours have always sounded to have a freedom of spirit.

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  3. This is lovely. So well said and I love how you apologize. Nice to hear I’m not the only one who pushes my incredibly loving 3yo son away sometimes because I just need a little space. I know someday not too far away he will be embarrassed to kiss me… I might have to follow suit with a blog post of my own. I’ve started kid journals in the last year that I keep in my nightstand. I jot down little stories or sometimes write them longer letters, whatever the mood strikes. I find that by setting a small goal (ie, short stories every now and then) I write more than if I set out to write something annually, for instance.

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    • A kid journal is a great idea. You think you’ll remember all of these things, but inevitably you don’t. Writing them down is a very good idea indeed. I shall ponder such a move. Thanks for reading, and for sharing your comments!

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  4. Hi Matt, Not only did I get misty eyed, but I got weepy!!! I am out the door on my way to the lake to meet the kids and I want to share this with them!!! I love all of you, even when you are so far away.. Hope to skype when I get home Monday night..

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    • Well, as much as I hate the thought of making you weepy (again), I just thought that it was something that should be shared. If it inspires even a handful of people to openly express their feelings to the folks they love, then I figure that’s a good thing. I could have expanded the circle and included everyone I love, but that would have been a very, very long post indeed.
      I love you, Mom.

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    • Hi Fran! Yup, Griffin is now the same age as D was when you first met him. Crazy how the kids get older and we don’t. 😉 Thanks for visiting and leaving your comments – it’s really nice to hear from you. Cheers!

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  5. So after you left me a comment that I thought was better put together than my original post, I just HAD to come over to see what you’re all about. This is such a great post but really should have come with a warning. What? Oh, that? I didn’t take you seriously. Maybe another warning.

    On each of my kid’s birthdays I write them a letter, which I publish for untold millions (<– totally true) on my blog, but as of yet have never read to them or told them about. I plan on binding them (the letters, not the kids) together into a book to give as gifts one day when the kids are old enough to read the damn things for themselves.

    These compliments are both hard and important to say and hear. My kids know that I love them, despite how often I encourage them to move farther away from me, but they might not really know how much I've always admired them. I hope that having a book full of annual letters will demonstrate to them that I really do know and understand who they are, so that when they're teenagers and think I'm an idiot who couldn't possibly understand them, I can point to the book and say "HA!"

    I'm nothing if not sentimental.

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    • Hi Allison,
      I don’t recall my comment on your post, but I’m sure it was a bit of absolute brilliance, pithy and provocative and pure in its naked yet understated truth.
      Well, now that that’s over, I can get on with the meat of the matter. I think it’s totally amazing that you write a letter to your kids on their birthdays, and it inspires me to do the same. What a great idea. I wrote a poem for our eldest on his 2nd birthday, but haven’t done squat since, so there you are.
      Since our oldest can read I intend to have him read this post for himself, but, to be honest, it’s a bit awkward. I imagine I’ll sit next to him to decipher difficult vocabulary, but we’ll both feel slightly strange throughout. We’ll probably do something stupid like high five when it’s all over. He’s a great kid, and I love him to death, but he’s not overly expressive of his emotions.
      Thanks for visiting, Allison, and perhaps we’ll see more of each other around this blogospheric strangeiverse.

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    • What do you think THIS is, Mama? And it’s free! I can imagine conversations like this in the next several days.
      Wife: Honey, you should read this.
      Hub inwardly rolls his eyes, but skims it anyway.
      Wife: So what did you think?
      Hub is thinking, ‘What a wanker this guy is,’ but he says “That’s really sweet. Can we have sex now?”
      Wife: No.

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  6. There you said it! It must be a relief and makes you feel good. We should not be stingy with sincere phrases, the ones that comes deep from our heart. You did a great thing!

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