The Birthday Boy

Two birthday greetings.MomDadLetters

The space of a year.

And a mystery.

Most of the letters from my late parents are just chatty, newsy notes placed in greeting cards, an inserted newspaper clipping or two, and little else.

But recently I found two letters written by Mom and Dad to me around my birthday, a year apart: 1983 and 1984, my 24th and 25th birthdays, respectively.

A little background is in order: My maternal grandmother, Mamie, passed away in 1981, from a heart attack at home. Her death affected Mom in a way that no one in our family had seen before, though it may have been lying dormant, plunging her into a six-year-long episode with clinical depression.

The episode worsened as the ’80s went on, but this was sent to me two years into its start, around Nov. 27, 1983:

“A Birthday Letter to Michael,

My dear Michael, I have so many feelings that I do not know how to express for you—I keep so many things inside because I simply haven’t learned to express them & probably am afraid you won’t understand. However you have a sensitivity that will allow a lot—please don’t lose that quality.

The past year has been difficult for all of us—I am not happy or proud of these last few months—all I ask is you try to be patient & not give up on me as I’m trying to grow in ways that are really painful & difficult & I am having a really scary time as we all do when we change. I do miss Grandma so much as she was the most significant person to me as a child & those bonds are hard to let go of. —I do love your Dad but also must learn ways to love myself, make new friends & rechart my course now that you & Brian are adults. —This isn’t easy & the little girl in me wants to stay that way a little girl however there is also a woman that needs to be born, nurtured & flower and that takes time & energy & courage & support from those I care about. I hope you will share this with your Dad & Brian. but only if you want to. Dad also needs all our love, support & help & I have been trying to learn to care for me so I can continue to care for others. However I first have to care for me.—

My wish for you Michael on your 24th birthday is that you will let yourself continue to feel & express these feelings that are you without being inhibited.

I love you very much & am proud of you as I am Brian & Dad. Your Mom”


A year later I attended the University of Iowa, and experienced my own first depression. After watching the made-for-TV nuclear crisis movie The Day After, I called the folks in a panic of despair, warbling down the phone that if the world was going to end, what then was the point of living?

It was nearly my birthday, so Dad wrote me this letter, which was uncharacteristically emotional for him:

“Dear Mike

Mother said you called last nite, and appeared to be concerned with the possibility of nuclear war. First, Mike, you are under stress from the demands placed on you by fast paced, competitive society, mainly University life. The older I get the more I realize dealing with stress & life is a fine balance of my life—if I get out of balance, then I do not feel right— I am handling stress now after heart attacks and fifty-three years of age. In my office at work on the wall I have the Psalm 23 next to my phone. Yes, nuclear war is a world problem. However, do not try to carry this burden yourself, you or I can not cope with this type of problem. By prayer each day Mike, I turn these and other problems I may have over to God. I get up each morning early to have my quiet time with God. I need this regeneration each day. Mike, now that I have turned my problems over to God and thank him each day for blessing me with your mother, you & Brian and other members of our family, friends, church, good health and our great free country we have, life becomes a pure joy.—

Mike, when I have Love, God, family and a happy positive outlook and a smile for others I meet daily—what a great world we live in.

I hope and pray Mike, that you will develop the habit of going to Church each Sunday and saying your prayers each day. Your life will become a pure simple joy and so easy to live, that you will have a truly great life on this earth. It really is that simple and it took me 53 years and too many troubled years & burdens to realize that life can be that easy to enjoy. I thought life had to be complex and ended up working twice as hard as others, to prove I was a superperson.

Life is a fine balance of Love, God, family and giving yourself to others. Mike, we all get hurt feelings by others sometimes, but we need those hurts to grow into a better person. I shall pray for you each morning @ 5:30 AM, may my prayers help you each day. Mike, I am sitting here crying like a baby, simply because I love you so much.

Take care, God & I both love you dad”

He appended a postscript: “Mike, never let the little negative people or little things get to you in this world, it really is not worth the time or worry—”


So here’s the mystery: Mom and Dad seemed to be triangulating their thoughts through their letters to me, creating an odd sort of distance—as if the original Family Project begun a quarter of century before was unraveling at the seams.

Dad’s admission of it taking 53 years and “too many troubled years & burdens” to realize he’d taken a wrong path—I’ll be 52 this November—makes it especially poignant for me now.

Both letters come full circle in Mom’s statement, “the little girl in me wants to stay that way a little girl” and Dad’s “I am sitting here crying like a baby”—they seem more like I am now, older—and yet younger.

And that’s the mystery.

More than 25 years after these letters, I look back to the boy—the birthday boy—who must not discount his emotions, or feel inhibited by the fast-paced, competitive society that is changing under his very feet.

~ by completelyinthedark on October 2, 2011.

2 Responses to “The Birthday Boy”

  1. Your parents gave you such gifts. That you still have their letters to re-read as you reach their ages back then is really wonderful. I hope you can find some positive relief for your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, my friend. Every time I write these, it tears me up a bit, then I feel relieved. I’ve asked myself why I’m doing it, but perhaps in the long run it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know, hence the blog subtitle.


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