An open letter to my daughter at one day old

Dear Sophie:

Hey little girl! Welcome to the world!

These next few years are going to be a lot of fun. You're going to be able to fart and cry and no one will judge. They'll just giggle and tell you you're sweet. You’ll get to play and learn and eat things like pizza and ice cream for the first time. Everyone around you is going to agree on how you should treat other people. They'll tell you to be kind to strangers, to be compassionate, to put others before yourself, to understand that everyone else feels just as deeply as you do, and that you are no better than anyone else. They’ll tell you to share, to apologize when you’re wrong and to forgive when you’re wronged. 

But when you're 10 or so, they'll seem to forget that. Your farts and cries will get eye rolls and sneers. People will start agreeing less on how others should be treated — they’ll say they believe everyone’s equal, but they won’t act like it. They'll give you excuses to think you're better than other people. They'll tell you to trust your fears more than your loves, that humility and forgiveness are signs of weakness, that money is more valuable than love and kindness, and that cruelty is the same thing as intelligence.

Design by  Tim Doyle

Design by Tim Doyle

This is a test. Everything is an elaborate put-on, a very hard game, to see if you remember what you were taught as a kid. It will be very hard, because people you admire will not like you because you are acting the way that we were all taught to act as kids. Many of your friends will forget what they were taught, and will lazily slip into meanness and spite. You’ll be offered very high-paid jobs that aren’t really very good for the world, but which will be fun and dazzling and soulless, and it’ll be very hard to not sell just a bit of yourself to them in exchange. 

You will occasionally make slips, and you'll feel sad about it. It will keep you up at night. But you can choose to stay strong, you can choose to stay kind. And after a while, others will see this strength and kindness in you, and they'll be drawn to it. And you will help them remember what they forgot.

A lot of people will tell you that you'll be rewarded for being good. Some people will tell you that if you're really good, you will get to live in a different, much better place when you die. They call this place "heaven." This is another test. We're not kind, compassionate, and selfless because it gets us something. The secret, baby, if you know what it's worth, is that, ooh, heaven is a place on earth.

You'll get that joke, kiddo, in maybe 15 years, if I can get you into 80's hair ballads. Even then, you're going to think it's a mediocre joke at best. My jokes will be a great test on your capacity for kindness and patience. 

But there is no heaven we yet know of, Sophie, except for the one we create here on earth. We have to love each other and care for each other, not because we'll get rewarded for it, but because if we don’t, our earth turns into the opposite of heaven, a place called hell, where everything is painful, frightening, and lonely. People will try to tell you that this is a real place, too, and they will try to use that to scare you into doing what they want. This, too, is a test. We create our own heavens and hells — anyone who tries to tell you it’s up to someone else is trying to trick you. Don’t fall for it.

When your mommy and I were growing up, things were very steady. Most people like us had jobs and families and where we lived, there was no war, no violence, and no huge, horrible disasters that scarred everyone and everything. Our parents and grandparents were not so lucky. They saw poverty and violence. They saw destruction that had never been seen before. They saw cruelty that we are very happy to have only heard tales of, and to have never seen ourselves.

You, my wonderful sweet girl, will probably not be as lucky as we were. Too many people forgot what they learned as kids. They forgot about kindness, about sharing, about forgiveness. And because so many people forgot, fear and hate and selfishness are getting stronger, as they were when things were bad before we were born. We've also started playing games with the future of our earth. We’ve built ways to blow ourselves up, and ways to slow cook our earth like it’s a big fancy soup. These were very silly things for us to do, but for a while, we honestly thought we were making things better. We know better now -- we're just being stubborn, refusing to admit our mistakes. You, sweetheart, are going to have to deal with the consequences of our well-wishes and our stubbornness. It will be hard. It will be bad. It might be too much for us to handle.

But if you remember what you learned in these first few years, you will be able to stay strong and kind and brave. You'll resist the bad things, and people will see how strong you are, and that will make them feel stronger. Then, even if all of the bad things can’t be fixed, even if it all falls to hell, you will remain a tiny pocket of heaven.

Your Mommy and I love you. We are sorry for what you're going to go through, but trust us, it is worth it. This world is cruel and ugly and brutal, but it can also be kind and beautiful and fun. If you fight the bad parts and seek out the nice parts, you’ll leave this life having done a good job. We believe in you. We love you to pieces, you kicky little potato. We can’t wait to see what you do.


Your Dad

Featured photo by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. This post was originally published on my personal blog.