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Grace, Alice, Scarlett … there is a lot I want to tell you. While you’re just 3 (nearly 4!), 2 (and a half!) and 7 months old at the time of this writing, I hope I might pen something that will have meaning to you one day. Maybe when you’re all 20-somethings with busy lives and limited time to talk to your old man, you’ll pull up whatever crazy technology sits in your pocket and read this. Or maybe it’s just for me.
There are so many things I hope for you 3. There are just as many things I fear. And so, so much that I pray you know always.
I hope one day that you’ll understand the crazy journey your Mum and I are on at the moment. You see, we don’t sleep much. We both work strange hours because earlier this year we both decided we wanted to set an example for you guys and go back to university. I was turning 30, your Mum was 25. Both of us regretted never finishing our degrees. Your mum read an article about how kids with non-degree-holding parents often face perceptual barriers to attaining their own higher education. We were also both miserable with what we were doing at the time. We talked, as we do, and we both enrolled in full time external studies the next day. Right now I know it’s frustrating when Mummy or Daddy is locked away in the office, but I hope you know it’s because we love you and want to set the best example we can.
I hope that you see how hard we work and one day know that it’s never too late to go back and finish something you started. That it’s never okay to place a limit on your own potential.
I pray that some of the mistakes we’ve made become lessons for you to learn from, but that you never use our failures as a reason to not take your own chances. Some of the things I’ve failed at are some of the things I’m most proud of.
Some of the things I’ve failed at are some of the things I’m most proud of.
I’m so thankful you are too young to remember our hardest times. You see, mummy and daddy took a big leap a few years ago. Daddy left a well-paying job when we just had Gracie, and we moved to a new state looking for new opportunities. We found them. We discovered an unserved niche and we put everything we had, everything we could borrow, and every line of credit available into starting a business of our own. We worked so hard. So damn hard. Daddy never saw you. Mummy never saw anyone else except you! We left our blood, sweat, tears and soul in that place.
Unfortunately, as you’ve probably figured out by the time you read this, life doesn’t always work out the way you think it should. The business didn’t do well. I pray none of you remember the time our electricity got disconnected in winter and your Daddy cried on the lounge, feeling like a failure. I hope you never noticed the times Mum and Dad didn’t eat that day because we had to save the food for you. I fear that one day you’ll feel this way, that you’ll have to make those sacrifices for your children. I dread that you will know the shame and pain we felt telling friends that we would not be able to pay back money they had invested in our business. I only pray that you know that the cuddles I got when I was able to come home for lunch were the highlights of my day. Every day. Even on that last day when the business failure was official.
You know what though? Failing at my first attempt at business taught me so much. It matured me as a person. It made me a better Dad. I learned that life isn’t fair, that it doesn’t always give you what you think you deserve … but it does give you what you need in that moment. At 28, I needed the lessons that failure taught me more than I needed a successful business. Don’t ever use the fear of failure as a reason to not try for the impossible. You might get the lump of coal instead of the diamond, but that coal might be what fuels the fire that will help you change the world.
There were a lot of tears during that time between your Mum and I. Most of them we tried to keep private. Some of them I know you saw. What I hope you remember, though, is all the laughter. You girls brought so much laughter to every day. I don’t think a single day has gone by in the last 4 years where I haven’t laughed at something one of you has said or done. And while most of the laughing is public, I bet you don’t know that your Mum and I will often lay awake when we go to bed and giggle as silently as possible while reminiscing over your antics.
You probably won’t remember the job that Daddy had after the business closed. I’m glad you don’t. Daddy had to travel away a lot and it made you very sad. It made Daddy sad, too. I know you didn’t understand why Dad had to keep going on the airplane. I was miserable in that job, but I did it because I needed to. I hope you never saw how desperately unhappy I was. I hope you don’t remember Dad having a breakdown and needing to go on strange medicine that made him very sleepy for a while.
You might get the lump of coal instead of the diamond, but that coal might be what fuels the fire that will help you change the world.
This is one mistake I don’t want you to make for yourself. Never put your own happiness so far down the list of priorities that you find your physical limits of despair. Years of stress, scraping to pay bills, and ignoring my own problems didn’t work out very well for me. Growing up I always wanted to work as hard as I saw my father (your Poppy) work. Sometimes you have to know when it’s time to not work, though. Being busy is no substitute for being happy.
Speaking of Poppy, I hope he’s still in your lives when you’re reading this. But if he’s not, I want you to know what an amazing impact you made on him. When we moved states, your Pop’s health wasn’t very good. You see, your Mum and I were very scared that we may not have many good years left with him. That all changed when he held you. All of you. Nanny said she’s never seen Poppy light up like he did when he got to spend time with you, holding your hands, letting you sleep on his belly, or taking you for rides on the tractor. I have no doubt that your light and energy added several quality years to your Poppy’s life. Both your Nanny and Poppy love you in a way that you’ll probably never understand until you have your own kids and grandkids.
Speaking of love … I know that you’ll probably take turns hating us both while growing up, but I need you to know what an amazing and loving woman your mother is. I’ve never met someone as selfless as your Mum. When I was traveling around the world for sport before and after Grace was born, she never complained. When I would leave home in the dark and come home in the dark because I had to train before and after work, she never complained. When I had surgeries and needed nursing, she was right there by my side, and never once complained. And when the whole house got sick, including her, she was the trooper who kept going. Whenever my world has fallen to pieces, she has been the one to help me calmly glue them back together. I’m sure she’s done the same for you by now. Never forget how special she is and how lucky you are to have her.
It’s getting very late and I know your Mum has to be awake for work in 3 hours, so let me wind this up with a special message to each of you individually.
My cheeky, cheeky bug. You are so headstrong, confident and independent. You have your mother’s temper, but thankfully also her good looks. You are so smart and make friends so easily. Please use that intelligence wisely and pick the right friends. It’ll save your Dad lots of sleepless nights if you do.
Kind, sharing, mischievous Alice. Your cuddles are the best. You are hilarious and crack Mummy and Daddy up at least once a day. You can have us ready to explode in rage at one moment and doubled over laughing with a simple expression the next. You have a gift for knowing when to play and when to be kind. Please don’t ever lose your kindness and compassion.
Our baby. You are such a happy child! We really lucked out with you. Even with teeth cutting you still smile constantly. You are a light in an often dark and troublesome world. I pray that you keep that while you face all of life’s challenges.
I hope you all don’t mind your Dad writing this and sharing it publicly. Believe me, if I wrote it on paper it would be scribbled over with Pepper Pig drawings within the week. This way it has half a chance of surviving until you’re old enough to read it.
I love you more,
PS. If it’s okay with you, I might just write some more letters to you as the urge strikes me. You’ll find them here.
Joe Saunders is a father of 3 daughters and a writer.