A Letter to My Daughter, Born in 2020

Hopefully you won't remember this time, but we'll make sure we do.

by Matthieu Silberstein
A man holding his daughter, touching foreheads


You were born in 2020. Odd choice some might say. Of course, it’s not like you had much of a say in the matter. You came in early February. At that point in the year, the world was not doing so great, but just the usual stuff. You see, a little while ago, more or less around the time your mom and dad met, the world started to get pretty depressed. I could tell you more about why if I had more time, but to sum up: increasing inequalities and social media.

And for a long time this depression lingered, ignored, seeping deeper and deeper into the membrane of society, spreading like a virus to the most remote corners of the Western world. Then in 2016, the year your brother was born actually, the most powerful country on the planet took the typical following step: it became angry. It was not a uniting anger, the kind sometimes used to propel civilization forward like in the Italian Renaissance or at the dawn of both your countries’ revolutions. No, this time, the world was angry at itself. That’s the worst kind, the kind where anger is no longer a reaction, but a state. When that point is reached, causes don’t matter anymore. All that matters is that someone loud enough shows up and points toward someone you can be angry at. I could tell you a bit more about how this happened, but to sum up: unbearable inequalities and social media.

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So on the day you were born, everybody was just pissed off. Then something crazy happened and took it up a notch: the world suddenly became terrified. Now let me tell you, when fear and anger come together, it’s not a good recipe. These two are powerful forces, that feed off each other and when they merge, they tend to destroy everything in their wake. You’ll unfortunately read about it when you’re older. That’s the History the world shares.

Oh I’m sorry… Of course, you have no idea what I’m talking about. You don’t realize what’s happening right now! You’re too busy laughing at your brother’s dance moves, staring at your mom’s breast with firm intent every four hours and smiling at me like no other woman ever has. So let me try to sum it up for you: I’m sure you’ve noticed that right now we’re at home all the time. I know you love it sweetie, but it’s not how it’s supposed to be. It’s not very healthy. Trust me, one day you’ll agree (and yes, you will hear that sentence a lot!) What happened is there’s this disease that popped up and viciously spread around the globe in a matter of weeks. It’s one we have never seen before, and it’s taking a lot of people to the other side of that door you’ve just entered. It’s scary. It’s sad. It’s painful. Not words I wanted to share with you just yet, but you’re studying us so much, you’ve probably seen them in our eyes already.

And you know, this virus, it’s doing something else. It’s forcing us to face how vulnerable we all are. You. Me. Them. And some people can’t stand that. Some people, when they get scared, they immediately get angry. These people are the weak ones. You’ll spot them easily. They’re mostly men. They ramble. They scream. They lie and deny. And many of these men are now making this country dance dangerously close to the flames of fascism. With every news cycle (an expression that refers to a span of time of about 10 minutes) they got closer and closer. So of course it eventually caught fire.

One big problem when a place catches on fire, is that if you’re in the wrong corner at the wrong time facing the wrong wind, you won’t be able to breathe. And like many times in history, men and women were forced to stand in the wrong corner at the wrong time facing the wrong wind. Not because they were angry. Not because they were weak. Not because they were scared. But because they were black. Other times, other places, it was other people. But here in America, it’s people who have a darker skin color than you.

Ah, I can see you behind your big blue eyes, going: “What the f*** Dad?! I’m just starting to learn how to breathe and you’re talking to me about lungs on fire?!” You’re right sweetheart. This is not what a dad is supposed to do. I know I’m not being fair to you. When your brother was born, I wrote him songs, I wrote him stories, I even made him a whole film. And you’re not getting any of that. You’re barely getting the basic package — a confident voice whispering in your ear everything is going to be okay. I know I’m supposed to infuse your bones with hope and metaphors about the sunrise. But I don’t have any of that in me right now. For the first time in his life, your dad can’t feel hope — talk about shitty timing! Granted he watches too much news and spends too much time on his phone, but that’s all he can do. Remember, he can’t go out in the world. Everything is kind of dangerous. And like many others, he’s not good at just surviving. Humans are not wired that way. At least those who have the privilege to not have to worry too much about actually surviving… You don’t care. You keep staring. Alright, fine! Your eyes leave me no choice. Women sometimes do that. Okay sweetheart, for you I’ll try.

Remember when I told you how fear and anger often come together and how the first one usually triggers the latter? Here’s something interesting that happened in 2020: fear didn’t exclusively trigger anger. And even when it did, sometimes it actually was the good kind, the one I told you about that propels us toward change. You know that day we all went on a big walk together, with our masks on, and this time there were a lot of other people around? That’s called a protest, and you now hold the family record, even on the French side, for the youngest to have ever participated in one! That walk, that was a moment where anger actually overcame fear and leaned toward another emotion I haven’t mentioned here yet, love. I know, it’s quite complicated all these emotions that don’t always mean or lead to the same thing, but you’ll see, this is the beauty of mankind.

People were scared, people were angry, and yet people talked about love a lot. I agree, talk is good, action is better. But, as you’ll experience later, love isn’t an easy thing to talk about, so the fact that the word is out there on so many different lips is in itself a beautiful and truly hopeful sign.

Oh, okay, I found something else. See, it’s good you forced me. Here’s something I’ve noticed about this country, your country, this country your dad has idolized his entire life, this country some of your ancestors so desperately wished they could have escaped to: it never does anything half way. It revels in the extremes, which is its gift and its tragedy. So when America goes crazy, it goes clinically insane. But when it decides to go the other way, it can accomplish some of the most amazing things the world has seen…We just have to wait for the next round. (I really hope for all of us that your dad is right on that one. But guess what, Dad is always right, so the odds are on our side!)

You know what else gives me hope? You. The fact that everyone, no matter what they believe, what they look like, what language they speak, everyone knows you. The future, no matter what. I saw a lot of people like you at that protest. Okay not exactly like you, they were 15 to 20 years older, but I saw a lot of them. And they’re taking on the future no matter what. I trust them. They’re smarter than we are, the poor things. I promise to help them and to help you as best I can.

Finally I want to thank you, mon amour. You have saved my spirit these past few months. Not every day. Not all the time. But the 7-day average is undeniable. And if you could do that without even saying a word, then maybe that should remind your Dad of something he used to know, something he learned the night he met your mom: if you see something that matters, you need to stare, smile, maybe drool a little and most importantly, believe. I know you’ve heard mom and dad argue quite a few times these past few months. But you should know they’re a lot more than that. Everything is a lot more than this.

Like so many, I immigrated here with a dream. I hope you’ll have one too. I couldn’t recommend anything else more. But if you’ve been listening, you can understand it’s hard to come up with a good one right now. Yet, at your request, I looked farther last night, and I saw something. I saw a future where you and I are reading this letter together, at lunch, in a small restaurant in the city, while you’re tasting the joys of freedom at an affordable college. And in that dream, you tell me you don’t remember any of this.

What is it, sweetie? You think I should turn off the news? Ugh… Yes and no, sweetheart. Because it’s still 2020. And for now, we still have to survive.

Matthieu Silberstein is a children’s book author and filmmaker, a French immigrant and father of 2.