Am I Jor-El?
March 21, 2007 6:17 AM   Subscribe

[MorbidityFilter]: I have written a letter to my 20-month old son, so that were I to die tomorrow I would leave behind some small measure of such wisdom I have accumulated. Am I weird?

Ever since my son was born I have been utterly in love with him and desparate to spend every moment I can with him. Nothing unusual there - most parents would probably say the same. However an unintended corollary to this is that I now have a raging fear of death - I can't fly, I drive like I'm driving Miss Daisy and so forth. One way this has manifested itself is a fear that if I were to die tomorrow I would not have left anything of emotional value with my son - he is too young to remember me long-term. So I felt I ought to write a letter to him to be read out on the event of my death. This letter explains how I feel, who I am and how my past has shaped me (unhappy childhood with emottionally abusive parents) and some tenets of living life as a 'good person'.

I guess what I am after here is a sense of whether I am losing it, or whether this is a not-uncommon thing to do. Are there other things I could do instead of or as well as? Maybe I just see a shrink and be done with it?

Help me judge my sanity, hivemind!!
posted by mooders to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
While I don't think that' very common, I don't think it's terribly uncommon, either. Either way, as a father myself it seems a perfectly natural, understandable thing to do. It's not really any different, and it's more meaningful, than leaving your son money in your will, and everyone does (or should do) that.

I can't say for sure whether you're sane, but I can say for sure that this alone isn't evidence of insanity.
posted by cerebus19 at 6:22 AM on March 21, 2007

"I don't think that's very common," that is. I can type. Really I can.
posted by cerebus19 at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2007

I think it's a brilliant idea.
posted by dowcrag at 6:26 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Writing the letter isn't weird, but you should seek some professional help for the anxiety if it's interfering with your life (lots of people are afraid to fly, including me... but do you let your fears prevent you from traveling?)
posted by amro at 6:27 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think it's a great idea. One of my fiancee's friends has started writing a letter to our (as yet unborn) children, to be given to them on their eighteenth birthday, which describes how we were when we met each other, so they have an idea where their Mum and Dad's relationship came from. I was unbelievably touched by that, and I think this is in the same ballpark.

On preview, ditto on the anxiety - I guess a lot a lot of people naturally become far more conscious of their mortality when they become responsible for a new human being, but if it's paralysing your actions, then it's possibly something you need to talk to someone about.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:41 AM on March 21, 2007

I felt like doing the same thing when my first was born. They seem like such empty little vessels, waiting to be filled with wisdom. It wears off in a few years. Not saying the letter is a bad or dumb idea, just that you don't have to worry about being Miss Daisy for the rest of your life (however long that is).
posted by DU at 6:42 AM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: amro has the right idea, but let me just add that you may want to keep the tone of your letter positive. After all you've just died, does your son really need to know about whatever abuses you may have suffered? Just talk about the things you like to do with him, and the memories you have of him, so that he can share in those memories when he is old enough.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:44 AM on March 21, 2007

This is quite a common thing to do when you are actually dying (link), so I don't think you're crazy.
I have no dependents, but were I to die suddenly, I figure my Twitter, my blog, my Flickr, and my answers will serve as a lasting memorial. Why don't you start a blog and see how you like it?
posted by roofus at 6:46 AM on March 21, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the comments, all reassuring, so far. A few responses:

@amro: No it isn't interfering, as such, more just making me a lot more cautious than I used to be. I do fly, occasionally, but will seek alternatives (trains, driving etc) if possible.

@Happy Dave: Exactly - the anxiety is an increased awareness of how fragile life is.

@Rock Steady: Good advice re: the positivity. I have tried to keep it positive, e.g. I experienced X but I learnt good thing Y. I may need to edit to remove some unecessary detail though.
posted by mooders at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2007

Just to clarify, my relationship with my own mortality changed when I became a dad, although not to your extent, such that I gave up a few somewhat risky outdoor pursuits.

rock steady is right - keep it positive, give some good advice but don't dwell on the experiences that gave you the wisdom you're passing on.

And I hope - really, really hope - that the anxiety will ebb back to something less acute, and you'll sit with him when he's 21, and read it together over a beer, and have a laugh.
posted by dowcrag at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2007

21 years, that is.
posted by dowcrag at 6:50 AM on March 21, 2007

It's a fine idea, just be sure you don't pass any of that anxiety onto your child.

Also, if you plan on sharing it with him one day, wait until he's about 30. I'm not sure most 18 year old kid would really appreciate something like that, in fact they'd probably think it was weird. Naturally, it'll depend on the kid.
posted by bondcliff at 6:52 AM on March 21, 2007

No...not crazy, not insane. I'm working on a journal for our daughter that's not 100 percent geared toward a eulogy of sorts, but just some thoughts I have toward her, her mom, family, etc. I'm gearing it toward a glimpse of things she doesn't yet know or will ever remember. I think that journal and the first section of the NY Times when she was born might help her understand the first few years of life.

As far as family memories go, my dad wrote me a few letters in high school and college. We didn't have the best relationship as I grew up, so these letters (one was upon HS graduation that talked about how worried he was that I was sick as a newborn and he never left my side, and the other was a letter when a best friend growing up died) are things I treasure that will always be with me. Cheesy? Perhaps....but I bet we both feel that those letters were the start of us growing back together.

Ok, I think I need to email or call my Dad to just say hello.
posted by fijiwriter at 6:54 AM on March 21, 2007

@amro: No it isn't interfering, as such, more just making me a lot more cautious than I used to be.

That is entirely reasonable.
posted by amro at 6:55 AM on March 21, 2007

My mother did this - she kept a journal in the form of letters written to me throughout her pregnancy and for my first few years.

She wrote not only about her love for me but about her own mother and about her relationship with my father. When I turned 18, she gave me these "journals" as a way to transition from childhood to adulthood.

I plan to do this for my child and will pass on my mother's letters to him/her as well, to preserve this family heirloom.
posted by non sum qualis eram at 7:17 AM on March 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

My mother did this for me when she was dying of cancer (she died when I was 9). Her letter to me & her journals are some of my most treasured possessions, since otherwise I feel like I never really got to know her.

I think it is a wonderful thing to do, though since I hope you are not dying, maybe make it a little less morbid by making it little letters to your child as a keepsake for when he is older. But in all honesty, you never know when your ticket is up, so having something like this to leave your child is a sweet thing to do.
posted by tastybrains at 7:21 AM on March 21, 2007

I think you need to talk to someone professional about your anxiety. The letter sounds nice; a journal might be the best way to go, but it's the other stuff that sounds worrisome.
It could be as simple as taking your son to his next pediatrician appointment, and talking to the ped about your feelings, and finding out if it's something s/he thinks is normal or not. Or mention it to your own doc at your next well-visit.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:22 AM on March 21, 2007

You might be interested in seeing My Life, starring Michael Keaton as a man who's terminally ill and videotaping for his unborn son. I have not seen it, so I don't know what wisdom, or tripe-ish version of wisdom, it offers.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:33 AM on March 21, 2007

Why stop at one letter. Write a whole bunch, let him know everything. What do you do? Where do you go for lunch? What foods do you hate? Do you clean up on a regular basis?

Get all those boring details out because his mother won't tell him how much of a slob you were.

Think about all the things you just heard about a late relative, like the grandparent you never got to meet. Wouldn't it be wonderful for your kid to know you were trying to be the best dad he could have, that you will always love him, and that you clip your nails while watching TV and have a special place in your heart for the movie Top Gun - but if he considers joining the Navy you will haunt him from the grave until he's breathed his last.
posted by parmanparman at 7:34 AM on March 21, 2007

I don't think it's that strange, really. I plan on doing something similar, though probably more like Heather over at Dooce does. She writes a letter to her daughter after every month, to tell her what she was like that month. They're great little letters.
posted by antifuse at 7:39 AM on March 21, 2007

I felt the same way you do when my daughter was born. I became very fearful of car trips and it took everything I had to actually drive out of town the first time we did it after she was born. She's older now and that feeling has faded, although I still have morbid thoughts from time to time.

I write her a letter every year on her birthday, sort of going over the high and low points of the year and describing her and the things she's learning to do. I plan on giving them to her when she's an adult.
posted by BluGnu at 7:40 AM on March 21, 2007

Ditto above. I think it's a pretty neat idea. However, it sounds like your anxiety has gotten to the point where it's interfering with your life. You would probably feel a lot better talking to a therapist.
posted by radioamy at 7:43 AM on March 21, 2007

It's one of those things that's only "weird" because not many other people do it, but not "weird" because it's bad. It's kinda like being kind, civilized, or restrained in today's society.. you should do it, but hardly anyone does. Good on you!

My grandparents did the opposite before they died.. recording videos, but unfortunately the VHS tapes screwed up even though they were in archive..(!)
posted by wackybrit at 7:43 AM on March 21, 2007

When my partner was a little kid, his dad wrote a whole book for him like this. After dad and mom divorced, mom found it and threw it away. He has never had the heart to tell his dad this. Shit, it breaks my heart and it's not even my family.

It's not morbid. If it survives the years, he'll treasure it someday. However it might make you feel less nuts to write something he can enjoy while you are both alive together, like my partner's dad did.
posted by hermitosis at 8:14 AM on March 21, 2007

If you're morbid, then so am I.
posted by cribcage at 8:27 AM on March 21, 2007

Not weird at all. My mother travelled extensively when I was ten and under and wrote me a letter before every single trip. When I was about 25 she gave them all to me and we read them together. It was both touching and hilarious - I think it's an awesome idea.
posted by meerkatty at 8:42 AM on March 21, 2007

Best answer: I don't have kids, so:

Weird and crazy, but also normal.

Every new parent is 25% love-your-kid-hormones by weight, and as a matter of normal course this makes people do mildly crazy things.

Frex, avoiding plane travel and driving instead is kinda nuts. We go whole years sometimes without *any* commercial air crashes in the US, and you want to risk your life driving instead? That's bad risk assessment, that is. Also a normal way to react to the flood of hormones and instinctual programming screaming DO SOMETHING PROTECTIVE in your mental ears.

Likewise, if you want to be all coldly rational about it, you're probably better off taking the time that you would spend writing a letter from beyond the grave and instead spending it holding or cuddling or talking to your kid, doing all sorts of good neural shit that the kid won't ever remember but that will help him be happier later.

But, duh, being a parent isn't about being rational about anything. Like any kind of being in love, of course it's crazy and makes you do loopy stuff. Don't sweat it unless it starts actually making your life worse in some concrete way.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:07 AM on March 21, 2007

Writing the letter - not strange.
Being afraid to do anything - kinda strange.

Write the letter and then talk to someone about your anxiety. :)
posted by Zephyrial at 10:26 AM on March 21, 2007

My mom wrote me such a letter, when she was about to do something risky. I loved reading the letter when I was twenty or so (and talking about it with her). I mostly loved seeing how much she loved me even when I was a wee baby (to my mind) with not much personality yet.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:27 PM on March 21, 2007

my son turned one last week. thanks for the idea.
posted by probablysteve at 12:38 PM on March 21, 2007

Semi-related, but to show you how much something like this will be appreciated by your child...

My mom had a friend who lived all over the world and was a great letter-writer. My mom saved all her letters. She died in her 40s, and my mom compiled all her letters and gave each of her three sons a book of their mom's letters. They LOVED it and were very appreciative.

Imagine how much more-so had the letters been written to them and not some lady they'd met a few times over the years.
posted by clh at 3:10 PM on March 21, 2007

In Samuel Butler's novel The Way of All Flesh, the ghastly Christina Pontifex writes a last letter to her sons ('My Two Dear Boys, When this is put into your hands will you try to bring to mind the mother whom you lost in your childhood and whom, I fear, you will almost have forgotten?' etc etc) which is found among her papers after her death many years later. Butler comments: 'From enquiries I have made, I have satisfied myself that most mothers write letters like this .. and that fifty per cent keep them afterwards'.

That pretty much sums up my attitude. Writing the letter strikes me as a charming idea (if a little kitsch), but keeping the letter .. *cringe*
posted by verstegan at 3:56 PM on March 21, 2007

Marilynne Robinson turned this idea into a beautiful, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead.

So no, not crazy.
posted by walla at 11:08 PM on March 21, 2007

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