To Nathan on His Fifth Birthday

On your second birthday I made a decision that on every birthday, for as long as I was able to do so, I would write you a message. I know how fragile life is, and I wanted you, one day – should anything ever happen to separate us too soon (it will always be too soon) – to be able to look back over this journey and see something of who your father was. Not because I am important in any way, but because I know how important it is to people to know where they come from. More than that, I wanted to provide a space for you to return to when life threatens to overwhelm you, a safe space where you can find a reminder of how much you are loved, how much joy you bring into the world, how special you are.


Being a parent is a crazy mixture of ecstasy and terror. Each year that I am given to spend with you is a privilege, as progressively it is revealed to me just how beautiful a human being you are. The joy of holding you, of loving you, of being allowed into your heart, is so pure, so complete, that it obliterates any negativity. But I fear that you are too much like me in so many ways, that I know the road that lies ahead for you because I recognise myself in you. You are passionate and intense. You feel things deeply. You want the world to be right and fair. It’s not a recipe for a seamless life’s journey, I am afraid. But that is tomorrow’s worry.


Your favourite games, aside from hide-and-seek (you always give away your position after a few minutes, delighting more in being found than in being hidden), involve imaginative play. Lately, the phrase: “Let’s pretend…” is prominent in your games.


Today, let’s imagine a world where kindness matters. Let’s pretend we can stay forever in your world, where people are respected for who they are, where people’s value is not determined by the arbitrary social groups to which they belong. I have loved how you respond to people not based on their race or gender, but on their character. The games you play, the toys you play with, are chosen without regard for what is “gender appropriate”: you will paint your nails (and mine) and make up your face (and mine)as willingly as you will play cars; you love cooking and karate; Spiderman and Frozen. You don’t treat any of your friends differently because of their colour or their language. Let’s pretend the world could stay that way.


Today, let’s pretend that people believed that justice required not that offenders were made to suffer, but that offenders were healed. I have not always got it right with you, but I certainly don’t believe in hitting you and I try never to shout. Anyone who insists that violence is a prerequisite for discipline need simply to spend some time with you to see the transformative power of love. Your behaviour is not always perfect, but you are so small still, and you don’t need to feel any pressure to always get it right. You are a good boy – always eager to please, to make me proud. And you do. I wish all parents could value children enough to love them. I wish people did not cling so ardently to a picture of a violent God-parent. Imagine what the world could look like if discipline was achieved through respect for clearly defined boundaries, not threats and violence.


Today, let’s pretend that people were not so afraid of the judgment of others that they felt safe enough to express themselves freely. I love how you sing songs, with partially accurate lyrics and occasionally in a consistent key, at the top of your lungs, without any regard for where you are or how public the platform. I am touched by how readily you say “I love you”, and how sincerely, without expecting to hear it in return (although I cannot always help myself). My favourite (and possibly the most terrifying) part of your recent school report was the teacher’s comment on how readily you share stories about your home (but I taught her son too, so I have enough on her to stop her talking…). Imagine a world where love drove out fear.


Today, let’s pretend, just for today, that love is all that matters. Let’s laugh a lot. Let’s be silly. Let’s say what we mean. Let’s see the best in people and let them see the best in us. Let’s hope for a better world and let’s choose to be pictures of the promise of that future in the now. Let’s try not just to understand what it means to be alive, what it means that others share in life, but to live that too. Let’s celebrate growth and let’s celebrate being. Happy birthday, my darling boy. I love you – to use your own phrase – to the galaxy and back.

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