This is why I write to you, boys with me, girl who is gone. I write to you because when I am with you, when I look into your soft brown eyes, I do not have the words. They come to me in pieces, in a thought or a dream, and always our time is so filled up with things I fear one day will not matter. I am too often irritated at you or impatient with you or indifferent toward you, and the days will not wait. They never wait.
I write to you, Caleb, because you became my steadfast shadow when I was wandering senseless.
I write to you, Eli, because you are tender-hearted and shy and maybe most in need of words.
I write to you, Isaac, because you are brave and fierce and I wish I were more like you.
I write to you, Isaiah, because you spread joy like a prince scattering coins.
I write to you, Caroline, because there were many things to say, and a broken world cut us short.
I write because I am afraid I will die before I am finished. I lie awake in the quiet night, thankful for the quiet, because you all have so much to say, afraid of the quiet because it is then that I think. I lie awake and ashamed, because I did not listen, because I did not teach you anything enduring on this day, because I forgot, again, that the end comes without relent.
I write because I hope you will find something of me in these words, one day, and smile. I hope you will know from these words how sometimes, when I hear you breathing in your deep childhood slumber, my chest fills up and I think to myself that heaven must be something like this, like listening to your babies breathe and dream. I hope you will know how I repent when I have failed, that I fail because I’m weaker than you thought, that even when I am a passable father it is only with great struggle. I struggle to be meager so that you have the chance to be great. Know this too.
I hope you know, not from these words but from your memories, that I wanted to give you all I have, and that sometimes I actually did it, when I was able to love myself less than I normally do, which is far more than I should. I hope you will know that something broken in me makes it easier to write these things down than to say them, though I will try to say them too. I write because maybe I will fail at this, at the saying of these things.
But it’s easier to say things than to do them, as you are learning, sweet ones. Your mother knows this, having endured me the longest. So I guess my great prayer is that none of these words will tell you anything you don’t already know deep in your flesh, but perhaps only give voice to what before was voiceless but ever present, the love of your father. May I diminish that you may increase, my brown-eyed boys. This is the prayer of a father.