You are wanted.

Dear Liam,

Beginning on Sunday, you'll be staying with us for nearly 2 whole weeks! This will be the longest stint you've ever spent with me and Ray-Ray, and we are ecstatic. We are counting down the days until your arrival, planning fun activities for you, and looking forward to seeing your sweet face every day. The other day, I told Ray-Ray I was going to buy some more clothes for you, and she told me no - she wanted to be the one to go shopping for you. We're both so eager for you to be with us that we're fighting over who gets to runs errands for you!

The reason we're waiting with such anticipation, to the point where we're arguing over who gets to buy you stuff, is you are wanted. We take delight in your presence. We enjoy spending time with you. I fear you're adding a "when" to my previous statements. "Daddy and Ray-Ray want me when I behave, or when I make them laugh, or when I achieve some new feat." Yet that's simply not the case.

In fact, one of my favorite times of bonding with you is when you're crying hysterically, throwing a temper tantrum from not getting your way. I scoop you up in my arms, place you in my lap, and calmly ask you what you're feeling. Without fail, your first answer is always: "I don't know." So, I walk through the emotions one by one. "Are you feeling fear?" "No!" "Are you feeling lonely?" "No." "Are you feeling anger?" "No..." "Are you feeling sad?" "...yeah" "What are you feeling sad about?" "I don't want to go to bed." "Well, the gift of sadness is it tells us the value of what was lost. What do you lose by going to bed, Liam?" "I want to stay up and play with you." "Then you must really enjoy playing with me, if it's making you sad to stop. I'm honored by your sadness, son." "So I can stay up and play?" "No, you still have to go to bed. You need sleep so we can play more tomorrow. You know what you can do, though?" "What?" "In bed, you can think of how much fun you had today, and think of how you'd like to play tomorrow after getting some rest." "Okay."

I don't know how in the world this works, but it does. Processing your feelings always calms you, and it's my joy to sit with you as you work through them. Don't get me wrong, your crying over seemingly trivial things can get annoying, and sometimes I just want it to stop immediately, but I've come to learn your crying signals something deeper. You're not being manipulative with your crying, but rather you're feeling some pain or emotion you don't yet have the words for. Your crying is your heart's insistence to live fully, to refuse to numb the gifts of your emotions. Since you don't have the words, your body reverts to the only method it knows to communicate discomfort. To yell at or ignore your crying would be to scold or neglect your yearning for wholehearted living. Instead, I want to be patient with you and teach you the words you need to process your emotions. I want to give you these words because they're what I desperately needed when I was a boy.

After my father died, my mother never again held me, hugged me, or told me she loved me. In order to bury her own emotions, she had to treat mine with contempt. She got remarried, and her husband joined and expanded the program of my heart's derision. I figured if I was being treated with such disdain, it must be because I was doing something wrong. If I was doing something wrong, maybe I could fix it and earn approval for my heart. Thus began my life's campaign to feel wanted. I thought if I got perfect grades, then I would be wanted. If I behaved like a saint, then I would be accepted. If I was gregarious, then people would want to be around me. If I traveled the world, then people would find me interesting enough to ask me questions. None of it worked. Until I was in my 20's, when I finally found the answer to getting people to want you: FREE ALCOHOL.

From ages 25 to 30, I gave away a ghastly amount of free booze. I opened up our home every Thursday night for an event I called "Pints & Pipes," pouring copious amounts of craft beer, expensive whiskey, and fine wine to anyone who walked through the door. In addition to these weekly gatherings, once every 3 months or so, I'd throw a huge, extravagant party. These Gatsby-esque affairs were the talk of the town, each one with its own unique theme, hired bartenders, a professional DJ, a cigar smoking lounge, and some bedazzling grand finale, such as the time we set off a hundred sky lanterns at midnight. The energy at every party was electric, with hundreds of beautiful people dancing the night away. My main motivation for funneling so much cash into these shindigs was to ensure no one had to feel the way I did: unwanted. I wanted to create an environment where even complete strangers felt welcomed, celebrated, and desired. Where no payment was required, just their presence was enough. I hoped I would also be wanted as a byproduct, that my presence would matter to all these people who showed up for the free alcohol.

This lifestyle reached its pinnacle on my 30th birthday. We had recently moved into our dream home, a mansion worthy of a full article in Southern Living magazine. The main house boasted all the accoutrements of success, from its daunting size to its double-decker porch spanning the whole length of the house to its pot filler faucet over the stove. Also on the sprawling compound was a guest house that itself was over twice as large as my current home. I transformed the guest house into a fully-functioning pub and brewery, complete with draft beer system, billiards, ping pong, a huge TV, neon lights, and a shuffleboard table. It rivaled the best bars in the city, and I began preparing to throw myself a birthday party that would be my most lavish soiree yet.

I bought 6 kegs of craft beer, and stocked up on liquor and cigars. Since the guest house pub wouldn't be large enough to house the enormous crowd I was expecting, I turned the backyard into an outdoor beer garden. It had its own outdoor draft beer system, bistro lights hanging from the trees, and lawn games ranging from giant Scrabble to illuminated orbs for nighttime bocce. Then, about a week before the grand event, a friend called with another request: showing the huge Pacquiao vs Mayweather boxing match. "I'd like to invite my coworkers to your party, but I'm afraid they won't come if you're not going to show the fight. I'll reimburse you for the pay-per-view charges, though." He didn't care that it was my birthday, didn't ask how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, didn't say how much he was looking forward to celebrating with me, nor did he even think the thousands of dollars I had already spent on booze and entertainment was enough. He just wanted to look cool in front of his coworkers, and I was his pawn in making that happen. Yet at the time, I was more than happy to oblige; nothing mattered more to me than feeling wanted by these complete strangers who'd I never see again, and whose only connection to me was working with a supposed friend who couldn't care less about my well-being. I not only paid $100 for the fight, I projected it onto a 10 feet high screen in the backyard. His coworkers were impressed. I reminded him multiple times about his promise to reimburse me, but I eventually realized it was a debt I would never collect.

All in all, around 130 people came to my 30th birthday party. Every keg was sucked dry. It was as magnificent as advertised, to our neighbors' chagrin. The police were called, but the officers ended up just hanging out and watching the fight for a bit. Some people actually came only because they cared about me. Yet I was so busy basking in the glow of having such a large crowd at my party that I didn't have much time to visit with the people who purely came for my company. We literally partied all night; my head hit the pillow as the sun rose. For one night, I could definitively say: "I am wanted."

Two months later, the man who terrorized my childhood moved into our basement. As I was confronted with his face every day, the pain I had buried deeper than a coal mine began to expose itself. The pain didn't come to the surface, but rather I started falling down the mine shaft, forced to face the reality of the dark ore underground. I finally saw the great truth of Hamlet: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." As I sunk into despair, the free booze stopped flowing and people stopped coming by. I learned I was wanted only as much as the next pint being poured. I wasn't making perfect marks, so I was unwanted. I wasn't behaving like a saint, so I was rejected. I wasn't being affable, so people didn't want to be around me. I wasn't traveling the world, so I was no longer interesting. The crowd who had once been so close when there was bounty now stood on the sidelines, pointing out my every flaw.

As I retreated further into the coal mine's deeper drifts, the darkness growing with every step, I turned around to see a miracle: headlamps. A few friends saw me sinking and ran into the mine after me, carrying pickaxes. Daniel invited me to live with him, and prayed over me daily. Walter brought cigars and created a sanctuary from judgement. I joined a men's therapy group, and three close friends said: "we want to go with you." Ray-ray told me "you're the greatest man I've ever met, and your current struggles don't change that." They risked their own safety to meet me in the muck and the mire, helped me dig through the pain, and they didn't even get free alcohol for their efforts. They wanted me, they loved me, and true love doesn't come with caveats and prerequisites. Yet it does come with a cost. The crowd who had cheered when I filled their glasses not only abandoned me, they blacklisted anyone who was kind to me during my troubles. 

Of the 130 people who were at my last huge party, I've maybe seen 15 of them in the past 2 years. I don't say that with bitterness towards those who I haven't seen, though, because I'm thankful for it. That one guy is off being a shitty friend to someone else, finding new people to sucker into paying to impress his coworkers, and I can no longer afford such trivialities. Yet they do play an important role in my story: the foil. They stand in stark contrast to the people who showed me what it means to be loved, to be wanted, to take delight in someone's company without any ulterior motives. The lessons were hard fought, but boundlessly fruitful. They taught me how to love unconditionally, and because of their love, I am now able to love you wholeheartedly.

When you don't get perfect grades, I will still be proud to call you my son. When you don't behave like a saint, I will still accept you. When you aren't being gregarious, I will still want to be with you. Regardless of how much traveling you do, I will always find you interesting, and will express my interest by asking you questions. When you find yourself waist-deep in coal, I'll bring a shovel. When the world doesn't make sense, when you're not sure what you should do with your emotions, and even when you're throwing a temper tantrum, please remember: you are wanted.

I love you, God loves you, and you've got what it takes.

Love,
Dad     



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