“Love, Whatsisname.”

Inside the envelope marked “Son John.”

As a child, I was pretty singularly driven to communicate with my father. And what I most wanted to communicate to him was that I loved him.

My father, however, was distinctly unkeen on my communicating with him. He didn’t like me. My very presence deeply annoyed him. But with all my heart I loved the man, and that was that. And I always felt that if he only knew how much I loved and admired him, things would be good between us.

Toward making things good between us—by way of getting through to my father how much I loved him—I began, when I was about seven years old, to write to him. Most nights before I went to bed, I would slip underneath my parents’ bedroom door that day’s … prototypical blog post to my father. Sometimes it was just a short note; sometimes it was a whole letter; often it was one of the zillions of cartoons or comic series I used to draw, with captions and voice bubbles and all.

I did that for years. I’d write that day’s communique to him, slip it under his door, and go to bed, knowing that, if nothing else, I had that day communicated with my father.

A distinct weirdness is that not once did my father mention, or in any way refer to, any of my letters to him. It was absolutely like they’d never happened. I sure never mentioned them. My dad scared me. If he didn’t want to talk about them, I wasn’t about to bring them up. It was just this strange, almost other-wordly thing that existed between us: this phantom, nighttime connection that daytime washed away. It was like every morning my last letter to him just vaporized into the ether.

Well, sort of. Pretty often, after my dad left for work, I’d find whatever I’d written to him the night before crumpled up in the little wicker wastepaper basket just inside my parents’ bedroom door.

During my recent last visit to my dad’s house (see my last six or so posts), I found a large bubble envelope, on which someone had long ago written with a black felt pen the words “Son John.” (Son John?)

Inside the envelope was two hundred or so of the notes and letters I’d written to him as a kid. I had no idea they existed anywhere. I don’t know if my dad saved them, or if my moms did, or what. But there they were, in that old white bubble envelope, on a shelf in my dad’s garage. Waiting for me.

“Can I have these?” I asked my dad.

“What are they?” he said, glowering suspiciously. My dad’s big fear in life is that people are trying to steal stuff from him.

“It’s a bunch of notes and stuff I wrote you as a kid.”

“Oh, I don’t care,” he said.

And thus do I now have the envelope here at home with me.

Here is some of what as a young boy I wrote to my dad, taken from letters I’ve pretty much just pulled at random from the pile:

Dad–Guess who? Ha, ha. Me again. Do you get bored with me always telling you that I love you? Too bad for you, pal-o-mine. Because you are my father, and I think you are the greatest dad in the world. You go to work every day. I know you don’t like your job too much; I can tell how tense it makes you. [So apparently I was about ten when I mastered the semicolon. Sweet!] But you do it anyway, so that we can have clothes and food and a roof over our heads. You provide us things, and make our lives great. I love you, John

Dad–I love you more than anything in the world. You are a neato father. Collins [my junior high] won’t be so hard, because you will help me. I love you very much. A whole lot. Love, John

Dad–sorry I was so grumpy today. I promise it wasn’t anything that you did or said. I know there’s nothing you can do about this, but what is happening, really, is that I just miss mom. That’s why I look at that old picture of her every night with a magnafying glass. John [As you might know, when I was ten years old my mother suddenly disappeared from my life. See My Runaway Mom.]

Dad– Your a neat father. I will be real proud of you at the banquet, because your my dad and your twice as good as anybody. Thanks for the math tips. Luv your proud son, John

Dear Dad — I love you. I think you are a real neat dad. I wouldn’t trade you in for nobody, not even Superman. I hope you sleep good tonite. Maybe I will see you tomorrow morning. I almost did this morning but I had to leave at 7:25. If I see you even for a minute before I go to school I am always very happy. I love you, John

Dad–since tomorrow is your birthday, I wanted to say to, tonight, Happy Bat Mitzvah!! Isn’t it wonderful to have a son who shows his affection so well? Please remember that child beating is against the law in Calif. John

Dear Dad, I love you lots & lots & lots. I think that you are the best father there ever was or will be. I was so glad that you let me sit with you tonight. I don’t really have anything special to say. Just that I love you. Love, Whatsisname.

Dear Dad — Goodnight! I have gone to bed (in case you didn’t know yet). Anyway, I’m probably sleeping now. Today I learned a good tip about going to be early — “Early to bed & early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy & wise.” Ha ha! So you see my going to bed early will thus make me healthy, wealthy & wise, as it says in “Poor Dick’s Almanac.” And when I become healthy, wealthy, and wise, I won’t give you any. And you’ll come crawling to me. But I’ll be stern, and won’t give you anything. But then I’ll think about it, and give you money and all I have to give because I really love you, and always will, even when I’m healthy, wealthy, and wise. Love, Ben Franklin John

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Audrey Equality Smith

    This is really moving, John. I hope it was your father who saved the letters.

  • DR

    OK. These made me cry.

  • denver

    Wow. Those are some pretty amazing letters – and not just because your writing abilities showed at such a young age (and not just because you mastered the semicolon by age ten). 😉 I get it, actually – my father was, um, the problem child in our household, and no matter what he did to me or us I was “daddy’s little girl” and gave him love no matter what. Maybe I thought if he would just love me back he wouldn’t be so evil, but I don’t think I really thought it through that much at that age. You were a pretty wise kid.

  • Denise

    And thus do I know have the envelope here at home with me.

    I think you meant NOW, not know. [Corrected. Thank you.]

    What a precious treasure all those notes are! You were born to be a writer… I wish my son would leave me affirming notes like that.

  • Mindy

    This made me cry. You wrote these, every day, no matter how badly he treated you – and it never once cracked his heart open even the teensiest bit? His mental illness runs deep, friend. You are an amazing person. I already knew that, but this – well, this brought it home.

    Maybe his heart did crack open at some point. He did keep them, after all.

  • Patty

    The birth of your genius lies in these notes. I am truly glad someone saved them and they made their way back to you. Who know? Perhaps it was your father who saved them; a silent message from him that he did care.

  • Crystal

    Your letters are so sweet. It’s really sad that your Dad has never understood what a beautiful gift he was given when you were born.

  • Sheri

    I would love to believe that this all was more to show you your innate giftedness as a writer and less about your J/A of a father.

    I have to say, I do think the letters were probably saved by “the wife”. Not sure, I could see it being for another reason as well.

    Now, why your dad is unable to be loving is beyond me. But, it is not your deal. It is NOT about you and I hope, in your wisdom you already get that John.

    This was about you being a gifted writer…you were then and you certainly are now! Please never stop slipping those notes under our door, we too are saving them in an envelope – called…”WOW! I can so relate to The WRITER, JOHN”

  • denver

    Hi John:

    One more comment because synchronicity rears it’s head, and I thought you’d enjoy this article I just read: http://www.cracked.com/article_19010_5-ways-to-avoid-your-terrible-parents-mistakes_p2.html

    I’ve always said one of the reasons I didn’t want kids (there are many), was that I would probably f*ck them up in the opposite direction of the way my parents f*cked me up, trying so hard to not do what they did. So, there’s this article that (amusingly) handled that very topic. 🙂

  • Tim

    Sheri (above) thinks they were saved by the wife, and I suppose that’s possible. I agree that his mental illness runs deep. It would have to. Nightly love letters from a child would normally bless a parent. If his dad wadded them up and put them in the waste basket, someone obviously rescued them. Heaven only knows.

    He must be a deeply injured soul. I wonder what kind of man HIS dad was?

  • Tim

    I write notes to my kids. I guess I do that because I sense how uncomfortable they seem to become whenever I try to communicate the serious stuff from my heart. But I have to tell them once in a while how absolutely wonderful and loved they both are. Of course I tell them everyday that I love them. But sometimes that just starts to feel a bit vain and repetitive. Often repeated phrases like, “See you later…love you!” just don’t always seem heartfelt.

    I pray that all of the love you expressed to your dad is stored up somewhere inside your father.

  • Suz

    This is the best gift you can give them. The may sometimes think it’s hokey, but I promise you they thrive on it.

  • Suz

    OK, that made me cry. I thought PFC was the best kid ever. Not quite, your dad won. I wish he knew it.

  • Bud

    Wow John, too many similarities in your upbringing as a child and the relationship with your father and mine. Don’t know you except from your writings but glad for the man you become and your passion for Christ

  • Tim

    Thanks for the encouragement, Suz. And apologies for being such a curmudgeon a while back. I was out of commission with a herniated disc… but that’s still no excuse for being a wiener.

  • Paul Schroder

    My Dad was from the old school where a father demonstrated his love by being a good provider. He also taught lessons such as – boys don’t cry, boys don’t hug other boys and a man hides his emotions (unless it’s anger). He was in his eighties before I could get him to respond to my “I love you, Dad”, with the response “I love you too, son.” It took a lifetime for him to realize that ‘real men’ can demonstrate emotions. When he passed away at eighty five we’d had the opportunity to tell one another how important we were to each other. Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks or overcome a lifetime of negative training?

  • Susan in NY

    I don’t cry at computer posts as a general rule. But to this post the tears streamed down my cheeks. What a good, good child you were. How horribly wrong your parents were. I actually feel sick to my stomach. I know you are over it, and all that, but nevertheless, I am truly sorry for all you had to go through. I hope my prayers this evening will go to a child who is in a similar situation as you were.


  • So I’m seriously considering adopting you now. I’ll start the paper work; you start writing me notes just like that.

  • DR

    Yikes! Those are painful.

    You sound like such a good dad.

  • John,

    I’m not the type to really LAUGH OUT LOUD; i just do the “lol” as if my meds would let me feel wide swinging emotions. But after following your visit to North Cackalackee as we natives like to call it, I just had to check up on you now that you’ve gone back home. And in the middle of this heart string plucking, I *laughed out loud*when you wrote:

    [So apparently I was about ten when I mastered the semicolon. Sweet!]

    This post just makes me hope for love that will finally just bust through that man’s scaly exterior and explode out in a series of wildly written cartoons and notes that he mails to you over the next 200 or so days. And if not, let’s just imagine it for a minute anyway. Or give us your mailing address and we’ll all do it. You rock, my brother.


  • Suz

    Ouch! I hope you feel better!

  • Illona Rhodes

    John, I love you. My father loved you…oh so much. My mother still loves you. I wish it could have erased all of this. I wish we’d found you sooner. I’m just so glad you found the love of your life and God. Together, they have created such a healing!.


  • Carol

    (Loooong sigh) Although I’ve refrained from commenting so far, please know that I’ve been here following your posts about your dad, praying for your strength and hoping for something sweet & good & true to come out of this whole painful mess.

    YOU are that something sweet & good & true, John. Even a man as horribly broken and bitter as your father was (and is) could not dim your blazing bright child’s heart. It’s still here, delighting us with stories, silly & sad. BRAVO to you for keeping that heart glowing–for turning all that light out to shine over the ones who will cherish it! God bless you and Cat, and keep holding each other in the light of His love.

  • textjunkie

    Good gravy, John. You were righting THAT at age 10 to a man who you knew hated you and didn’t care if you were around or not?? How the blazes did you keep it up?? How did you not go ab-so-lutely bonkers since then?

    Yup. Sainthood. It’s for you. ::hug hug::

  • Liz

    You have a beautiful soul. Thanks for sharing these letters with us.

  • Ilona: Your friendship and love, and the love of your mom and dad to me, DID make all the difference in the world to me. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without it. When I was at my most lost, you and your family flat-out saved me. I’ve never forgotten it—as if I could. (Folks: Illona Rhodes is … well, this person. She … well, long story. But talk about being there for somebody.)

  • “So I’m seriously considering adopting you now. I’ll start the paper work; you start writing me notes just like that.”

    Okay, that was a welcome burst of laughter. And also, get in line!

  • Carol: I can’t recall you ever meeting my dad, but of course you must have. Thank you for your extremely kind words here. And thanks especially for your great and countless kindnesses to me, back in the day.

  • I burst into tears several times as I read those sweet notes you wrote! I would be thrilled beyond belief if my son wrote me notes like that. How could they not move your father’s heart???

    My heart breaks for you that you just kept handing him your heart day after day and he kept throwing it away!

    I hope that little boy’s sweetness is still there, unharmed by hurt, anger and rejection. And I hope you know what a treasure you were even if he could not appreciate it.

  • You know, I did meet your dad once (maybe twice).

    You had given me a ride somewhere, and your driving inspired me to get you a Christmas gift: a dashboard Jesus. Prophetic, I know.

    I went to your house to drop it off. You were on a trip with the speech club, I think. I was working at Great America senior year, so I didn’t compete.

    He was cranky and upset because you were late getting home. He asked if I knew when you were supposed to be back. He was worried about you, but wouldn’t come out and say so. I told him if you didn’t make it back, be sure to get the gift back to me. He was not amused.

    Honestly, though, he was concerned. Not comfortable showing it, but concerned.

  • Mandy

    Thanks for sharing!! 🙂

  • David

    John. Your writing here is incredible.

    Writing that moves people is often honest, difficult in nature, and unabashedly real.

    I know that how difficult it must have been for you to not only discover, take, and read those letters, but also for you to share them with us.

    Thank you.

  • Don Rappe


  • Susan G.

    Oh…my heart just breaks for the child you were and for what your father missed in not responding to your outpouring of love – though maybe you wouldn’t have been the writer you are if your dad had responded. What a wonderful child you were – and still are – only now the Father you love so desperately really does love you back with all of His heart!

  • alipschitz

    You’re a wonderful writer. I was checking the Huffington Post a few hours ago and I found your latest post with the video. I then clicked a link to your site and for the last four hours or so I’ve been reading your blog. I gotta get some sleep, but dammit I want to keep reading.

    Part of me wants you to yell at your Dad — to wake him up, but it’s clear that you think that won’t work. I have to wonder how he turned out this way. Are you the one that’s

    finally breaking a long paternal chain of miserable ancestors?

    You truly are blessed. You wouldn’t be where you are now if you weren’t blessed.

    I gotta get some sleep. I’ll be back tomorrow. I mean today.