Monday, October 31, 2011

An Open Letter to My Daughter

My daughter Marian Bull published a beautiful post a few days back. Check it out. My first impulse was to comment on it, but on second thought, I wanted to write a more complete response. That has taken time.

Just 18 months out of college, successful in her first full-time job in business, but clear that this job isn’t her long-term solution, Marian writes about the uncertainty of “The Road Ahead.” The photo here is from her post: a child looking down an uncertain path or tunnel or probably slide.

Marian asks several questions of herself and her future: 

Where to live? North Carolina, where she lives now? Maine, a summer place she loves? A “big, loud, smelly” city like New York, where her sister lives, or Zaragoza, Spain, where Marian spent a school year abroad? Marian is leaning toward big, loud, and smelly.

What to do? Find a new job in her field? investigate another? Volunteer? Go back to school? “Once I decide that I want one thing,” she admits, “I change my mind. I’m nothing if not indecisive.”

Then there’s the question that obsessed me in my 20s: Who with? From an early age I understood that I wanted marriage and a family, as I think Marian does, but who or where was She?

Near the end of the post, Marian writes and you smile:

“Yes, I believe in God. And, yes, I believe He has a sense of humor. I see it every day. And I’m trying to learn that I can speculate and daydream all I want, but I have NO idea what is in store for me. There are some things I’m expecting in the next few years – i.e. an epiphany where I see my life’s purpose flash before my eyes and discover the perfect career; maybe a rom-com story line (Are You There, Ryan Gosling? It’s Me, Marian); some travel; and hopefully a bit more writing. I know that what I get will be something I can’t even fathom right now. But I know it will be right for me.”

At my age I have answered some of the basic questions Marian is asking. I met my Ryan Gosling (female version) over thirty years ago, and we live in a community north of Boston, where we have found stimulating work that keeps food on the table. Two more wonderful answers to my basic questions are Marian and her sister.

But when I ask myself how I arrived at this particular town, this work, this spouse, these children, and the friends who are so important to me now—it all gets interesting. Because I never chose a place to live. I never choose a spouse, and I certainly did not choose my children. I did not even choose the work I do today. Like the friends I cherish, especially in my parish, each of these people, places, and things—the answers to Marian’s where, what, and who—came my way because of what I followed.  

Another word for following is reverencing. An even stronger word is worshiping. We all “believe in God.” But which God or gods? That will answer all your questions.

I was not always a Catholic, and I did not always follow the Christian God or even practice Christian worship. I followed someone to the town I have lived in for 37 years because I believed in that person’s vision of founding a theater as a workshop of human development. The word is not too strong: I reverenced that person and in meaningful ways I worshiped that vision, for about a dozen years before . . . well, before things began changing. (Long story)

I married the woman I married because I encountered an indescribable beauty I could not ignore. I followed that beauty for three years, although everything seemed to conspire against me, including a shocking sequence of deaths in Katie’s family and serious headwinds from an influential person in our lives. (Another long story. Marian knows both stories.)

I came upon the work I do today because I reverenced the memory of my grandfather, who ran (of all things) the Cream of Wheat Company in Minneapolis. Reverence for his memory led to the only unique business idea that has ever occurred to me. Yes, it occurred to me, literally in a flash, there is no other way of saying it. (You can read about that business here. It’s what I still do.)

Today, I have more friends than ever in my life, not because I am a particularly sociable person (I’m not) but because of what I follow, reverence, worship. Today, I do my level best to follow Christ in the Catholic Church, and in this vital engagement I have found friends, likewise engaged. I did not seek them out. I certainly did not go looking for Ferde or Bob or Ellen or Michael or Elizabeth or either Carol. No computer would have matched us up. Yet, they are among the best friends of my lifetime, not because I chose them but because of what I follow.

This whole mad American notion of self-determination has been drummed into us from such an early age that we think we choose where to live, what to do, and with whom, but in fact we choose only one thing: what to worship. Everything else follows. That is what my experience tells me from this end of the path or tunnel or probably slide. 

Of course, I’m not really at the other end, Marian. Because here’s another thing I want to say: The uncertainty never ends, or it shouldn’t. I am still looking down the slide.

If I were nearing retirement from a long-term job, with my old-age home and cemetery plot picked out and my pension ready to kick in, I might have more certainty. But I’m not and I don’t and I’m glad. I am a self-employed writer who seldom knows where his next two jobs are coming from. I know only that I need to continue working (because $$$) and that work always finds me when I need it.

There are other things I would like to say, Marian, but I have to keep my paternal, advice-giving instincts in check or this could get embarrassing. So let me say just one more thing.

I have heard it said that I am the only father in the history of Mrs. Alexander’s Pre-School who went down the slide in the school playground with his children. You may remember that. If not, Mrs Walor can remind you, as she recently reminded me. Seriously. She did.

What you may not know, Marian, is, I would go down that slide with you again.

I would follow you.

Love, Dad


  1. Oh. What a lovely post. I love the ending in particular. God bless you.

  2. Thanks, Allison. I am very happy about it. As with some good things, it took time. Marian wrote her post at the end of last week and I mulled this thing all weekend. Didn't want to take too have a Dad hand, if you know what I mean. And because I mulled it, the bit -- the fact -- about the playground slide came into focus only at the very end, as I was editing the draft. But it's true. Just about the truest thing in the whole post.

    I'm also happy because the post was picked up by New Advent, so my first wish got answered -- that more people read Marian's writing. I have told her since she was 10 or 12, You are a natural. Writing comes so easy to you. Write, girl! And now she's writing, though, ahem, not a girl, right? ;-)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


If you have trouble posting comments, please log in as Anonymous and sign your comment manually.