Joe Medler is as far from 11 as he is from 71 and wants his sons to know a few things about life.
I was eleven years old and life was pretty damn great.
I was finally able to play on the C.Y.O. team where I was the star everyone saw coming; I was finally allowed to leave Catholic school and I was instantly popular in my new public school classes; I was starting to notice girls, and almost all of them noticed me—of course one or two didn’t. This allowed me to talk about them for hours with my best friend Cory while we shot hoops, rode bikes, got into trouble and hung out everyday.
I remember it like it was yesterday: the map of the streets, all the curbs you could catch air off of, all the paths through woods, the towpath along the canal that could take you uptown to the theater that played matinees of Back to the Future, the high bridge that everyone jumped from except for me because I was too mature (scared), the trail into the woods where parents didn’t venture and where we taught ourselves to smoke cigarettes. If there was nothing to do for some reason I had a basketball court across the street that was essentially mine for years, the one with the net that came off, then the chain that went in its place only to become half destroyed and half tangled so you couldn’t get that satisfying sound of the chain swish when the ball made it through.
It’s all engraved in my brain. It was 30 years ago. And it feels like I’m still there. 30 years from now I’ll be in my 70s. My great accomplishments will have been achieved. Anyone who makes it to their 70s has had their fair share of great accomplishments. They’ve had their fair share of everything, actually: love and loss, wins, boundless optimism, crushing defeat. They’ve had magic. They’ve had insurmountable challenges that they prayed to be saved from only to find out how capable, how able, how great they actually could be. They’ve learned that most of the tragedies are actually just turning points and survived what they thought would kill them—maybe physically, maybe spiritually maybe just situationally, which often feels the worst but leaves the least scarring. They’ve bought and sold and bought; they’ve seen cruelty; they’ve been moved to tears by beauty and by rage and by love and compassion.
They’ve had a life.It’s impossible to think that I’m as far from 11 as I am from 71. Sadness is a small ingredient in this soup. Gratitude is the broth. If I had to isolate a feeling I wish for you guys when you reach an age, it’s gratitude. It’s the only way to happiness. This gift you’ve been given is not to be trifled with.
I started writing when I was not much older than 11. I was inconsistent at best. It might be months on end of filling notebooks or it might be years of living and reading and thinking and learning, not once putting pen to paper. Putting the pen to the paper was great. Not in the quality of the work, but in the quality of the time spent producing that work. When there’s so much to say, things you’ve only just figured how to articulate, so many things that you don’t know how to start, how to keep all the plates spinning and fear you won’t be able to get out this new piece of knowledge, this new way of understanding how the world is all connected. Then it organizes itself, you let go of trying to hold on and you find yourself simply flowing. There’s nothing like becoming so enmeshed in it that you lose awareness of yourself and function fully engaged. I hope you both find something that provides that feeling. Eventually I shared some of my work with a handful of people. It was hardly their fault that they didn’t fully understand the task they’d been assigned. They were to merely report that it was brilliant. Transcendent.
Perhaps they could have questioned what it was I was doing wasting time working when I was sitting on a goldmine with this massive and massively beautiful talent. Instead they said hurtful and mean things like, “It’s really very good. I really like it.” I eventually would recover and write about how cold the world can be to an artist. I retreated having only barely poked my head out. It was too uncomfortable and frightening to be exposed fully.
Then you two came along. Turns out you guys were just the kick in the ass I needed to start living the life I talked about wanting.That fear of being fully exposed, the fear of being vulnerable in front of people, it owned me. Not just in what I had written but in life. My life was in service to never feeling vulnerable and exposed. Ultimately it’s a goal you can accomplish and many men do, but it’s a goal you’ll regret achieving. It’s fools gold. As men you need to know, feelings are often hard for us to understand and to recognize, but when you do notice something don’t succumb to the foolishness of thinking you can outrun yourself. You can’t. That game is rigged. You can’t avoid feeling vulnerable or exposed. If you do you might make it through protected, but you will have lost the only opportunity you have to live a great life.
I am a proud father and I would not at all be surprised if you accomplish a great many things in life that would make your resume a thing to be envied. But I can tell you right now at the tender ages of 2 and 4 you each have the chance to have a great life. A beautiful life. But if you hide from life, avoid pain and discomfort, try to keep who and what you are covered up, you’ll get to the end and realize you wasted the whole damned thing. I’m so thankful to you both for being the unwitting teachers who clued me in to this.
Sharing my writing has taken many turns I didn’t see coming when I started. I’ve had some successes and I hope there are more. But in the end so much of it is for you guys. Even the parts that are so clearly about me and my journey. Some day I’m not going to be here and you’re going to be left with an understanding that you didn’t know as much about me as you wished you did and it’s my hope that these stories can be a small supplement to your record of me, mom and our family.
I want you guys hear firsthand how much we loved you. I want you to know who I was, both before and after you showed up. I want you to know that I made huge mistakes and lived to tell about it. I want you to know that I’ve been really depressed for long periods of time and even thought about ending it all. I’ve taken comfort knowing it was an option. Then I want you to read about the amazing wonderful life I got to live instead. I want you to know that therapy is something you can do. It’s like working out and eating right. Therapy can be part of being healthy and you should never ever feel anything is beyond repair. I want you to know fully, from my own words how flawed and human I was. I want you to know that I was funny, sometimes in really inappropriate ways, though I’ll probably hide most of the really blue material from you. I want you to find some of it. I want you to know that I made bad decisions and that none of them were as bad in the end as they may have seemed at the time.
Our parents voices are our native language. I want you to have my thoughts in my words so you can visit me when I’m gone. I want you be able to hear me say I love you, Charlie, with all my heart. I want you to be able to hear me say I love you, Teddy, with all my heart. I want you both to know how much this life has meant to me because I got to be your dad. I want you to know I welled up with love writing this.
I want you to have all of this, all of me for as long as you want it. I want to be there in the only way I can be at the times you’ll wish I was there but know I can’t be.
I love you with all of my heart, Teddy.
I love you with all of my heart , Charlie.