Dear Ezra and Lian,
Back in 1992, Brad was what both he and I would call an Indian. Not an Indian like your Mom, but what we would probably now call a Native Canadian. He was only a little older than me, but he was probably more my dad’s friend than mine. I didn’t know him all that well, but one night I was giving him and another guy I knew even less a ride home.
Brad lived in a basement apartment by himself I think. As we got close to where he lived, it looked like we were being followed. I told Brad this, but he said drive fast and drop me off quick. I did what I was told. Brad got out of my car and ran for his front door. The car following us stopped right behind us and 5 guys jumped out and ran after Brad. Brad didn’t make it to his door.
The guys got him and dragged him to his front lawn. They all started to viciously punch and kick Brad while he curled up on the ground. The guy sitting beside me started screaming at me. “Drive, drive, drive. Get out of here!! We got to go!!!” I looked behind me and I looked in my rear-view mirror to see Brad endure a terrible beating. I wanted to get out and help. (In those days, nobody had cell phones to call the police.) Sadly, with those panic yells in my ear and fear in my heart, I put my car in gear and sped off.
Later, when I saw Brad, he looked terrible. Still he didn’t want me to call the police or tell anyone, not even my parents. I felt horrible. Brad looked horrible. I did nothing.
The most bizarre and unexpected response to me publicizing these letters to you kids, is the accusation that I’m trying to make myself look like a hero. Maybe it is simply because they can’t read the 25+ letters I’ve already written or the rough outlines for all the other letters, but the exact opposite is true. I wanted you kids to know the truth about me. Part of that truth is knowing that your dad is not a hero, he’s a coward.
Time after time after time, I’ve been faced with a critical decision. The opportunity to do something truly heroic presents itself, but I run away. Every single time, I have played it safe. I have locked my doors, put my car in gear and sped away as my friend got savagely beat up. I could really have risked something, but I didn’t risk anything at all. That is the true story of my life. The fictional, public persona I have is that I’m a humanitarian. I will travel to dangerous places or situations to help people. Actually, as soon as it really gets dangerous, then I fly away and leave people behind to fend for themselves. From my Fishing story to my Champhai stories to my Manipur story, I hope you can see that. If you can’t, I hope this letter clears this up.
The only time I have ever done anything approaching heroism is what I did when your mom and I separated two years ago. My every impulse was to run away and hide from the world. Despite my deep love for you, I was filled with so much shame at my failed marriage, I wanted to fly far away and never come back. I didn’t do that. I stuck around. When I faced the day to day grind of looking after a toddler still in diapers; Lian still being nursed by her mother until the day she left, I didn’t give up. We had to work through so many issues with Ezra’s autism and him being in school for the first time. Through all of these difficulties, I treated your mom with respect and kindness even though my heart gets crushed every week I see her again. I confronted my fears and with the help of so many others, I persevered. By God’s grace I made it.
We can’t call it heroism because millions, mostly women, do it every year. No one ever sings their praises, but they are heroes. I have put them in your life, so you can model your lives after them. There are so many shortcuts a single parent can take to try to deal with the pain, manage their lives, their finances and their kids. Your “aunties” have not. I didn’t either.
In all my stories, know this to be true. Nothing was more difficult than being a single parent these last two years. Nothing has been more physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, spiritually, every which way you can imagine challenging then doing this. Almost every one of my letters is a “cautionary tale”. Don’t be an idiot like your dad. Half of this letter is that; don’t run away like your Dad does when faced with a difficult situation. The other half is this; if for once in your Dad’s life he could endure, so can you.