Sunday, October 11, 2020

Dear Joe (A letter on our son's 10th birthday)

Dear Joe,

Today - Sunday, October 11, 2020 - our son turns 10 years old. 

That means it has been 9 years since we celebrated his birthday as a family of 3 - his first and only one with you here. He is way past the Sesame Street of that party, but the memories linger and they make me wonder what it would be like if you were here with us this weekend.

Double digits is a big deal for any kid. It's an even bigger deal when two years earlier Mom promised that 10 is the magic number for being able to get a cell phone. (Yep, I did that.)

The excitement has been building here in the Deak household for more than a month in a way that I only remember counting down to my 17th birthday and my driver's license. Maybe you wouldn't have agreed to the cell phone at age 10 or maybe, given your obsession with all things new in technology, you would have caved even sooner. 

You were always the best gift giver so maybe you would have chosen something I haven't even thought to get him. Maybe we would have celebrated in a completely different way than what I planned. Maybe you would have just suggested pancakes for breakfast and a quiet day inside.

As the time goes by since your death, I feel like I can predict less and less the things you would have done and what you would have thought - not only when it comes to Domani's 10th birthday, but about so many other things too. That gap is a new pain that I've only begun to confront on this now almost 9 year long grief journey.

Sometimes I engage in some real mental gymnastics with the "what ifs" and the "could have beens". I wonder if I am losing you all over again when I can't say for certain that you would have let Domani ride his bike around the block or stay up past 9pm. I go back and forth on whether you would have agreed that Domani could watch shows like Drunk History or Trevor Noah with us. I wonder if he ever would have taken dance lessons or played soccer before trying baseball.

One thing I know, though, is that you would be beaming with pride at Domani the 10 year old. 

Two weeks ago he spent all day Saturday building a gaming PC with my Uncle Bob. He had spent time researching parts and brainstorming about how to get the highest quality parts for the best price. He tracked with excitement as each part arrived and carefully packed them into a tub for transport. 

The whole process reminded me of the gaming setup you created in our basement and I do know that if you were still here this would have been a father-son project for sure.

Beyond his new found interest in computers, he is thoughtful and empathetic, independent and determined. 

He has a quirky sense of humor and is able to land jokes with almost spot-on comedic timing. 

He speaks Spanish, excels at math, and has a memory that means I need to be extra careful what I say and especially what I promise to him. 

He has an interest in bugs even though he will often be freaked out by them. 

He can follow directions to put together small projects like his shoe rack all by himself.

He is kind and loving and always working to do better. 

He has areas to grow too - like his constantly messy room and displays of impatience (he gets both things from me obviously) - but he is an impressive 10 year old which helps me feel like we are on the right path.

We miss you terribly, Joe, and there is no doubt that life would be more full if you were still here with us. But you are not absent from our lives. In fact, you are woven into all that we do and who we are as a family.

So, in those moments when I am unsure if I'm doing things right with our son, I return to a truth that I learned not long after you died. We can only do the best we can with the information we have at the time. Judging our past actions using information we did not have isn't helpful. 

So, today, on our son's 10th birthday, I center myself in that. Even though I may not be certain what you would have picked out for Domani's gift this year or how we would have planned his celebration in the midst of a pandemic, I do know that he has a lot of you in him and that's more than enough for me.

With Love,