It’s a story as old as fatherhood itself. The son or daughter kills themselves to win the approval of their dad, which never seems to come. There is pain, resentment, bewilderment. I have worked so hard to make you proud, am I just not enough? Only at the end, or after the parent’s death, is it revealed: The child had the thing they wanted all along. They just never knew.
This was Claudia Williams’, the daughter of Ted Williams, story. Only buried in a pile of memorabilia did she find a note left by her impossible-to-please father. “To my beautiful daughter,” it said, “I love you. Dad.’” In an obituary of the brilliant publisher Sonny Mehta, Roger Cohen writes:
“When Mehta’s father, a diplomat, died in Vienna, Mehta found in his desk a folder with every article ever published about him. The pride of his father, who had never complimented his son, was evident.”
It breaks your heart. Why couldn’t they have expressed some of this when they were alive? Was it a generational thing? Did they think it was helping to make their kids better, tougher? We wonder this about our own parents sometimes: Did they lack the words, did they just not know any better? Why couldn’t they have been more like Jim Valvano’s father and given us the gift of being a fan?
In the end, these questions don’t get answered. We’ll never know. What we do know, what does matter, is what we do with our kids right now. We have been given a second chance. We have been given our own opportunity. We can’t wait to be proud. We can’t keep our feelings for them hidden under piles of paper or in a drawer in our desk. We have to tell them now. We have to show them now.
That we’re rooting for them. That we love them. That we believe in them. That we’re proud of them. Because we are. And they deserve to know it—before it’s too late. Before it’s just some bittersweet memory of a connection that should have been there…but for mysterious reasons, never was made.