An old-fashioned, hand-written and land-mailed note my dad wrote me in April 1977 still hangs in my office. It”s framed with a postcard of Abraham Lincoln and his son Thad – the same drawing featured in a poster he bought me on a vacation we took after my parents had gone their separate ways.
"When I saw it," he wrote, "I could tell that Lincoln loved his son very much and it reminded me how much I love you, and how much I miss having you around. I hope you will hang it in your room and think about me when you look at it. Love, Dad."
Even though we lived in the same city, my father often wrote me notes and letters. In my adult years, my mom and dad wrote me letters whether I lived on a different continent or across town. Particularly during difficult times of my life, their letters – especially those about their own similar struggles and about the values that kept them going – gave me strength. The mail also helped shape my character.
Today, quick, sloppily written e-mail often suffices for communication between generations, family and friends. But taking the time to put pen to paper about your values, and sharing the result with people you love, is a tradition worth reviving. Such letter writing could even be the start of new family heirlooms.
I have increased the frequency of the letters I write to my two much younger brothers my dad and stepmom gave me. I see Mike and Greg all the time but know they will soon be graduating high school and moving on. Though I am a person who is typically very quiet about my faith, preferring to try to do more with actions and less with my mouth, I have opened this part of my life to them, too.
"God has helped me through many tough times over my 36 years, and my own faith has often been challenged at other times," I wrote. "At the end of the day, though, I have always believed God exists, that he loves all people, and that we should go to him in prayer and friendship."
Upon retiring from coaching youth sports after a five-year and nearly nonstop volunteer run, I received the gift of a lengthy email from a player that brought tears to my eyes. I had no idea I had been fortunate enough to make such an impact on him. Referring to our team”s commitment to volunteer work, I picked up on a theme from his letter.
"One of the greatest lines I ever read on this subject comes from Martin Luther King, Jr.," I explained. “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”"
Maybe that”s why I”m writing so much now. I”m at the age in which I realize it”s not about me; it”s about who comes next.