A Letter to My Son – Two Years Later

Your sister is beautiful.

She was born last November. She smiles all the time. She sleeps through the night. She gets quieter when she cries. People keep telling me that we have the perfect baby. She is so happy, so smiley, so pretty, so cute. They say we’re lucky to have such a reasonable and well-adjusted baby. We are. Then they say we probably won’t be so lucky with our second child. That is the part that gets me. Everyone always asks the same basic question.

“Is this your first?”

I say yes because I think that saying no, or even hesitating before saying yes, would make people uncomfortable. I don’t like to lie, but it’s probably for the best in that context. If you really can see me from heaven, you know I apologize under my breath every time I say yes. But just to you. No need to make people feel bad. The one thing most people said immediately after you left was “I can’t imagine how you’re feeling” and I could never figure out why they were trying to imagine something so awful. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone.

You never took a breath, or opened your eyes, or heard my jokes, or felt me kiss your head as many times as I could. You waved at me during the last ultrasound we saw. You were alive. I never thought you were saying goodbye. But you are still our first.

I’m still too scared to open the box we took home from the hospital with all your things. It hasn’t moved since I told you about it last year. It sits in the corner of our bedroom on top of your mom’s dresser. I’ve wanted to open it, but I never got up the courage. I keep telling myself that I left you alone because I wanted to make you a better box before I see you again, but I’m just not ready. Honestly, I don’t know when I will be.

But your sister is beautiful.

Her name is Samantha Alice. We call her Sam or Sami. She is perfect, because of you. You are the reason she exists. Your sacrifice made this perfect little girl come alive and make me happier than I’ve ever been. I will tell her about you when she is older.

My sisters love her. They are better aunts to her than I could have ever hoped. I couldn’t draw up two more amazing role models for my little girl than my own two sisters and I am so grateful they love her as much as I do. You would’ve loved them.

Sami helps me at work sometimes, making sure I know where the phone cord is when I’m trying to talk to people and banging on the space bar when I’m typing. Bananas are her favorite food, though I’m still trying to get her to love avocados. She really likes our dog and cat and yells “AH!” at the cat every time she sees him. We play catch with a practice golf ball my dad gave her and she rolls the ball back to me. Her favorite trick is standing up in her crib, trying to show off when she is supposed to be going to sleep. She’s such a smart little girl.

Please help me and your mother take care of her. Keep her safe when I screw up. Give her advice when she needs it. Protect her from all the dangers in the world that I can’t see. Do your best. I know you will.

I love you as much as ever. I’ll never forget you.

Love,

Dad

Why I (Still) Have a Beard

I started growing a beard on October 30, 2013, just a couple weeks after I learned that my Grampa Ray was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I had first heard about the concept for No-Shave November the year before and wanted to do something for him.

No-Shave November is “a month-long journey during which participants forgo shaving and grooming in order to evoke conversation and raise cancer awareness.” When I looked it up a couple years ago, the majority of the cause seemed to be focused on generating donations and interest to help find a cure for prostate cancer. To participate, you are supposed to stop using a razor for 30 days and donate all the expenses you would have spent on facial care to help fund prostate cancer research. It seemed like a decent idea.

I was almost 30 years old and had never let my facial hair grow more than a few days, mostly because I just didn’t think it would work. My 5-o’clock shadow usually took a week, and even that didn’t show much potential for full facial coverage if I decided to extend my razor’s inactivity. I didn’t have confidence that my face had the capacity to grow a full beard, so I never really gave it much thought. I figured I had a pretty good reason to try this time, so I donated $50 to the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Grampa Ray’s name and gave it a shot.


My new beard, about three weeks old. 

After getting past a patchy couple months in the early stages, I eventually succeeded in growing a real, honest-to-goodness beard. It was magnificent. I started to notice other beards out in the world and would always be greeted with a slight nod of recognition for our mutual accomplishment. I learned that beard people were good people. We all shared an unspoken language, and that language was beard. I kept warm in the winter, made new friends, and received the first appearance-related compliments of my life because of my new beard. It made me happy, so I kept it going.

Once November was over, I had to begin saying “I started growing my beard for No-Shave November” instead of “I’m growing my beard for No-Shave November” and I was surprised at just how often the subject still came up. I mean, it was literally right in front of my face, but I didn’t realize how much of a conversation piece it would become. People who knew me were interested in why I changed, and strangers were interested because it looked so darn cool (I assume). I eventually realized that I was having that conversation several times each day and proving the concept of “No-Shave November” in a direct and personal way.

I started getting more excited about being asked the question and, occasionally, actually convinced someone to take action. I made funny business cards that linked to a fundraising website and passed them out to anyone who asked about my beard. One guy cried and shook my hand because he had found out his father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer the day before and was glad I was doing something to help. I convinced a few men to grow beards of their own and tell everyone about the cause. Four people donated money to the Prostate Cancer Foundation through a link on my website. It wasn’t much, but it was something. I also had a sweet beard, so it was really a win-win for everyone.

RyanBeard

My beard on a mountain, home of its ancestors.

When people asked how long I planned to keep my beard, I told them I knew when I’d shave, but I didn’t know when that would be. I didn’t offer any other clues and loved the confused reactions I got from people when they asked. I knew the answer was intentionally confusing because I tied my shaving to an event with an unspecific date, but it was a fun little game to play. I always knew what would cause me to shave, but I just didn’t know when it would happen. Unfortunately, it happened. Grampa Ray died on November 29, just six days after his 90th birthday.

I had promised myself that I’d keep my beard as long as Grampa Ray was alive. Now, with his passing, I have given myself permission to shave and I realize that I don’t really want to go through with it. Though my beard looks rough and imposing, it is really quite soft and eventually makes friends with everyone. Its a friendly beard trapped in a grizzly beard’s body. There have been times where the beard would become annoying or stubborn or just plain mean, especially in the summer, but I still love it. As anyone who ever met Grampa Ray can attest, it seems like the perfect reminder of him.

I don’t have as many conversations about prostate cancer awareness as I used to when my beard was new, but they still happen. I let my fundraising site’s domain name expire when I ran out of business cards, but I still donate to the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Grampa Ray’s name. You should donate, too. I always think of him whenever I can’t eat soup like a normal person. For as much as I might sometimes look forward to a clean shaven face, every tiny struggle, and success, I have with my beard just makes me smile and think of Grampa Ray. It’s only been a week, but I don’t really see how that changes now.

I think I’ll keep my beard a while longer.

GrampaRay

Grampa and I.