How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

A Letter From My Dead Father

Posted by , under NOTEBOOK, SNAPSHOTS


I often ask myself why I write here. Who is this for? Do I think it’s even worth reading? This kind of writing can feel like the most self-centered exercise ever undertaken and I surely don’t post enough cat pictures or gossip to compel people to return.

But today’s worth it.

The reason, I’ve found on more than one occasion, that I keep going is wrapped up in the same motivation I had when I found out I was becoming a father: “I wish I knew what my father was thinking when…” And so I catalogue my thoughts like a strange Ikea brochure with unfamiliar words and half-witted construction.

When my father passed away, he gave me two boxes. One box was filled with rejection letters from publishers and pitches he had sent out. The other box, however, contained his personal belongings. Things that still had his scent on them. The prize of that second box was a collection of his personal journals. Today, I want to share something I found in one of those diaries. It’s a letter he wrote to me when I was four years-old…

Dear Charlie,
Your mother and I are in Jamaica now, far away from home in the Caribbean. Since you were a tiny boy I’ve wanted to compose this letter. I guess the thought first came up in a moment when you had again saved my life, or pulled me out of the depths of sadness. I know at the time it would be impossible to make …


… you understand what you’d done for me, what a great gift you have.
You were named after your great grandfather, Charlie Morgan. He and I shared something when I was a little boy: heart.


This. This is why I write. Because even a half-written, well-intended dispatch from a southpoint in time is better than a vague, distant memory evaporating into the Heavens. And how odd that I should find this note at the precise moment when my son is the age I was at the date it was written. Maybe I should buy some lottery tickets?

Much like his attempts as a father to his children, Dad started with great intentions when he began writing to me, but he couldn’t seem to follow through. I’m filled with conflicting emotions about his admission. I can recognize the pain he was going through and identify with the power a son can have over his father. Finnegan has been a catalyst for my growth in ways I never could’ve imagined. But I’m also slumped over in my chair with the weight of the legacy he’s presented. I know the end of the movie that was his life. My father fought himself as much as he fought with his superiors and the meter maids giving him parking tickets. Do we dare make our kids responsible for our well-being?

Losing my dad almost ten years ago ultimately meant that I couldn’t go to him for all of my questions about raising children. I keep wishing I could reach him using some ethereal app on my phone that puts people in touch with deceased loved ones. If only the iDead app existed so we could text annoying questions to relatives in their final rest. I’m sure they’d enjoy that. I sure enjoy being woken up at 4:00am by my oldest son after two hours of sleep on Saturday morning, and I’m alive.

But I’m thankful for these journals from the past, even the entries that are less than positive about us kids. There’s something freeing about reading my dad’s description of my childish behavior as “insufferable.” It gives me some room when I’m pleading with my son to try a bite of food that I know he’ll devour though he rejects it on principle. I find the whole thing utterly fucking ridiculous. Such is life. We navigate the ridiculous to seize a genuine moment.

So, pardon me if I ramble or pontificate every now and then. Sometimes, I just want my sons to know how my mind worked. Or how poorly I can construct a sentence. I’ll do my best to finish my letters to them.

What I’m Listening To:

Follow my journal for my sons here.
Follow HowToBeADad’s feed of inane and amazingness here!


67 Responses to “A Letter From My Dead Father”

  1. Desiree Fawn says:

    So many tears, dude. Beautiful <3

  2. Kelly Snell says:

    I have no words, just tears.

  3. John Kinnear says:

    Crying at work. Thanks Charlie. No really, thanks for sharing that.

  4. So glad you have this and shared it.

  5. Dadmissions says:

    excellent post… writing about my father just recently too… Can be very therapeutic..

  6. Adrian Kulp says:

    An absolutely amazing way to remember your dad…this had me in tears, bro…what amazing foresight on your pops part. Incredible.

  7. Nathan says:

    Wow, just no words. Amazing.

  8. Dave Lesser says:

    Great stuff, Charlie. Yours was one of the Dad 2.0 breakout sessions I regret missing. It sounds like you had/have a really conflicted relationship with your father and his legacy. You’re doing amazing things &, unlike most people, learned from a lot of his mistakes (as well as the things he did right).

    • Charlie says:

      Trying to learn and carry his name. It’s a daily battle, of course. Sorry you missed our panel. You didn’t get to hear me sound drunk and unintelligible though I was sober. Then.

  9. Brent Almond says:

    What a gift. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Robert says:

    This is a motivation I’ve never felt before. I’ve always hoped to comes across something like this for me, so at least one of us has.

    Good find, and thanks for sharing!

  11. Seth says:

    Charlie Capen FTW!

  12. JeninCanada says:

    And this is why How to be a Dad is my favourite parenting blog, hands down. *slow claps*

  13. carl says:

    I am blown away. Thank you to your father for the inspiration. I am going to work on that letter, I have been putting it off long enough.

  14. Jes'Me says:

    Thanks. I have exactly nothing from my father to show that I was ever important to him. Perhaps it’s time I start writing to my boy-o so he’ll know how he saved my heart.

  15. Joe Bonebrake says:


  16. Mark Duddridge says:

    Thanks for posting this. I started writing letters to my kids, but kept them in a long-lost flash drive. It was quute cathartic and more for my own introspection than their reflection. Losing that flash drive, though, took with it any energies I had in such an endeavor. Maybe I’ll start again…

  17. linda kuzior says:

    Great job- loved reading this post. I’ve been putting off my letter to my sons for years.

  18. Carlo says:

    I would recommend developing a prayer life. You’d be surprised how close it is to your “iDead” idea. No you won’t ever hear a little voice, but I suspect if you develop a good prayer life and keep it up you’ll end up with all the answers to the questions you wish you could ask your father, communicated via your heavenly Father.

    BTW a great blog post, I’m glad you’re able to share this with the world.

  19. Jason Greene says:

    I put off reading this for a few hours because I knew it would be heavy. And it is and I thank you for writing it. Great stuff. You’re so lucky to have his handwritten thoughts.

  20. Seamus says:

    I so get this. My dad left us 2 years before we had our boy, and it still gets to me. Part of me can’t forgive my dad for not being here for him.

    A letter is a wonderful thing. So is what you’ve written here. Your son’s a lucky boy.

  21. Kat says:

    Beautifully written! I can relate in so many ways, how I wish my own Dad had kept a nicely updated blog for me to look back on. Get to work on that app please.

  22. Deb says:

    Charlie, A really touching post. Thanks. One thought to add….even those of us who aren’t journaling online, don’t have to wait till we’re gone of to share such a letter with our kids. (of course). My dad wrote me a similar letter (albeit a bit lighter in tone) and gave it to me when I was like 16. I still have it. It’s faded and torn from years and many readings. It’s goodness.

  23. Happiestdaddy says:

    Beautifully presented – heartfelt and honest, like the best of writing. I write to my kids every week & hand write them letters on their birthdays. It’s my way of leaving them a piece of me along with a historical trail of their childhoods. I only hope they do the same for their kids.

  24. Wow, what an amazing thing to share. No doubt you treasure it.

  25. Mike says:

    Thank you for writing this.
    As it stands,I have two young boys ages 2 and below. I have struggled with how to document my views of them as they grow…not much of a journal guy..but I found a thought on Facebook…one of the non sucky ones. I started an email account for both. I write as often as I can about: stuff, anything I can think of..
    I’ve died the passwords in a safe place and written instructions to the wife on how to access…but if I’m still around when they are 18, they get the password.

  26. Kristi N says:

    I became a mom almost 9 months ago (nearly exactly a year after loosing my mom and 9 years after losing my father). I can’t tell you how many times I have fervently wished I could just call my mom for some snippet of parenting advice or encouragement when the going gets tough. You are so right in saying “even a half-written, well-intended dispatch from a southpoint in time is better than a vague, distant memory evaporating into the Heavens”. What am amazing gift to your sons to leave so much more…..

  27. Ed says:

    There was an episode of black mirror where a guy discovers an app that uses an algorithm to reconstruct the online presence of a person who has died in a way so that you could inteact with them on Twitter etc. A bitdark but possible in the near future.

  28. Unrealisticmom says:

    My mum died 6 months before I got pregnant with my beloved son, my first-born and the child who would have been her first grandchild. If you ever invent iDead, could you let me know? My life is so full of joy with my son, and so bitter-sweet that she never met him, and he never had what would have been an absolutely fabulous, loving and funky granny… It’s been 7 years, and I still miss her so much – and man, I could use some advice sometimes…

  29. Just, WOW. I got a letter from my mother six months after she died. She was bipolar and suicidal for much of my life, and I was supposed to save her. Or so we both thought. So I relate to this so deeply… My mother was an amazing woman, a real force in my life, a magical, partially unhinged personality. And even though I have memories with a lot of pain, I would never trade them. Ever. Thanks for sharing this. Beautifully written and brave. xo

  30. Chris says:

    The thing I struggle with most since my father passed away is not being able to talk to him about what life was like with me and my brother. It was as if I needed someone I really respected to tell me that it’s okay that I find parenting difficult sometimes. I’m happy that you found this letter. Your kids will really appreciate the look back someday.

  31. What an incredible find, Charlie! You honor your father by trying to unravel his mysteries, and by wrestling with his failings as you do. Thanks for your honesty, and for sharing.

  32. neal says:

    There’s something really mind-bending and powerful about the way that we can leave behind a legacy once we’re gone. Of course physical objects are just physical objects, up until the point that they’re something more. Strange to think of the ways that so many of us describe being okay with letting go of all of our possessions in something like a house fire or earthquake or zombie apocalypse, so long as we can keep our loved ones.

    But when those loved ones are gone, some item they leave behind, or even more powerfully, some message they pen in their own hand, can become some sort of talisman, some sort of prophecy. Partly because of what it meant to them; partly because of what it means to us. In the end, I suppose it’s not the object we treasure; it’s that the thing invokes our collective struggle with meaning, a communal well of effort to which we each contribute, with the hope that it will sustain those who follow after.

  33. David Kepley says:

    I honestly don’t know if I could share something this personal, yet I gain from you doing it.

    You drop a huge nuggets about wrapping our own well being up in our children. Should we, probably not. Can we keep from doing it…I suppose only with concerted effort. How can we distance ourselves from their successes and failures as if we didn’t feel like they were our own? How do we keep our hearts from ripping out of our chests when they hurt. Maybe time will teach me that. Maybe it can’t be learned. Either way, these recorded thoughts are a gift and a challenge to sort through for you. I can read, but I can’t truly understand.

    Thanks for sharing

  34. Noelle Foster says:

    Holy melted mascara! Charlie, you have such a heart. Your boys and lady and so incredibly lucky. Your post reminded me of something my mother said to me once before she passed away. She said when I came along she felt so utterly blessed, and as though she had “a reason to live.” Her admission was pretty heavy for me at the time. It felt like too huge a responsibility for me to bear. Many years later I became a mother and got a glimpse into what she meant. While I can find lots of reasons to live whether as a single woman or a happily married mother, as is now the case, none of these reasons fulfills me as much as the love that I have for my daughter and the pleasure in helping her grow and discover and become the person she was meant to be.

  35. What an incredible find, Charlie. You are lucky to have this letter and the other artifacts your father left behind.

    A few months after my mother passed away, my sister found a note she’d left for all of us. The omniscience it contained still spooks me a bit, but I know it came from a good place.

  36. I just finally got a chance to read this Charlie. Wow, just wow. So cool!

  37. Truly beautiful. I’m happy you have this piece of him that can live on.

  38. Daniel Jorgenson says:

    I can somewhat relate. My father passed away in ’96. The only thing I have from him are but a few good memories. Anything that i would find i would cherish like the last drop of water in a desert. After 4+ years of storing this very large wooden chest for my mother, I decided to get nosey. I would never be prepared for what I would find. In this chest I found at least a hundred handwritten letter from him to my mom and even a few to my brother and I. What really opened the flood gate of tears was a Father’s Day card I (sorta) wrote him when I was 2-3 years old.

    Its hard to look at the letters and see the graphite on the paper, knowing that at one time he held that piece of paper. If I concentrate hard enough, I can hear his voice reading that paper.

  39. Laurie says:

    You are such an important voice in the world, for parenting and the importance of saving memories and stories. I was lucky to sit down across the table from you in Charlotte a couple of years ago, because I like having a friend like you.

  40. Moments like these are so important… and you’ve done a great service to those who follow you by showing them what THEY need to do for their kids.

    Don’t we all want to be loved? To KNOW that we’re loved? To remember our families – to hear them, see them, and love them for what they’ve added to our lives?

    It’s time for video – get out from behind the camera and become a part of the videos your kids will look at in years to come… it’s something real important to do.

    “We will live forever on the Internet.” And so we will…

    Charlie Seymour Jr

  41. Vivien says:

    Hi Charlie,
    Your dad really loved you, but doubted his own ability as a father. I know because my dad always thought that he wasn’t a good father. The truth is he was the best, and I miss him so much, and that’s after twenty seven years. It’s funny how we judge ourselves and others. I judged my mum and our relationship wasn’t easy. I now know that she really loved me and now she is dead, I know that all that counts is that we love each other. All those other stupid things count for nothing.

  42. Jessica says:

    I’ve read it twice now, Charlie, and I just keep coming away with how lucky you are to have had a father that loved you so dearly. Not just that though, it’s so lovely how he took the time to show you how much you mean to him, and even moreso that you are doing the same for your boys. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. And for making me cry AGAIN, I guess. 😉

  43. Kristen R. says:

    Very beautiful. I often write in my journal and imagine my son reading it one day, but forget to take the time to actually write to him. Thank you.

  44. Judy says:

    I perceive that the well intended dispatch from “A South Point in Time” is that you and your brother were the center of the story, the anchors – as you were in his life. 🙂

  45. Brandi says:

    Hi…so inspiring…..Be prayerful….ASK GOD FOR COMFORT…..THNKS FOR THIS WRITING

  46. Brian says:

    This was amazing. I struggle with the notion of reaching out to my father who was never around for me but now, as I raise a boy with autism (I have a girl as well), I wonder what he was thinking. Not that he abandoned me/us cause he was “available” but why let me down as a son. Something I cannot fathom for my boy (or daughter). I really appreciate you sharing this. Makes me realize I am fighting myself a bit here and that if I want resolution, better get it while I can. Thanks again. Be well.

  47. Anne-Marie says:

    Thank you for such an honest reaction. Your talent really is that honest voice that cuts through even the thickest snark.
    This was such a complicated read for me. My dad used letters to his daughters as outlets for uninterrupted verbal abuse; it was awful. Now, he’s not speaking to us at all, which is better. My point is, I suppose, that I don’t want my son to ever have anything out of my father’s mind, or how it “works,” imposed on him. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to get away from its endless outpourings and projections. He has made me responsible for his wellbeing (or lack thereof, depending on his mood) and both were awful, terrible responsibility. Saving his life or ruining it… I couldn’t do either, not even if I wanted to.
    I do blog about my baby boy all the time, though. I have grown comfortable with the idea that I will never know what it will all feel like for him, when he finds it. I did break the cycle of emotional and verbal abuse, though, so I know that when my son reads my thoughts about being his mom, he will, at the very least, know that I am not writing AT him. Insight into what I’m thinking and feeling is a really gorgeous way to think about what I do. Thanks for that.

  48. joel says:

    As a first time father, (expecting a little girl), with a very disconnected relationship with my father, thank you. Heartwarming at least, it leaves me with hope and aspiration.

  49. We found a half-written letter to me on my dad’s computer this week. I’m grateful to have any of it, but I wish I had the rest, so I’d know what he’d been wanting to tell me for so many years. But he got so weak at the end. I also feel a little guilty because, in not being able to finish my letter, he never got to write letters to either of my younger brothers.

  50. Laura says:

    I’ve done this, myself, but realized I was putting a lot on my children as well. I think the words will be a comfort one day, if not the treasure they need to pull them out of situations where they’d set the bar too high, or they are being too harsh on themselves, or they can’t find the answer. At the end of the day, there’s something of great value in knowing your superhero didn’t have all the avers, either.

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