A LETTER TO HIS DAUGHTER
May 25, 2008 -- Dear Summer,
"Welcome to the world. Thanks for coming along. I was pretty much out of column ideas.
At present you know me as the seemingly irrelevant figure lurking somewhere in the hazy background behind Mommy, the beautiful lady who sings Gershwin to you. When you learn to speak, you may address me as "Pater." I write this four days after your birth. In case something happens to me - perhaps I am destined to be disappeared by a Canadian extremist group or run over by the 1 train (which I probably deserve; I'm one of those people who sticks his head out over the subway platform and peers seethingly down the tunnel) - allow me to leave behind some advice for you to read at a later date, when adolescence starts to jangle your personality or you contemplate a college that costs $150,000 a year.
Know when to hold 'em. Know when to cheat.
No matter what boys may tell you, they are only interested in one thing: sports.
It was genetically pre-ordained that you should chafe at taking orders from people who are stupider than you. Try not to murder them.
Wear sunscreen. I can get sunstroke from a reading lamp, and your mom is so pale she looks like the illustration of a ghost in a Bronte novel. As a matter of fact, try not to go outdoors much. It's noisy and there are bugs.
When the idiot winds blow and the darkest hour looms, you can't go wrong with a P.G. Wodehouse book. I've left 45 of them to get you started.
Oh, and pessimism is overrated. A great man who will (as you are my daughter) give you many moments of wild joy once stated, "I have to admit it's getting better." At the time of your birth, this was a minority view, which is one reason it is worth looking into. (The more widely-held observation is: Cry, and the world cries with you.)
Thirty years ago the air of the city of your birth was choked with car exhaust. At the end of the previous century, the streets were feet deep with horse manure and urine. Most things get better as the decades skip by. (Exceptions: George Lucas movies, the songs on top of the pop charts, traffic). It is becoming routine to live to be 100, middle-class people are buying vacation property, and communication, information and entertainment are virtually limitless and almost without cost. Futurists predict that someday, possibly within your lifetime, cancer will become a manageable chronic condition, cars will run on hydrogen and the final investigation into Princess Diana's death will conclude.
I'm not going to say I was starved for entertainment before you came along, but you are one splendid little wriggler. Watching you grip my finger never gets old. Your conversation shows room for improvement, though without saying a word you have taught me much, such as the unfeasibility of keeping socks on mini-feet and the mighty power of advanced cuddling. Daily my vocabulary expands with words that sound like Jazz Age hipsterisms ("Boppy," "SnugRide") and my swaddling skills approach the grandmaster level. And all of this while you lie confused and burrito'd in your yellow blanket.
Providing those Canadians don't get me first, the mind reels at the fun we are going to have together. Learning to swim? We Smiths are so buoyant we practically have flippers. Trips to France? Je m'en occupe. Best Billy Wilder movies? "Sunset Blvd." is going to blow your mind. Questions about sex? Talk to your mother.
When I can't be with you, though, keep your strength up the way I have: with vast quantities of junk food. Be kind to animals, except Yankee fans. Drive as if everyone else is a maniac. Don't waste too much time in front of the TV, spend less than you earn, cultivate vegetables and friendships, be confident yet modest. Do not take any crap from, or give it to, anyone. I wish you zesty days and superlative nights. I wish you music and laughter.
Kyle Smith's daughter, Summer Austin Smith, was born last Sunday.
Since Mr. Smith obviously forgot, I'll add just one thing since this is his kid but I don't want my familial descendants having to protect her too.
Learn to defend yourself and the ones you love. Unfortunately, your Dad isn't going to teach you because, well, ask your Mother why.
Oh, and always capitalize 'Mother'. They've earned it.