To the child we never had. I am writing to you today because it is my wedding anniversary. And I get reflective on days like this. On each anniversary I usually feel the overwhelming sensation that I have won the Florida Lotto. Because in many ways I have.
You see, I am still very much in love with your mother after these years of marriage. And I don’t know how I found this proverbial lucky lottery ticket. But what can I say, kid? Sometimes in this life you actually win.
At one time we’d even hoped to have a son or daughter. But alas, nobody can win all the time. Thus, you exist only within my imagination.
Although I still love you a lot. And if you were here, seated on my knee, that’s exactly what we’d talk about. Love. I’d tell you everything I know about it. Because my biggest beef with my own species is that we get love all wrong.
Take me. For the first half of my life I had no idea what the stuff was. Which is a downright tragedy. How come other creatures within the animal kingdom seem to comprehend romantic love better than we humans do?
Canada geese mate for life. Wolves do too. And whales have such elaborate courting rituals they make humans appear as sensitive as Pop Tarts.
And yet we write huge novels about love. Movies are made about it. Trillions of songs are penned about it. People are constantly trying to understand it, grappling with it, fighting for it, chasing it, or struggling to believe in it.
But somehow we still get it all wrong.
As you grow (hypothetically, of course) the first falsity they’ll teach you about romantic love is that it’s all about good looks. This is drilled into kids’ heads from infancy. Boys are taught to go looking for Jayne Mansfield, and girls are sent out to marry Brad Pitt, or at the very least someone with a 401(k).
Go watch a few romance flicks and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The movies feature protagonists who are all looking for meaningful relationships with rich supermodels who have perfect hair, great personalities, straight teeth, clear skin, and extremely tight assets.
Just once, I’d like to see a romance film starring a middle aged redhead with an overbite and a size-36 waist.
But anyway, do you know what I think about when I think about real love? You’re going to laugh when I tell you. I think about a house.
It’s true. I think about a plain-looking house that used to sit on the street where I used to live. It was a pretty home. Single story, with white clapboards, and a detached garage. It was built in the early 1920s, and it was so ordinary that nobody ever noticed it. It was owned by an elderly couple who had been married 65 years.
Throughout the home’s lifetime it had seen it all. From Woodrow Wilson to Madonna. Sometimes newer, more modern houses would pop up beside the old home, seemingly overnight. These were fancy, futuristic homes, built with sloppy present-day construction techniques.
These homes made the old place look like a shack by comparison.
But do you know what? Over time, something became apparent within that little neighborhood. It happened when the modern homes started fading, and eventually falling apart.
Their flimsy siding corroded. Their cheap roofs leaked. Their front porches settled and became unlevel. By the time the next era was approaching, all those flashy homes looked uglier than homemade soap.
Meantime, the antique house still sparkled. Although it attracted no attention; it was never a proud home.
One day I once asked the elderly people about their ancient house. Their faces lit up, and I immediately realized that they were very proud of their humble place.
The old man took me on the grand tour. He said his father and mother built the home in 1917 with their bare hands. They had done everything from digging the footings to painting the numbers on the mailbox. It took them several years to finish because they built the home one section at a time.
I could have sworn the old man had tears in his eye when he told me of how his father crafted each window with hand tools and individual panes of glass, all mail-ordered from the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.
He told me that each floorboard had been laid with care. Each rafter, collar beam, and ridge board had been assembled not with screws, but joinery.
There were transom windows above each door so cross breezes could whip through the house during an age before air conditioning. There were perennials in the flower boxes. Gnomes in the front yard.
Every soffit. Ever fascia board. Every copper pipe. Every marigold. It was all love. Pure love. These old folks were not merely homeowners. These were artists.
All the new houses in the world, with their arrogant banisters, extravagant rooflines, cheap siding, and aluminum air ducts, could never compete with the humble craftsmanship of love.
Well, at least that’s how I see it. And that’s what I would have told you if you’d actually been born.
Because as it happens, I have been fortunate enough to know love. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t find real love because I’m so smart. I’m not. The truth is, love found me.
And it all happened one beautiful December day. A day just like today. When a woman named Jamie Martin became my wife and rebuilt my heart with her own hands. I don’t deserve her, nor do I deserve the majesty that fills our humble life.
But like I said, kid, sometimes you win the lottery.