Hey, Jackie. Congrats on being born last Tuesday. Welcome to Earth, kid. Your mother says you tipped the scale at nine pounds and nine ounces. Please allow me to be the first to say: Dang.
You’re a big boy and you haven’t even discovered carbohydrates yet.
Your mother also told me she named you after Jack Roosevelt Robinson, the baseball player who scored 947 runs, had 1,518 hits, and stole 197 bases over 10 seasons. Robinson embodied the American spirit and revolutionized the game. I, for one, think it was a fine choice for a name.
And a good name is important in this world because a name sticks with you. A name outlives you. Sometimes in life it will seem as though your name is all you have left.
But anyway, the reason I’m writing to you, Jackie, is because when your mother emailed yesterday she sounded pretty blue.
Your mom said your family situation is not ideal. Many of your immediate family members have left the picture, and your biological father is absent.
“I feel like I have no family,” wrote your mother. “Like we’re all alone and nobody cares about us.”
So even though you are still in the maternity ward, and have therefore yet to receive a valid tax-ID (EIN) or accumulate any credit history, there are some things I want to tell you. Things I have learned in my short life. So I’ll quit wasting your time and cut to the car chase:
Your mother is wrong.
She is not alone. Neither are you. You both have a very real family. And it’s an exponentially big one, too. You just don’t know it yet.
Listen to me. Family is not DNA and it has nothing to do with your gene pool. It’s not about biological traits, sharing a last name, or having the same predisposition toward high LDL. Your family is people who love you, plain and simple.
I know that sounds like simple logic, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s easy to believe you’re adrift in the proverbial ocean. All I can say is, think again.
In your life you will meet people who will openly love you come hell or hurricane. And often these people will crawl right out of the wallpaper to find you.
If you don’t believe me, look at your nurses who have been visiting the maternity ward all morning simply to nuzzle and pinch your chubby-wubby little nine-pound chicken thighs. They are your family.
Think of the derelict writer in Florida with a limited grasp on the English language and a significant overbite. I am your family.
Non-blood relatives can love just as sincerely as blood ones. I know this for a fact.
Take me. I grew up without much family. My immediate family was itty bitty. During childhood I had no relatives call to wish me a happy birthday, nobody sent Christmas cards, or attended graduations.
At my wedding I had three biological relatives in attendance. And one of them was distracted, listening to the Alabama game via radio earpiece.
But don’t feel sorry for me, for this would be a mistake. Because before my wedding, while I was in my dressing room, feeling lonely, wallowing in a commercial-sized vat of self-pity, do you know what happened to me?
I’ll tell you.
Visitors, Jackie. I had visitors by the myriads. They never quit knocking on my door. I must have hosted 1,700 guests in my Ken-doll-sized dressing room.
There were church ladies who straightened my collar, kissed my hair, fixed my lapel, and called me baby. There were former coworkers who showed up to the wedding with breath so potent they could have killed houseplants. There were past school teachers who tucked cash into my shirt pocket and left lipstick traces on my forehead. Family.
When you’re an adult you’ll sometimes be tempted to throw yourself a pity party. But if you truly open your eyes you will see a congregation of us standing around you.
We are those who have chosen to be in your life. We are those who do not leave. When the going gets difficult—and believe me it will—we will be the ones who love you enough to make sure you eat right, fill out your W-9s, and get your tires rotated every 7,500 miles.
No, we aren’t much to look at. We aren’t the most handsome kinfolk you’ve ever seen. We are a humble clot of plain human beings who don’t have many material possessions to give you. But don’t underestimate us because although we are meek, we have our PhDs in love.
We have each had our own struggles, we’ve surmounted our own obstacles, much like your mother. Sometimes we’ve mistakenly believed this world was sad and unlovely. Sometimes we’ve doubted the goodness of mankind.
But something wonderful always comes along to convince us that this world is a magnificent place. And while I can’t speak for everyone else, I’ll tell you what finally convinced me.
A night-pound-nine-ounce kid who, simply by being born, made my family a little bigger.