I am still struggling between freedom and structure. On one hand, I would like you to have the freedom to do whatever you want. On the other hand, I also need some structures, especially with Đạo and Đán. Every time you punch and kick each other, I feel the pain too. Should I step in to stop the fight or should I let you hurt each other until you figure out yourself? As a father, I find it too hard to stand and watch or to look away. My intervention doesn’t seem to get into your head. It rages me to see you repeat again and again as if my words have no meaning.
From the way you threw tantrums in public and the way you ignored your mom’s and my words continue to irritate me. I told you again and again, but nothing stuck. I had been hard on you lately and I am regretting it. So I am going to try the opposite direction. I am going to give you as much freedom as I can. As long as you don’t harm Xuân and Vương, I will trust you to make your own choice.
If you don’t want to read, I won’t make you. If you hate Taekwondo, you can quit. If you don’t want to take swimming lessons, you can stop. If you want iPad all the time, I won’t stop you. If you don’t want to take a bath, that’s fine. If you don’t want to brush your teeth, that’s on you. If you don’t want to eat, stay hungry.
I’ll do all I can to refrain from yelling at you or punishing you. I won’t cautious you when you fall, but I will be there for you when you get hurt. I won’t tell you what to do unless you ask for my advice. I won’t stop you loving you, but I will stop restraining you.
I had been wrong all along about how to love you. I had been over-protective. I worried too much about your behavior. I expected too high from you. I am ready to let go of who I want you to be and let you be who you want to be. By not reigning you in, I hope that you’ll soar instead of fall. Even if you fall, I’ll be there to pick you up.
Everyone makes mistakes. I made countless of mistakes in my life and being a parent is one of them. I hope that you will forgive me. My intention had been to be good to you. I wanted to give you a father-and-son relationship that I didn’t have. I am not blaming my dad for my mistakes. I am on a good term with him now. I don’t hold any grudges from him anymore. I am a grown man now and I am responsible for my own actions. If I fail you, it’s all on me—not your mom, not my dad.
I am struggling with my own conscience. I thought I would be a good parent, but I am not. I hope it is not too late to make the change. I am grateful that I have you. I thank your mother and the man above everyday for giving me four healthy, energetic boys. I know people who would love to have one kid, but they can’t. I know parents who don’t have the time to be with their kids everyday; therefore, I should not take our precious time together for granted. I love you four from the bottom of my heart.
These letters I am writing you were inspired by Julie Yip-Williams who wrote to her daughters when she was diagnosed with deadly cancer. In her letters, she was completely opened about her dying. Her hope was that her daughters would understand when they get a chance to read her words. I don’t want to wait until I become ill to begin to write to you.
Death is a heavy subject, especially at your age. I am still scared, but I have to accept the reality that I won’t escape death. I am still in good health today, but I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. These days, massive strokes and cancers can easily cut someone’s life short. If it were my turn to go, my greatest concern is you. I hope will remember me, but I want you to live on with your life.
One of the benefits of having four siblings is that you can rely on each other. When I was a kid, I loved this Vietnamese proverb: “Một cây làm chẳng nên non, ba cây chụm lại nên hòn núi cao.” It means one tree alone can’t do much, but three trees together will make a mountain. The four of you can make anything together. Even if I would end up in hell, I would be happy to know that you guys love and take care of each other. So don’t cry for me. Just remember my wish.
Sorry, this letter is a bit dark, but I want you to understand how I feel about death before it would be too late. I can’t take time for granted. Last week, one of my friends passed away unexpectedly. A few weeks before his death, we were going to get together with him. He met Đạo and Đán, but not Xuân and Vương. Unfortunately, we lost our chance. He had a massive stroke and could not recover. Life is short. So don’t wait before it’s too late.
Let’s talk about money, boys. I know you don’t understand the concept of money yet, but I want to write this down while it is still fresh in my mind. I hope you will never run into money issue with your brothers, but you can refer to this letter if you do.
The other day, Đạo and Xuân fought over a pack of Pocky at the playground and I made all of us go home. No matter how hard tried to calm you down, you were not able to control yourself. One of you went as far as screaming, “I hate my brother.” I would be a thousand times worse with money.
The power and evilness of money can create conflicts within family members. Even today I still witness tensions between adult siblings over money. Money can sabotage relationships and make family members turn on each other. I do not want to see that happening to you guys. Do not let money gets in between you and your brothers. No matter what goes on, put your love and respect for each other above money. Money comes and goes. Brothers stay together for life.
Your mom and I aren’t rich; therefore, you won’t have to worry about fighting over our money. The money you earn yourself will be more valuable than anything you inherited. Use money to support each other instead of letting money destroy your relationships. Nothing will hurt me more than seeing you guys fighting over money. Just remember that.
Take control of your money instead of letting it control you. Be generous to your brothers when they are in need. If you can do that for each other, I will be happy and proud. Nothing beats seeing my kids bonding and taking care of each other.
In this letter, I would like to address to each of you individually.
Đạo, I am glad you have found your passion for reading. I wish I had started as early as you had, but better late than never. I hope you can engage your brothers into reading as well. Đán is still struggling, but he can overcome it with our help. You’re the oldest brother. You play an important role in our family; therefore, it hurt me to hear you said, “I hate my family.” Đán looks up to you and he wants to please you, but he has his own interests as well. When he doesn’t want to play Lego with you, it doesn’t mean that he hates you. Give him some space to let him figure out what he would like to do.
Đán, you’re sweet and adamant at the same time. You treat your brothers well, especially baby Vương. I am sure you will be his protector. I hope you and Xuân can work things out. I know Xuân drives you mad, but he is still your younger brother. Both of you are middle kids, you should bond with him more. I can tell that you’re not interested in reading right now, which is fine. Like you, I did not like reading either when I was your age, but I hope that will change for you. Your mom and I are incredibly happy when we see you show some interest in the past few days. You seem to be interested in drawing. That is fantastic. I don’t have the chops and the patience for drawing, but Đạo does. I hope you can collaborate with him.
My dear Xuân, what can I say about you? You’re going through the emotional phrase of your life and that’s fine. We had seen these behaviors from your brothers before, but you soak up new things like a sponge. You are expressive and adaptive. You can be combative at home, but well-disciplined at daycare. Your teachers praised you for your manner and good behavior, but at home you fight tooth and nail with Đán. I hope you treat Đán like you treat Vương. They both your brothers.
Speaking of our Vương, you are the center of attention. Your constant smile melts everyone away. You’re the youngest and the luckiest. You get so much love from everyone even though your brothers could be a bit rough at time. Don’t lose that smile, boy. Your grandma and your aunt said that you look just like me when I was little. I am glad to share that trait with you. You are growing up so fast. I wanted to stop time because you are our last kid and incredibly adorable.
Even though I am blessed and lucky that I get to see you guys everyday, writing these letters gives me an opportunity to reflect on our relationships. Thinking of you and writing about you relax my mind. I hope someday I get to read yours as well.
I am sorry for all the yelling. I get frustrated every time you ignore my words. Bickering with your brothers is part of growing up, but it still drives me nuts. The beauty of being a kid is how quickly you move on without any emotional attachment. One minute you scream at each other, and yet five minutes later you play together again like best friends. When your mom and I fought, we didn’t talk to each other for days or weeks. I am making the change from watching you.
Even when I yelled at you, you still told me that you loved me or that you wanted me to be happy. You melted my heart and made me felt guilty all at once. I am not a perfect father, but I do my best. When you read this letter, I hope you will understand that my frustration stems from love.
I love waking up each morning and having breakfast together. I love hugging you and kissing you before dropping you off to school. I love accompanying you and your friends on field trips. Having school lunch with you takes me back to my childhood memories. Enjoying your mama’s cooking and playing at the playground have become activities I look forward to after work. I hope all of these simple yet treasurable moments we spent together outweighed the not-so-good times.
When we spend so much time together, joy and frictions are bound to happen. If I were to travel for work and only get to see you once in a while, I would be more doting. Thanks goodness, I don’t have to be in that situation. I had always yearned for quiet moments, and yet I missed all the craziness we had at home when I went away for a few days or a week. The grass is always greener on the other side.
If you learn to listen, I promise to be more patience. Let’s work together on that goal if you feel me.
I know sometimes you feel like your mom and I don’t pay attention to you and that we love your brothers more than you. I understand your frustration and anger when you argued or fought with your brothers. You might have wished your brothers didn’t exist. You might think that they had ruined your life.
On the contrary, your brothers shared not only blood, but also a special bond for life. One of the reasons your mom and I have four of you so that you will be there for each other for the rest of your lives. If something were to happen to me or your mom tomorrow, you will still have each other. When we will not be able to take care of you anymore, you will take care of each other.
So appreciate and treasure the time you spend with each other. Create long-lasting memories and trust each other. Do not let anyone, including your spouses in the future, get in between you and your brothers. Do not let money take over your relationships. We do not have any wealth to give you. We can only give you our love and your connection to each other.
Of course we would love to see all of you success in life, but if one of you fall down, help pull him up. Make sure you always look out for your brothers.
My dearest Đạo, Đán, Xuân, and Vương
I have been away from you only for three days, but I already am missing you terribly. I miss seeing you play, hearing you calling me “Daddy,” and eating out together. I can’t wait to go home to kiss you, hold you, and play with you.
I am away from you to look after grandma. She had a flexor tenotomy. The doctor cut a tendon in her toe to ease her pain and to help her walk better. When he used a scalpel to trim off her callous, I went to the bathroom and vomited. I can’t deal with that kind of things too well.
After the procedure, grandma seemed to walk a bit better. In addition to taking care of her, I had a chance to spend some time with her and my sisters. Being around them reminded me of the good old time before I had a family of my own. I treasure these brief moments together with them. They are my love and of course they also love you dearly.
Living without you for a couple of days is hard, but it also gives me an opportunity to reflect and to think about our relationship. The simple fact is that the longer I am away from you the more I realize how much I love you. I can’t imagine being without you for weeks or months. I will see you guys soon.