Dear E and I,
I’m writing this about three weeks before you’re supposed to make your grand debut on this planet. Today is Father’s Day; really, it’s a made-up day and excuse for the necktie, greeting card and beef industry to compel people to purchase their wares as a way to assuage their daddy issues by buying their crap. Like any other day, it means as much as anyone chooses to ascribe meaning to it.
Today is my first Father’s Day because…well, let’s not talk about that. Not yet. Let’s just say you two showed up and turned your mama and daddy’s lives upside down. And, in case you haven’t figured this out, your daddy is a very complicated human being. (A hint, which will give you a leg up on the world around you: we all are.)
I want you to know about the various other fathers who have gone before you and me. By the time you two are able to read and fully understand this, you’ll know me well enough, or at least, I hope you will. I never knew my paternal grandfather; he died several years before I was born. Everyone who knew him, though, says that I’m his redux. The accounts I’ve heard of Walter Elias Sirvio are that he was a big, barrel-chested man who worked as a mechanic in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (Apocryphal stories about him lifting an old Dodge engine block with his bare hands are unverified, but probably true.) He was a powerful man, a man of integrity and a salty, aloof personality. He was fiercely devoted to his wife and family; even striking it out alone to Milwaukee to find work in the early 1960s and moving the family down later when he could afford it. He wasn’t a very vocal character, but when he spoke–or yelled–people listened.
By the time your grandmother and grandfather were married, he was in poor health and declining. Your grandfather was working as a sheriff’s deputy in the 70s in Iowa when my grandfather died in Milwaukee. He worked third shift the night before his dad passed away. The alarm went off that morning, waking my father.
The alarm was never set.
My father, your grandfather, was the middle child and only son born to his parents. Walter James Sirvio was a mama’s boy and a mischievous child. The story about how he stole/ate the minister’s fried chicken is priceless, as are the stories of him stealing the keys out of the cars parked on the street in Ontonagon, MI. (Once upon a time, people left the keys in their unlocked cars. Once upon a time, people actually weren’t so concerned with stuff and looked out for one another. Those days are long gone, but you should always be more concerned with people than with stuff.) He loved dismantling and tinkering with things and, naturally, followed in his father’s footsteps as a mechanic, until he had an encounter with God and committed to faith in Christ. From there, as James Walter Sirvio, he went to Bible college in Minnesota, found out it wasn’t quite right for him, found his wife and wound up in the Minnesota Police Academy.
Your grandmother told me on several occasions that your grandfather would have made for an incredible criminal mastermind. He, instead, fought for years to support his family, first in deputy’s work, then in insurance claims, then as an insurance accounts executive. He worked his way to a very successful career, while always finding time to fix cars, televisions (which used to be gigantic, bulky appliances that one needed to get up and adjust manually), VCRs (we used to have these things called videotapes before discs and streaming), stereos and turntables (of which you should be well familiar, if I’ve raised you to be anything resembling my daughters), computers (which also used to be gigantic and bulky before they fit in your pocket and were a wellspring of cat memes and textspeak).
He was faithful to his wife and two sons, a generous man, even to this day, you will never meet a person whose generosity and goodwill will be matched by his. He is a compulsive, passionate man–for better or, in seldom circumstances, for worse–whose convictions are resolute and who many said was a source of strength. A minister told me once that he felt that if your grandfather, who was a church elder and lay leader for many years, was on his side, he was on the right side of any decision. Though your grandfather’s back perpetually ached, he gave of himself liberally. He still does, and I know he is beyond thrilled to meet you; the first Sirvio girls born since his youngest sister nearly 60 years ago. You will be doted upon and spoiled, though it will pain your mother and yours truly. It’s who he is, a loving, generous man of faith and means he worked to earn over the years. I hope you get to know him well as you grow up. Your uncle and I were blessed beyond measure to have him in our lives as a nurturing and mentoring figure. He is a truly good man, and I, like most sons, failed to recognize that until after I left the house for college. Until after I got married. Until after I failed in ministry once, failed in ministry again, moved out-of-state, moved again. I will never fully understand the virtues he upholds by example and with such apparent effortlessness.
The jury’s still out on your own father. Everything I’ve done up to this point has amounted to so little. When I first learned that there was at least one of you on that fateful November morning, it terrified me. The fact that you’re coming still terrifies me. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve alienated almost everyone I’ve worked with or underneath. I’ve developed a knack for burning bridges and making people angry. I’m still digging out from years of selfish living. I earned degrees in fields which underpin our society but are largely unrecognized by it. I’ve been defamed, betrayed, lied about, lied to, ignored and there are some places I cannot go because of the reputation I’ve earned for being, well, me.
So I will try, I will fail, I will drive you crazy and make you mad. I will also pick you up when you fall off your bikes, tend to you when you’re sick, kiss you good night every night I can, read to you and give you everything I can to make you thoughtful, intelligent girls who won’t back down from injustice or popular opinion. I will scare the crap out of those who don’t belong in your life. You will also never throw like a girl. If I’ve done my job, you’ll have exquisite taste in music, both in what you’re listening to and how you’re listening to it. I will destroy anyone who hurts you, or anyone who tries to tell you that five-point Calvinism is a valid theological framework. And, when the day comes that you leave home, I will ache and long for these days when I was scared to be a father. Everyone says this happens too quickly. Disconcertingly, they’re right: it’s already happening. We’ll be having deep conversations and figuring out your lives before long at all.
I hope I make you proud and do you both justice. I can’t promise I’ll be the perfect father, I might or might not be very good at this, but I will be damned if I can’t try to be the very best for you and provide everything you need to be the best little ladies possible. I love you girls more than anything. You are my crowning achievement, you carry my name and the future is yours for the taking.
Happy Father’s Day, E and I. Thank you for the privilege to be yours. I look forward to seeing you soon.
With everything I am, I remain,
Brent Elias Sirvio,
Now and forever, your devoted, loving father.