Open letter to a long lost uncle

Dear my long lost uncle,

I’m sure it seems a little out of the blue, my getting in touch like this. My grandfather asked me to write to you, and his being a person I respect, and care for, I agreed to do it. He mentioned that, since I’m a writer, I might have success where he has failed. His hope is that I may have some magic words that would open your heart.

He’s getting on in years, and while he’s in good health, with every intention of living another twenty years, the odds are against that eventuality. The truth is, he must have been pretty desperate, or else he wouldn’t have enlisted my help. He has daughters, you see, highly competent daughters, who have refused to help, because they respect your apparent wish is to not be found. He next applied to his grandson, who feels the same as his daughters do, that it is your prerogative to contact your father or not. That he’s come so far as to ask me for help means he is losing his mind over the thought that he could die before bring reconciled with you. He feels there is something missing in his life, and that is you, his son.

‘Something missing’ is a polite way of saying ‘giant gaping hole.’ He wishes to know you, and most fundamentally, he wants you to know him. It’s a strong thing, this desire to be known. Perhaps even stronger than the desire to be loved is the need to be known; it’s as though we think a love that does not take into consideration all of our weaknesses and reasons why is not really a love at all, but a form of narcissism on the other’s part. Grandpa loves you from across this divide you keep between yourself and him, but he’d like to know you. And he’d like to be known. You are his son, and if you have a son of your own, you know what that means, you know about the meanings between father and son. It means potentiality, it means family name immortality, it means something that, in some way that I don’t understand, daughters don’t.

I am a daughter, I am the mother of a son. I carry my father’s name, which was his father’s, and his father’s before him. When my son was born, my father asked about his last name, would it be mine? No. My son carries my husband’s father’s last name, and the name of his father before him. My father was disappointed, because despite equality and feminism and none of that stuff really being important at all, fathers want their names to be heard far and wide.

I know you use your father’s name, and he takes pride that you will carry it on. But without the backstory, without the family history, the name is just a collection of letters and sounds The name has no meaning on its own. To your father this name is concrete. It has definitions that stretch back. In your mind, does it have only the meaning and merit you’ve created for yourself? Or is there something more?

When I agreed to get in touch with you, I thought it’d be easy. I found my first kiss on Facebook, smiling next to his son. I found John Cusack on twitter, and now we’re practically besties. But you’re not even on LinkedIn. You don’t even have a google profile page. I ran multiple searches, via multiple engines. I scrolled through 20 plus pages of results. I discovered a house that used to be yours, and detailed records of its sale, and how much you sold it for. I found a business that you were once associated with, but no contact information. I saw some photographs, and a small profile, on what appears to be your new start up, but again, no contact info. There are links where I can upload a resume, but my guess is a letter starting out “Dear Long Lost Uncle” wouldn’t make it through HR.

I found your parents divorce settlement, and records of a dispute from a few years later, some sort of custody thing. Looks like it was brutal. I’m sorry you had to go through that. You should know, however, that divorce runs in our family. It’s a thing that every child gets to experience at least once. The divorce of your parents is the stuff of legend, in our family. From all accounts, it was pyrotechnic, and grandpa never had a chance. Miserable things were said, some of them even believed. The story goes that none of them were true, but I was little, only a few years older than you. My parents had already been divorced, and I was well entrenched in the narrative I’d created for myself, of the well-adjusted creative weirdo who was too self involved to care about anything so meaningless as her own parents divorce.

If you remember me, you remember my 7 year old self, from when we played together at grandpa’s apartment in Queens. There was a large balcony, and a velour, bobble headed dog. There was a mirror that belonged to grandpa’s mother, and we all ate Haagen Dazs out of the container. This was the only time either of us spent alone with grandpa. I was usually in the company of my mom, who I saw infrequently, and you were usually there with me. We played together, and you demanded that I call you ‘uncle,’ despite my being older than you by a few years. You wore glasses, you were small, you clutched some stuffed toy to your chest while you bossed me around. I don’t remember the last time we saw each other, but I remember that you were gone by the time grandpa took me and my mom out for Japanese food, and bought me a little black haired doll wearing orange silk. Grandpa spoke of you frequently, using your first and middle names, the names belonging to himself, and to his father before him.

Your father has no illusions that he could be a real, active part of your life, but know for certain, that you are real in his. He thinks of you every day, wishes for your success, takes pride in the success you’ve had. He would be happy if you would meet with him once, would let him hug you, and tell you how much he loves you. He needs very little affection in return, mostly what he needs is to give it.

You may have discovered that I have no magic words, just memories of small childhood moments we shared. What I do have is experience of the ‘long lost.’ I know what it is to not have someone in your life when you wanted them there so badly that you talked yourself into hating them, that you convinced yourself you didn’t want them there at all. I know what that’s about, and my guess is you know what that’s about to.

In closing, I ask that you consider getting in touch with your father. He’s not a bad man. Whatever horror you experienced in your childhood, know that wasn’t what he wanted for you, and he would change every moment of it if he could. As his grand daughter I can tell you that he deserves a second chance, and so do you.

I remain, your niece,
Libby Emmons

Me, and my son C, and Grandpa, at Target, when we were visiting in February 2012.
Me, and my son C, and Grandpa, at Target, when we were visiting in February 2012.
Me and Grandpa, 2010, in front of the bread oven his father built, in Brooklyn. Bread is still made in this oven.
Me and Grandpa, 2010, in front of the bread oven his father built, in Brooklyn. Bread is still made in this oven.

3 thoughts on “Open letter to a long lost uncle

  1. Well I held it together until paragraph 10. Healing of the heart is different than healing of the psyche; aside from the perceptions, the filters, the unsaid, the sometimes (more often than not) lack of the truth and the manipulations. I am somewhat bereft and don’t know what to say. What I can say is that your grace, love and forgiveness puts me to shame. Thank you, Libby, for being in my world.

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