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Gobsmacked by my Younger Self

November 2nd, 2021 by dk

My elder son turns 40 tomorrow. My younger son eloped during a Hawaii vacation last month. He and his wife are expecting their first child together in a few weeks. I wondered if I’d ever have a grandchild. Mercy willing, that question will be put to a healthy rest soon. The Kahle clan will overflow the cornucopia of gratitude this Thanksgiving.

I marked these rites of passage for my boys by giving to each a book of letters that my wife and I wrote to the adults they’d grow to become. The books might not have been uncovered, if my elder hadn’t shown unusual courage recently.

He determined that his best future is in Connecticut, where we lived until he was 12. He arrived here a few weeks ago, determined to divest. He called high school buddies, former colleagues, anyone who could think of with similar interests. He sold a few things, shipped a few things, but mostly gave stuff away. One friend drove from Seattle to fill his car with part of the largesse.

“I figured out that all the stuff was weighing me down,” my son told me. Like the traveler in “Pilgrim’s Progress,” he lightened his load. He didn’t ask me to store it all “just in case.” Like a sea captain ordering his ships burned after reaching the shore, he signaled that he’s not turning back. He even changed his phone number, so you know he’s serious.

While one son burned his ships, the other battens down his hatches. Stormy seas lie ahead for him and his young family. They’re ready. He bought a house nearby before the market exploded. He can walk to the river when he needs to catch his breath. Or fill a corner pothole with a dozen bags of store-bought concrete when he realizes that street repair help isn’t coming to Glenwood any time soon.

I took a couple of days to read the letters we’d written to them when they were infants, toddlers, and adolescents. The letters weren’t focused on an imagined future. We didn’t ask them how they like their flying cars, though one does drive a Tesla. We shared with them what it was like for us during those years. The writings became, at least for me, an ongoing confessional.

I was gobsmacked how painful those years were for me. The writings allowed me to completely re-inhabit that pain. I cried for a couple of days, reliving the early years of our life together. I couldn’t juggle all the demands on my time without dropping things that seemed important. I couldn’t borrow money because I was self-employed. I always showed up, but confessed to not feeling fully present.

I was constantly exhausted, sad and afraid. And (thankfully) I had completely forgotten it all, until a few weeks ago. Life has only gotten harder for young families since the 1980s. I’m determined to make it a bit easier for those around me. I’ll be more thankful this Thanksgiving for whatever help I received, and for the help I can now give.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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