Promises and E-mails to Babies

05/06/2011 By Shawn Burns

The Google Chrome video, “Dear Sophie,” has been circulating around the dad-o-sphere for the last few days. Emily sent a link to me this afternoon, as I sat in a library trying to write a dissertation, missing my family and my home and knowing I was going to be putting in crazy late-night hours.

In the video a father starts an e-mail account for his newborn daughter, then sends updates to her throughout the years.

I watched it a few times, and I was reminded that I had done the very same thing during my year at home with Erin when she was a baby. I took a year-long leave of absence from my graduate program; I focused on her and not much else. During that year I wrote 218 e-mails to Erin. But I had to go back eventually. I had to finish the dissertation. I ended the year at home with a confession of anxiety and a promise to my daughter about this thing I was doing with my time that I didn’t feel up to. In my last e-mail to her I wrote:

You will probably run into a situation like this in your own life, in which you feel inadequate to a challenge, or that you don’t have the stamina for an especially long task or commitment. So I’m going back for you, too. So that you will always have that example in your life of someone who did finish what he started, even when he doubted himself. I’m Luke, returning to Dagobah (I hope you understand this reference, because if you don’t I have utterly failed you as a Geek Dad.)

I wrote those words almost two and a half years ago. I’m still working. I haven’t given up; I haven’t surrendered. I’ve stumbled a lot in those years, with enthusiasm for finishing this project waxing and waning, with milestones approaching and deadlines being missed or met. I haven’t always been great at this. I haven’t always even been good. Writing those words didn’t give me an inexhaustible reservoir to draw on to get the job done, but they were important to write.

They’ll keep me here, at the library, for another few hours tonight. I promised her.

Me and my big mouth.