3:19pm

Fri November 15, 2013
Code Switch

Letters From Parents To Their Kids That'll Make You Smile (Or Cry)

This week, we've seen two stories with the theme of how tough parents and tough kids struggle to express their love for one another without, well, saying it aloud.

Many of us have lived these stories. We're the children of immigrant parents, of single moms and dads whose tired sighs at the end of the day we know all too well, of grandparents who stepped in and raised us when their children couldn't, and of parents who just found it hard to share their emotions.

Following the lead of a Seattle-area high school, football coach Masaki Matsumoto asked his players' parents to pen letters to their children.

From The Los Angeles Times:

"Cesar Orozco, a senior offensive lineman, broke down when he read what his mother had written in Spanish: 'You know deep inside I love you. And you're the most important thing in my life. You know I would die for you.'

" 'I don't really get told that at home,' Cesar said. 'For me to be reading that, it really touches me.'

"John Mercado, a sophomore lineman, sobbed so hard reading his mother's letter that he had to pause before finishing. He had come close to quitting the team when his parents lost their jobs and needed financial help.

"His mother wrote in Spanish: 'I'm very proud. You're the nicest kid I've ever raised and during hard times you don't ever ask for anything.' "

Sometimes parents — particularly immigrant parents or single parents — can be reticent when it comes to doling out compliments to their children. At least, that's what Matsumoto believes. The teacher and football coach moved from Japan to the United States at age 7 with his mother and says he knows how it feels to be raised by a single parent.

And then there's the story of Matt de la Peña. The author of the young adult novel The Living wrote an essay for Code Switch about how he first tuned in to the joys of reading and writing. He finished high school without having read a novel from cover to cover; and before that, he was nearly held back in grade school because he couldn't read well. And then, sometime in college, a switch flipped: De la Peña became hooked on books. Later in his writing career, he saw that same kind of literary-transformative potential in a troubled student at a school he visited. He also saw literature change his own father, a man he thought preferred the show Cops to the work of Garcia Marquez.

"Back in my graduate school days, I used to drop by my folks' place once a week for dinner. I'd eat at the kitchen table talking to my mom and little sister while my dad ate in the living room watching his favorite TV show, Cops. We didn't usually interact a whole lot. But one night, my old man stopped me on my way out the door. He pointed at the book tucked under my arm and asked what I was reading.

" 'One Hundred Years of Solitude,' I said, holding it out for him to see.

"He nodded.

"I assumed that was the end of it so I waved to everyone and made my way through the front door. My dad followed me outside, though. 'Hey, Matt,' he said. 'You think I could borrow that book when you're done?'

"I'd never seen my dad read much of anything, and Garcia Marquez seemed like a tough jumping-off point, but I handed over the book anyway, telling him: 'It's all yours. I finished it on the ride up here.'

"It took him over a month to read the book. When he handed it back to me I tried to get his feedback on the multiple storylines and the magical realism, but all he'd say was that he liked it. He followed me outside the house that night, too. 'I was thinking,' he said, looking over his shoulder to make sure we were alone. 'Maybe you could let me read whatever books you finish.' "

His father went on read more books and, lo and behold, it helped shape his life. (You'll have to read the full essay to see how that happened.)

Maybe it's the onset of holiday season that's making me wax nostalgic and think about my own childhood. But there's real tension and validation that happens when we reflect on changes, not in ourselves, but in our parents.

So, what about you? Tell us about a moment when your parents shared how they felt about you. Use the comments section below or find us on Twitter @nprcodeswitch.

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