Dear Sophia—

Thanks for your letter. Your writing on how our relation with our children morphs into something new as time goes by resonates with me too. I always felt terribly guilty about being an absent father but, as mentioned, I felt I finally could forgive myself for that—when they left, just two weeks ago, for Belgium once again. We were all smiling, laughing, hugging and, weirdly enough, also crying a bit—as happy as we could be.

Unfortunately, my son got an accident just a few days later. He had been drinking heavily with fellow students, celebrating his amazing scores on his first-semester exams, and didn’t manage to protect his face when a car hit him in the early morning. He is going to be alright—it’s only his face, and dentists can do a lot nowadays. However, the scars on his face will, hopefully, remind him he shouldn’t be getting into those drinking binges.

They always happen when he’s euphoric. Never when he’s down. Or… Well… I’ve been thinking he may be down when he’s euphoric, although that’s the weirdest thing to say, right? Fortunately, he reached out, and we had some very good chats up and down over the past weeks (thank you, God, for the Internet!). My dad was an alcoholic, and I’ve had issues with drinking too, so it was good to be able to talk about those openly. Hence, in a way, it was yet another example of how I can still be a responsible father, despite the distance. In fact, I appreciated him calling out and talking openly, as it blurs, once again, the lines between giving and receiving: he wanted me to not think badly of him and, in the process, being in that position to forgive him for being so stupid enables me to forgive myself for… Well… Having been very stupid myself at times. 🙂

I once tried to define the stages of life in terms of giving and receiving:

1. As a child or youngster, and as a young man or woman, we are (mostly) in a receiving  position, as we learn and try to understand. We have and use a lot of energy during that time – and Freud was probably right in noting that a lot of it comes from sublimating sexual energy. Some of us have excessive energy, and it can kill us. In fact, looking back myself, I am not sure I’d want to be young again—and that’s probably why my son is not ashamed to talk to me the way he does: he knows I was worse. So… Yes… I find that growing older and wiser is a blessing really – in disguise or not.

2. As an adult, we both receive and give, in a very intense exchange with our families, our friends, and society in general. We are very productive then, but have little freedom to make any real choices in life, because of practical constraints and all kinds of obligations towards the people who surround us. That stage also consumes us, in a way. Often to such extent that most people don’t manage to prepare properly for the third stage in life, which is the stage in which we let go, in which we accept all and, hence, in which we focus more and more on trying to give back, instead of taking.

3. Indeed, when we get older, we prepare for death. Not in a morbid, conscious way—as you rightly noted. It’s just… Well… We are just so much more aware that the horizon we see might, effectively, be the end of our flat world. We should prepare for death by reducing our dependence on others, rather than increasing it.

That’s not easy, because we usually need more care physically—as you know so well. But you also know that it’s not the wheelchair that bothers people. It’s not our body. It’s our mood. It’s what we say, how we feel, how we approach the situation. It’s all in our mind. Our emotions. The lack of a purpose that also pops up when you have no real job (as I know all too well now). We can only do one thing then: we should focus on giving only, without any expectation of getting a return.

Wisdom is but one of the many things we can give. In fact, that’s why we started this blog, right? We feel we’re—finally!—in a position of sharing some words of wisdom. 🙂

Of course, what you’re writing, and what I’ve been experiencing over the past year, makes me think it’s not that simple. As we get older, we are still very much in need to receive. Perhaps we just receive more and more for what we give. I’d sure would like to think that way !

I look forward to your thoughts on this. Does this make sense?

Yours, Albert

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