I would rather sit down with you and say all of this face to face but I can't. I can't trust myself not to pour hot cocoa down either of our shirts or glue myself to your desk or step on you skateboard and careen through your window again, so I'm writing it down and sliding it under your door instead. Some things are just easier to say in a letter anyway. Please forgive me if I stumble.
A boy deserves to have a father he can look up to; he deserves a role model and not a punchline. I love you, Max and I hope you know how sorry I am that of all the millions of dads in the world, you got stuck with a stupid goof.
You know, for a while I thought maybe you'd never find out. It seems silly now, but I hoped I could shield you from it all. I remember when you were a baby I set your nursery on fire. It wasn't as serious as it sounds. I was in the middle of changing your diaper and realized the wipes were all the way across the room on the highest shelf where I was also storing paint thinner for reasons that now escape me. The details aren't important. As I was trying to put the fire out riding that over-sized extinguisher around the room, I looked to see if you were safe and the expression on your face ... I don't know, it almost looked like pride. You looked at me like I was a giant who could make all this magic happen at his will and you were just so pleased that I belonged to you. I'll never forget that moment because as everything else slipped through my fingers, you made me feel like I had some control. I promised myself then that even though I would probably go on to break many more things, I would try my hardest never to break your heart.
And now here we are anyway.
I know you're mad at me right now, Max. I embarrassed you in front of all your classmates by falling off the roof of your school and losing my underwear on that flagpole outside your homeroom. I won't get into what I was doing up there but please just trust me that it was for you, I wanted to surprise you with something nice and I mucked it all up.
I know you're embarrassed, not just of what happened but of the name we share. Heck, I'm embarrassed for you too. You're almost a man now, a fact I understand in theory but which privately baffles me still, and you obviously see your dad for what he really is: a joke, an idiot, a gorsh-darn jerk. You don't bring it up, you look the other way when you can, you even pretend your injuries don't hurt much when you find yourself sucked into the orbit of my catastrophe, but I can see it written on your face. I've had to watch over the past few years as the pedestal I once held in your heart shook then crumbled into rubble, leaving me to tumble into a pile of fine white dust that coated me evenly and then scared me when I looked in a mirror, mistaking my own reflection for a g-g-ghost.
I'm getting sidetracked. Your mother was so much more graceful about this kind of thing. You know, sometimes when I see you skateboarding so effortlessly or making friends who like and respect you or using a toaster without incident I see her in you. I won't pretend to understand what it must be like not having a mother anymore and I haven't done the best job of filling her shoes either, even that time I got my foot stuck in one for a whole week during your baseball tournament. But know it's been hard on your dad too. On my worst days, the days when it feels like everything for miles around me is ash, I can't convince myself her death wasn't my fault. I've ruined so much, surely this cruel twist of fate is also my doing. And that's the worst part of being a goof, Max, something I pray you never have to deal with: I can look back at every disaster and see how I initiated it because this is no curse, it's much worse than that. It's just me.
And that's also why you mean so much to me. While it may sound silly and selfish, I don't care: you are the best thing I've ever made. I could cut away the rest and throw it right in the garbage and still feel like my life was worth it because of you. I'm proud watching my son grow up a little more every day, even if that means growing away from his dad. I hope that somewhere in his heart, he's still a little proud of this silly old goof who helped him get here.
I love you, Max,
P.S. I also hope you can still read this through the smears and smudges. I cut myself several times while writing this to you.