To my children,
I don’t remember much of being your age and so now I am wondering what your earliest memories of me will be. You have already begun to divide time into a world before and after the virus; will you remember your father the same way?
What do you wish I had told you that was both simple and important enough to overcome the sharp smell of hand sanitizer, the fear of masks you had from Halloweens long before the long nightmare, the forgotten names of friends you had just learned to make?
Here’s what you told me every day I walked out of our house: you loved me, you thought I looked like a superhero with my blue scrubs and hospital tags and goggles and wow even a face shield, you hoped I didn’t get the new virus, you wished I could stay home from work but you were okay letting me go to help people. And every day I came home, you asked how many patients I had, if any of them died, if they got better.
I told you what I thought you needed to hear; perhaps one day you’ll read what I was only thinking:
I love you but if you touch me it could hurt you
I helped people but it doesn’t feel like I did
Yes I am Chinese but I don’t know how to feel about that these days so how can I teach you
Grown-ups always come back except the ones that didn’t today and oh God what if that’s me next week?
I hope that the kinder of these words are what your earliest memories will be but I am afraid that they’ll be filled instead with lots of yelling: to not hug me when I came home feeling contaminated, to not interrupt my meetings about the virus, to not touch my computer, to not grab my face while I was mindlessly scrolling on some stupid phone, to not make messes with markers and crayons even though you were infinitely bored of watching TV, to stop bothering your mother, to go bother your mother instead, to stay inside, to go outside, for not wearing a mask, for not washing your hands, for crying, for interrupting me when I was crying, for being a child without control with a father who didn’t know what control meant any more.
What do I wish I had told you in March 2020, before the year which changed your father before you really came to know him?
Your daddy loves you. He is trying to help those who cannot see their moms and dads.
Your daddy loves you. He doesn’t know when he’ll come home today.
Your daddy loves you. Perhaps you can forgive him for not being better at showing you that.
David D. Chen, MD