The Power of 10
For Wyatt, who is like no one else on the planet. From his father, who is glad about that.
Date: December 3, 2016
To: WYATT DYLAN KIRK ANTHONY
From: EDWARD MASON ANTHONY IV
Re: Your 10th birthday today
We have, currently in our midst, a unique individual. His name is Wyatt Anthony. Up until now, he has been identified largely by a single digit — 3, 5, 7, 9 (and yes, occasionally by the number 23 as well). But now, on this day, Dec. 3, 2016, he is entering an entirely new realm that will eventually carry him into adulthood: the universe of double digits.
I think that, as parents, we don’t stop enough to step back and look at our offspring through a wider-angle lens, to see them and their place in the world from a vantage point that’s different from the close-ups in which we usually operate. That’s some complicated language right there for a 9-year-old (sorry — 10-year-old), but I do think you’ll understand it and know what I’m talking about.
I know you feel like your mother and I are right in your face all the time, and you probably have every reason to feel that way. “Clean up your room!” “Clear the table!” “Don’t fight with your brother!” “Don’t flip off your mother!” (You will continue to hear this particular one in increasing volumes until you comply.) “Don’t suffocate the kittens when you hold them!” Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! If I had to listen to me the way you have to listen to me, I’d get pretty tired of me really quickly.
But when I take that step back, and look at you from a bit of a distance (though you being in America for another week is too much of a distance for me at the moment), I see an amazing little boy who is turning, before our eyes, into an extraordinary young man. So I wanted to pause for a moment, on your birthday, and tell you what in fact I really see when I look at you.
- I see someone who hungers for knowledge just like his parents and his grandma and grandpa, and who will not take no for an answer until he finds precisely what he’s looking for. I have to say that I absolutely love this about you. You simply will not be denied.
- I see someone who, even as he is learning to be strong and outwardly focused, is unafraid of showing emotion and unafraid of telling people how much he cares. This, particularly for a boy, is something that will serve you very well in your coming adolescence, when so many kids will show false bravado and pretend not to care about just about everything. Don’t let that go. It will win you friends and keep you happier, even if there’s heartbreak along the way.
- I see someone who absolutely loves his brother despite the tensions that they sometimes have. I see the way you try to be near Mason no matter what, even when you know it will end badly. It makes me wish that I had had a brother while I was growing up. I have every confidence that you two will have a lasting and deep relationship long after your parents are gone. In fact, I’m counting on it.
- I see someone who has an unparalleled sense of humor, who can light up a room with laughter and channel the weirdness of the world in his own little performances and skits and jokes. Carry this with you always, but remember to temper it — there’s a difference between the good kind of attention and the destructive kind, and you don’t always have to be the one people are looking at.
- I see someone who has a very strong sense of compassion and justice. I’ve watched you walk up to poor children begging and gently crouch to put 20-baht bills in their cups. And I’ve seen the look on your face after you walk away from them— a struggle to understand why the world is the way it is, and why some of us are so fortunate and others are not. I’ve seen you rage at the wrongs done to you, which is OK, but I’ve seen you rage at the wrongs done to others, which makes my heart soar.
- Finally, I see someone who has the most wonderful and global sense of adventure that I’ve ever seen in a 10-year-old. You: climbing mountains in Vietnam and looking down upon spectacular valleys. You: Walking with me down the streets of the capital of Laos, pointing out interesting things along the way and asking questions about stuff that even I hadn’t noticed. You: Eating your way through the ramen bars of northeastern Hokkaido in the bitter cold. You: Boarding planes for 24-hour journeys across oceans and handling them with calm and panache and maturity, helping your mother when she needs it and maintaining a sense of restraint and purpose when transiting that is far beyond your years. You impress me, kid.
When we decided to move to Thailand in 2014, the person who is Wyatt Anthony was still taking shape. You were 7, and Pittsburgh was the only home you’d ever known. You hated leaving the Pirates, Falk School, our house in Hampton, Eat N’ Park — everything that had been around you. “I’m not sure,” you said when we proposed the move to you. “It would be good, and it would be bad.”
In the past 2 1/2 years, you have come here, adapted, adventured, and made things good. YOU created your happiness and success here. YOU have decided that it would be a good thing. YOU have chosen to eat unfamiliar and spicy foods, to not turn your back on opportunities, to embrace all of the people and places and journeys that have landed in front of you.
I am doubly bowled over by this because I was so much more resistant. I was quite angry at my parents at first for bringing me overseas; I loved it in the end, but it was kind of despite myself. You, though — you just said, somehow, “I’m gonna do this thing,” and you hunkered down, screwed your courage to the sticking place and did it. Even during your harder, bumpier times — when Travis Snider was traded, when you had trouble with your friends, when your grandpa died, when certain adults did stupid things that made your world unpleasant — you kept on going, and you always got your optimism back, usually quite quickly. This reminds me of your grandfather, and it pleases me.
In some ways, you’re quite like him, actually. He told me once that he was determined to — how did he put it? — “summon good cheer whenever possible.” I have seen you do that when you’re fighting anger or hurt. You simply push through it and reclaim the positive. I wish I could do that as well as you do (and as well as he did).
It was excruciating for all of us to watch him fade away before he died last year, but I particularly admired the way you, at age 8, summoned yourself and said goodbye to him. That can’t have been easy for someone with no real experience of death up until then.
We made a choice to involve you in things that some people would say were not appropriate for your age — seeing his body after he died, spending time in the funeral home, watching the burial — and you handled it marvelously. These are just a few of the things about you that make me proud.
But enough about what already has been, Wyatt. I want to talk to you a bit on your birthday about what will be.
I see you as an emerging leader. I am always fascinated to see you at the head of a pack of kids, because that was not me. It seems to come naturally to you, whether it be sports or academics or just playing. That’s something you need to learn to use wisely, because it comes with some responsibility — particularly the responsibility to be kind and compassionate (see above). I have every confidence that you can do that.
I see you as a lively, unique mind. You have a sharpness about you that’s exceedingly uncommon. I hope you commit yourself to developing it, making it sharper, using it to make our world better in the years that you are granted on this world.
I see you as a pretty impressive athlete. To watch you on the soccer field (sorry, football pitch) and the baseball diamond is a thing of beauty. I can see how much you love sports. Use it to develop a healthy foundation for yourself and a respect for your friends and teammates.
And I see you as a person who will, when you deem something to be important, put in the work to do it right. You still struggle with this, as rightly you should — no one’s expecting you to be committed to excellence all the time when you’re 10. You should be having fun. But I see in you a spark that says, “Make a commitment and follow through with it.” Chase that spark if you can; give it the oxygen it needs.
I hope that, as you enter your double digits, you can grow your ability to stay calm. I hope that you can come to understand that life doesn’t only happen within the confines of a screen.
And I hope you hold onto the unusual and memorable characteristics that your various names hold:
- Wyatt — A sense of justice and right and wrong, no matter what frontier you stand upon.
- Dylan — The soul of an American poet and wanderer, with a healthy streak of sarcastic anti-authoritarianism.
- Kirk — The bold heart of an adventurer and explorer, packaged up with the compassion and humanism that a great leader always holds onto.
- Anthony — Forever one of us, always accepted when you show up at our door no matter how many years might pass.
What will you be in 10 years, Wyatt, when you finish this next decade? Who knows. That’s a story you get to write, a drawing you get to paint. Maybe you’ll become the most famous YouTuber ever known to humankind. But whatever path you start down in these coming years, I hope you’ll take all of the things that make you extraordinary — all of the things that make you the Wyatt who delights us and draws love from our hearts each day — and double down on them.
Because you’re already a pretty memorable guy right now. And if those things grow, there’ll be no stopping you at all.
I loved you when you were born, I love you now and I will love you always. Happy birthday.
Ted Anthony, a Pittsburgher living in Thailand, is a Baby Boomer by generation and a Gen-Xer by age. He has been dissecting and musing about American culture since Guns N’ Roses was on the charts and “Rain Man” was in the theaters. He is the author of Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song. He tweets here, Instagrams here and collects various fragmentary images and thoughts on Tumblr here.
©2016 | Ted Anthony