During the second week of January, the very same week President Obama leaves office, Sarah and I welcome our first child into this fractured world. America, I hope you don’t mind if my thoughts travel as much to babies and futures further than my own as to elections and the fragility of our states united. I am stuck imaging our child (whom we call Acorn since we don’t know the gender).
Each time I think about Acorn I unravel into dream.
Acorn holds onto my pinky as our whole family—Mommy, Blue the dog, Acorn, and Daddy—walk our Solstice Mountain woods some nearby future autumn.
Acorn is learning the trees—That one, Mommy tells her (this moment I imagine a girl), is a sugar maple. We’ll tap it in February and get tasty syrup.
Acorn squeals, I love syrup.
America—you know this—it’s not easy being a parent, to raise someone to be their best self.
In this part of the dream-hike, Acorn is a boy, and we are near the upper cascade where water tumbles hard against rock. We stop and I kneel down and tell Acorn that he cannot yell at his mother, cannot pull on Blue’s tail. I am stern. Still, I smile when Acorn looks away because I just want to sail him up into a hug.
America, it’s so hard to write you a letter. What can I teach you? I am not even a father yet. (Though America we both know that I am already a father. Acorn is, now and forever, my daughter or my son. Our sun.)
I say to Acorn, We need to think of others. Do we like it when someone hurts us?
We as a nation own all the rights in the world. Acorn has the right to yell at his mother and to pull on Blue’s tail. These rights were created through expansive ideas and defended by blood and bombs and Special Forces (including my friend Brian). These rights are today protected by my former students, students at the oldest military university in America. Those students—Drew, Dana, Sophie, Ollie, James, Michael, and all the others—defend my right to write this letter to America. And the students who are still in school, they dream—each and every day—of sacrificing to preserve my rights even if we disagree.
Beneath a paper birch, the littlest voice in the world whispers, No.
America, it’s hard not to cry. These days, it’s hard not to cry.
Acorn, hold my hand. Your dad gets so happy when you hold my hand.
Who am I talking to anymore?
With Acorn holding my pinky, I say to her, as we walk our woods (though these are not our woods, these are our neighbor’s woods). What I am trying to say is that you can do almost anything you want. But what will make you such a great girl, what will make you shine so far past my shadow, is when you remember that you have to take care of others.
America, I’m having a baby. Sarah and I, we’re having a baby. But I am terrified that Acorn will be born into a night that believes that because we have the right to do something it is okay to do that thing. Some Americans believe it is okay to bully others. Some Americans believe it is okay to threaten to build a wall between neighbors. Some Americans believe it is okay to fear other religions even after our religions (which in some confusing crisscrossing of ideas includes their religions) have already killed tens or hundreds of millions. Some Americans believe it is okay to mock those with differing abilities, to mock the parents of those who died defending our rights, to say vile and disgusting things about women time and again.
Near White Rock Cascades, I kneel down until I can look Acorn in the eyes. She and I have been talking about responsibilities for the last ten minutes. Yes, Acorn, you are responsible to Mommy. And me. Blue, too. You’re so smart, Girl.
America, Donald Trump has the right to say those things just as I have the right to say that Donald Trump will never be my president. I have the right to demand that my leaders are filled with vision and greatness and kindness and moral compasses that point true north.
With Acorn and I wrapped in a hug, I respond to Acorn’s question, And, what about me? Great question, Acorn.
Outside of the rights of Trump and outside of the rights of me, America, the bigger cry I have for unborn Acorn is a world where we serve our neighbors and our neighbors serve us. A world where trust is where we start and love is where we end. A nation where I share my excess with my neighbor who has less and I am given to by my neighbor who has more. Because, America, what makes us great is not our rights. What makes us great is when we are responsible to our friends and responsible to our enemies.
With a canopy of hardwoods and softwoods to protect us, I say, Yes, I have responsibilities too. To you, Little Boy. To your mother. Blue too. To our family and friends. To our neighbors here who live also on the edge of Solstice Lake. The turtles and the loons and Norm and Linda and Mary and Gary.
America, are you listening?
Sean Prentiss is the award-winning author of Finding Abbey: a Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, a memoir about Edward Abbey and the search for home. Finding Abbey won the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography, the Utah Book Award for Nonfiction, and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Biography. He and his family live on a small lake in northern Vermont and he teaches at Norwich University and in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.