To (my daughter) Saara and Tommi, in their wedding party, Kulosaaren Casino, Helsinki, Jan. 17, 2009
Dear Saara and Tommi,
Family members, friends, guests
It’s Fall 1982.
You are three and a half. I have come to take you from the kindergarten in Käpylä, we go along one of those wooden house streets, you sitting on my shoulders, babbling out your thoughts which you always had plenty of.
”The houses don’t exist”, you say from there.
I am alerted to listen. You go on. ”The trees don’t exist. The cars don’t exist. The clouds don’t exist.”
A short pause. Then to the conclusion:
”We don’t exist”, you say. ”We are a tale, and somebody is telling us right now.”
Then I knew I’d never had to teach you philosophy, or poetics, at least.
This is going to be a speech by a proud father.
I did teach you to read though, some time during the Winter following that Fall. I’ll never forget your reaction when you suddenly understood the workings of the letters.
You broke into bitter tears. The spell and the miracle of the letters were gone. Now you’d have to find out everything by yourself.
Not that you didn’t immediately spot the bright side of the thing as well: letters were a new way to express one’s will. There came about your first literary product which you passed to me over the little table in the Fleminginkatu one-room apartment, one morning when we were already pressed to leave for the kindergarten:
MNÄ HLUN LSÄ VNRPÄLTÄ [I WNT MRE GRAPS]
You had plenty of will as well. Many years later – you were eight or nine – you one day got fed up with me and your mother who – in the way of too many divorced parents – could not get us to plan properly the days you’d spend with each one of us. You went to your grandparents’ house in Käpylä, made a proposition, negotiated a deal, then took a phone call to each of us in turn, telling:
”I have moved. I will now live here the next month, at least. Let us see then how things work out in the future.”
Well, now this somebody has told [recounted] you and Tommi to live in that same wooden house.
As for letters and finding out, you never were afraid of that either. You were not an ordinary child exactly. From four to sixteen, you were a free-placer in a dance school, four to six hours a day, five to six days a week. The rest of your free time you played – with pals, but you knew how to play alone as well – and did your home work. From the school, you brought nothing but A’s.
All this you did out of your own will. Probably because you’d had the chance to find out about it by yourself.
Not that we didn’t play together as well. We were pals, you and I. In our early single family we used to call each others by names. You’d say, ”Minna”, and ”Leevi”. I think you saw us a bit as the Uncle Fedya, His Cat, and His Dog – a book that was read to you until it fell apart, dozens and dozens times, and of which you’d say in the evenings: ”Let’s read from there where ‘the small bunch came back home’.”
Here I come to my first (and only) own thought. Today, you call me ”Dad”. You call: ”Is this Daaaaad?” Or more often: ”Is this in Dad’s Office?” ”Is this in Dad’s Wedding Invitation Compiling Consulting Service Assistance Office? RSVP – is it capital r period small s period etc, or how does it go?” [To others] We have countless variations of this. Saara may say: ”Is this Dad’s Ear For Listening To Others’ Woes Office.” And I may sometimes answer by, say: ”Dad’s Taking the Tramway Office.”
The thought is this: no family, no relationship, no two, three, etc, people are an island. The roles, like the one between dad and daughter, get adopted in interaction with the environment. They do not come from one’s own head, nor from the biology, or from prescriptions in any of those big books, but from the culture, through learning and creation.
We cannot teach each other anything. But we cannot help learning from each other (I never told you what you should become. You became a mathematician – one of my youthful dreams never-come-true. Then one day you approached me: ”I seem to be about to switch back to dancing….” So like me…)
Learning from others: this is what culture is all about. Against the prevalent ideal that tells us to keep family, say, as a ”private matter”, to hide it from others and separate from the ”real” and ”important” ones (work, society), I subscribe to the attitude expressed by a poet in the title of her book: ”I Love You, And I Tell It To Everyone.”
This is my first (and only) advice to you, Tommi and Saara.
What I’ve said about Saara and Saara’s will could make someone a bit afraid; hardly you though. And luckily I don’t have to warn you about that will – you’ve had ten years to learn to know it.
Neither need I welcome you to the family. The Lehto-Poikolainen ”economy family” (a term once coined for this our little no-island by little Miina) has already had a chance to learn to know you. We’ve spent a lot of good time, and had many parties, together, and you’ve secured a firm booking to one of the main roles in the most important of Kirsi’s and my never-to-be-realized ideas for film scripts – you know, the one with the title, ”Son-In-Laws In A Distress”.
We’ve learned to know you as a smart man with plenty of opinions – and no desire to hide them. We’ve seen that you, too, haven’t been afraid of finding out. I’m trying to think of something that you’d not shown yourself to know – and usually better than the others ;-). Nothing comes to mind immediately.
It seems to me that you and Saara have learned (as advised in one of the big books) to respect each others, and that you, too – each in your ways – ”tell it to all”.
It seems you two have, as they say, a “working” division of labor. It may resemble a bit the one between me and Kirsi, which brings to mind the Woody Allen joke: ”I’m in charge, but she makes all the decisions.”
It is as good a basis as any.
You’ve got to divide the things somehow.
Except that, in fact, there is no basis. As Kirsi and I know, as you know, we have to work it out anew each moment, by ourselves.
A new chapter in the tale is about to begin.
From my heart, I want to wish you luck and love, joy and pride of each other, for all the upcoming chapters.
I will do it with a poem by my best friend, Charles Bernstein.
As I now read it, I cannot forget for a moment that only just before this Christmas, this one somebody, the tale-teller, took away his daughter, the same kind of an apple of the eye that you, Saara, are to me.
Therefore, let’s rejoice those moments, this one, and each and every one.
The title is for Tommi, the whole poem for each of you.
All the Whiskey in Heaven
Not for all the whiskey in heaven
Not for all the flies in Vermont
Not for all the tears in the basement
Not for a million trips to Mars
Not if you paid me in diamonds
Not if you paid me in pearls
Not if you gave me your pinky ring
Not if you gave me your curls
Not for all the fire in hell
Not for all the blue in the sky
Not for an empire of my own
Not even for peace of mind
No, never, I’ll never stop loving you
Not till my heart beats its last
And even then in my words and my song
I will love you all over again
Yes, I believe this one somebody really wants to tell you over and over again. I wish each chapter to be better than the preceding one.
But can he/she still invent such? In fact, not – but you, yes, you can.
Over and over and over again.
Friends, a toast to Saara and Tommi.