To Duncan on His 14th Birthday

by Bill Brenner on September 14, 2013

Note: I’ve often written notes to my kids on their birthday. This was originally written when Duncan turned 1o.

An open letter to my second child on his 10th birthday…

Mood Music:

At 2 a.m. on Sept. 15, 2003, I was jolted awake by your mom shoving me in the shoulder. I had just gone to bed 45 minutes earlier, and I had had a lot of wine the night before.

You weren’t expected for a few more days, so I figured I could drink and watch TV all night. I worked the night desk at The Eagle-Tribune back then, and Sunday night was MY time.

But your mom knew you were coming. And unlike your brother’s slow entry into the world two and a half years before, the labor pains you gave your mother came on fast and furious.

This was the first time you made it clear that you were going to be heard. It certainly hasn’t been the last.

Fun fact: On the ride to the hospital, as I drove over the train tracks, Mom’s water broke. The car was still brand new at that point, and that would be the first of many messes you would make of that car. We were afraid you would be delivered in that car. That’s how intense your Mom’s labor pains were. It was the first and only time Mom let me blow through red lights. Two of them, to be specific. When we reached the hospital, I accidentally slammed Mom’s finger in the car door. She barely noticed, with the labor pains you were giving her.

You entered the world by early afternoon, and you were perfect. You still are.

Sean couldn’t wait to meet you. He had a stomach bug and was throwing up all over the living room the morning after you were born. But he wasn’t going to miss meeting his new little brother. Not for the wide world.

Fun fact: We chose the name Duncan for you early on. Your mom and I each made lists of potential names and Duncan was the only name on both lists. A lot of people think we came up with that name because of Dunkin’ Donuts. But I’m a Starbucks kind of guy and people should know better. Actually, I put the name on my list because your brother was really into Thomas the Tank Engine at that point, and one of the trains was named Duncan. As you now proudly tell people, your name is Scottish for “brown warrior.” You carry the name of a leader; a chief. It’s a name of strength. The key is to put your stamp on it. With your kind heart and strong faith (how many kids your age go to the chapel AFTER Mass to pray a little more because they WANT to?) I know you’ll do great.

You have a beautiful command of language and vocabulary, and one of my great pleasures is watching you with your face buried in a book or writing stories on the computer. You gave yourself an awesome pen name in N.R. Rennerb (Brenner spelled backwards, for those of you who didn’t immediately catch on).

You’re as brave and daring as your name suggests. It was you who talked your brother into going camping with your grandparents for the first time. You also dove into Cub Scouts and basketball without hesitating. Learning to ride a bicycle was a big challenge, but you never gave up. Who would have thought the key was simply raising the seat an inch or so?

You say things that make me laugh. Like the time you walked up to the old man in the van in front of Toys R Us and scolded him for smoking. Your exact words were, “Smoking is dumb, you know. It puts holes in your lungs. You also left your back door (to the van) open.”

You’re one of the most giving, loving souls I’ve ever met. You love unconditionally, whether you’re spending time with your cousins or sharing your artistic gifts with us. I especially love the things you can do with Origami.

I love to snuggle with you on the couch as we watch “Star Wars,” “The Hobbit” or your favorite British comedy, “Keeping Up Appearances.”

I love to take you on road trips with the rest of the family, like the time we drove to Washington D.C. and got a tour of the West Wing of the White House. One of my favorite family photos is the one where we are in the press briefing room:


As you’ve discovered by now, life can be hard. Learning to manage ADHD has been no picnic, but you’ve risen to the challenge. You study hard, take your grades to heart and got honor roll twice last year despite all the trouble you had staying focused.

ADHD hasn’t kept you back. It never will, because you won’t let it.

I can’t believe you are 10 years old. Where does the time go? I guess time flies for a Dad who is blessed with two precious boys like you and Sean.

Happy Birthday, precious boy!

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan Shimel September 15, 2010 at 12:03 am

Happy Birthday to Duncan! Bill I have two boys 11 and soon to be 9, very similar stories and effects on my life. Next time we are together, remind me to talk to you about it. Becoming a dad was a cathartic experience in my life.

wendy September 15, 2010 at 1:57 am


You are like a fine wine…you just get better with age…this is beautiful!

Fred September 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Well said, brother.

Penny September 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm

What a wonderful message to your son.

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