A Letter to My Grandchild

A few weeks back I taught a class on climate change for an Environmental Ethics course. The students were not well-versed in the subject and I dumped two hours’ worth of details on climate change, overshoot, I = PAT, tipping points, the polycrisis, and many other heavy topics on them. Hopefully it wasn’t too much. But it was great to share all that information and be reminded that most people are not aware of the ecological precipice that we’re teetering on. Really, any moment we could plunge into chaos and people would say why? How? And angrily resist the emergency efforts needed but that probably had been offered too late (you know, just like with the COVID pandemic).

Ayhan with his Dedushka*** (2012)

But as valuable as the chance to teach was learning of an exercise the professor had given her students. She had asked them to write a letter to their future grandchild: “What do you want to say to your grandchild, given what you are learning so far in the course?” Having been so focused on raising my son, Ayhan, I had never thought of communicating with any grandchild. (Note that I’m not saying grandchildren as I’m hopeful I only have one as that means Ayhan internalized my Gaian ethic, which includes smaller family norms!)

But then again, I often hope the world is stable enough and I live long enough that I can visit my son for extended periods (or perhaps even live with or near him) and spend several hours a day with his child—not taking away Ayhan’s opportunity to do so but sharing the burden and the joy.

Of course, just putting these words to paper makes it sound romantic at best, delusional at worst. Even in the best of times, if my son has a child at 35 like I did, I’ll be 70 years old when he’s born. That’s 2047. The odds that life is anything like today, rather than the horrors portrayed in Soylent Green, feels fantastical.* But then again, if systems stay stable but just become impoverished—as with the Soviet collapse—perhaps more than ever children will rely on their parents to help with caregiving.**

But the point I’m trying to get to is I invite you all to write a letter to your own future grandchild—though perhaps you already have one and you should choose a great grandchild—or if you won’t have one, a grand-niece or nephew or even a dear friend’s grandchild. I found it surprising where my letter went. Truthfully it ended up being a slightly veiled apology to my son but I’ll let you read it yourself.

Go with Gaia,


A letter to my grandchild

Dear Grandchild,

I asked your papa to hold this letter for you until you’d be just about 11, the age of your father when I wrote this, and to give it to you if I couldn’t. I’d guess the year is around 2060 or so, and it’s hard to imagine that somehow this letter made it all the way to you, unscathed, even as the world around you is probably engulfed in the flames of climate change and societal upheaval. And violence. I hope that that is not your reality, and you can chuckle at my mad ravings, but I have difficulty imagining any way we avoided it.

Truthfully, I was too hard on your father. I wanted to make sure he was ready for the collapse I was confident he’d experience in his lifetime. Perhaps, he will be too hard on you. Or perhaps the world has become so hard already that he smothers you only in comfort and joy, working to insulate you from the horrors outside. Perhaps he’s literally taking the food from his mouth to make sure you have enough. I hope the Gaian orientation I shared with him has prepared him for this—the fasting, the mindfulness, the recognition that we can do with less so our children (and other children—including those of other species) have enough.

Or perhaps he has none of these options, and is doing whatever things he can to survive—doing what we who lived in the good times would consider horrible things. But one does what one must. To survive, and especially, to ensure one’s child survives.

I asked him to hold this letter until you’re 11 as truthfully, I see in Ayhan that he is quickly becoming an adult. The adolescent years have arrived—he is gaining in confidence, as well as independence. And just starting to push his mother and me away. Perhaps that’s inevitable. He has to grow into a man and venture off into the world on his own at one point (though I hope he’ll return and that one day your grandmother and I will be part of his household and help raise you).

But assuming life is as hard as I imagine, I’ll tell you this. There’s nothing I treasured more than hugging your papa when he was little. When he’d wake up in the morning, come out from his naps, after meals, when he was happy, sad, and countless other times. The moments we read together, built together, chatted together, played together—I cherished them all. Truly, I was spoiled in all the time I had with him during his childhood—and that has made us close. I hope you are as equally lucky, though I fear you won’t be.  

But at this moment, as Ayhan enters into adolescence and as the hugs become less frequent, I can also see the end. In just a few years your father will be in high school and then off he’ll go to college. A minor loss for me (and a great adventure for him) but it makes me receptive to imagine experiencing the bigger losses ahead, my own decline and the decline of society and human civilization. (I’m not quite sure which will come first, which is admittedly strange to write.)

So make sure you hug your papa lots. And I just wish I met you. I’m sure you’re as smart and feisty as your father.

Go always with Gaia,


Ayhan playing trains with his Dedushka (2014)


*My son, wife, and I just watched this classic together. It was great to introduce him to my favorite movie. Of course Ayhan did not yet get the subtler references but perhaps he’ll one day be Saul Roth, explaining to his younger roommate that there was a world once, with real meat, apples, and bourbon.

**I also draw inspiration from a good friend of ours who is helping to raise her daughter’s child in DC—so this very much still happens today in the U.S. and perhaps even more so in the economically and ecologically difficult times ahead.

***We called Aynabat’s father Dedushka—a diminutive form of grandfather in Russian. As my father had already returned to Gaia, that’s the term that sticks in my mind (and could imagine myself being called that). This essay on the deeper meanings of the term fits well too—not the repressed emotionality but the way dedushkas showed their love through wanting their grandchildren “to grow up principled people who could be in charge of their life and behavior.” Ayhan was too young to have seen that aspect of his grandfather but perhaps it would have been the case as he got older. And perhaps that’d be my role in my grandchild’s life.

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5 Responses

  1. Tina

    You are very caring, sir. And don’t worry, keep the faith because love and the environment will win in the end. Back in my early twenties when I was in Peru, the secondary rainforest in Manu – where we were working at least – was coming back very strong. Even after widespread deforestation caused the rubber boom back in the day. When we back off a little and let nature do it’s thing, I think it’s sort of inevitable that it heals itself. If we don’t, we’ll probably get a tongue lashing and shakedown and we’ll deserve the brunt of it I suppose. But you know, either way, love and the earth, I think they’ll always win. And anyhoo, I think solar flares are going to melt everyone’s faces off eventually but I would guess most likely not for thousands of years.

    • Erik Assadourian

      Thanks for your comment, Tina. Yes, eventually the sun will grow in luminosity overwhelming any adaptations that a living planet can make (in millions of years), but for a species who is causing a mass extinction and can reflect on that (rather than single-celled oxygen-creators responsible for the great oxygenation event) to not try to change is tragic. But like you, I hope nature will prove resilient to bounce back when our time (or at least our industrial stage) has run its course.

      • Tina Marquette

        Well, I guess it’s a relief that it’s millions. But for sure, you’re right, we can definitely speed up the process a little bit! From a psychological perspective, I think seeing it for yourself helps people course correct. In-person or documentaries that pull on your heartstrings. And maybe not necessarily the guilt but the understanding of the thing. And it maybe is a little silly and a little fake, but it seems like sponsoring species seems to do the trick. It’s kind of like asking people to save the bald eagles and then folks are ready to clean up their act!

  2. Venkataraman Amarnath

    We had our only son when we were thirty-six and he is getting married next month at the age of thiry-eight. We are a few decades ahead of you and it makes writing the letter slightly easier.

    No need to reach out to a grand child. You will enjoy this letter by Prof Corey Bradshaw to his daughter.

    Also Corey Bradshaw’s warning: Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future.

    • Erik Assadourian

      Thanks for sharing–both your story and Bradshaw’s letter!

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