Dr. Val Farmer
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Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Have You Got Mail?

August 16, 1999

A while back I wrote a column about by wife Darlene’s efforts at writing a regular family letter and how it provided wonderful support and family connection for our college age daughters. Also the grandparents on both sides of the family appreciated the regular family news. I asked readers to write in and describe their experience with family letters/newsletters and there were many positive responses.

Times have changed. E-mail is where the action is. We have three married daughters - one in North Carolina, another in California and a third in Utah. We have a single daughter who just graduated from college and is taking her first job. We have a missionary daughter, Tawny, in Mongolia and a missionary son, Tyler, in the Czech Republic. And finally we have a twelve-year old at home who does his share of corresponding with his friends in Rapid City and Utah.

Darlene has been taking Russian classes and delegated me the responsibility of writing the weekly family letter via e-mail. We receive regular – though not weekly - e-mail from our married children. We get weekly letters from our missionaries which I transcribe and send out via e-mail to the rest of the family. I look anxiously for their letters and I’m quick to send them on. It is a top priority.

By writing the family letter and by transcribing the other letters I am becoming an integral part of the family. My children get to know me and what I’m doing. They express appreciation for the letters I write. It has brought our children and me into a better relationship. My wife has been the primary emotional lifeline for the children but my letters help me inch into that arena.

The incoming missionary letters are heartwarming and interesting. A long way from home, our missionaries feel connected to us and to the family through the regular letters they receive. Tawny’s letters are sent via e-mail to a much wider circle than just family.

My mother lives for them. My 98-year-old mother and the Darlene’s parents appreciate the regular e-mails. My mother doesn’t have a computer herself. My sister and brother-in-law who live in the same community bring the downloaded letter to her. She reads them, devours them, saves them in binders and can’t wait for the next ones. Other children and grandchildren communicate with her through e-mail. I can’t begin to recount the joy she has in getting this mail. She is at the apex of a lot of family news. She, herself, uses the phone to share her life.

This summer Darlene has been traveling through a seminar and practicum experience through Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. She went to Prague, Krakow, St. Petersburg, Moscow and Tallinn. After the tour she had a seven week home-stay in St. Petersburg.

Family and friends could communicate with her via the Internet through hotmail. She found access to the Internet at Internet cafes and Internet businesses at reasonable rates. An Internet café is a dual business where customers can rent computer time to send and receive mail. This was her traveling mailbox.

At 5:00 a.m. one morning we were both on-line. That was fun. It was also fortuitous because we exchanged vital information about my passport that facilitated my getting an official invitation to Russia that, in turn, helped me get my visa in the nick of time.

Darlene’s home-stay was a lonely time for her. She was in a foreign country with limited language skills. Through e-mail she was able to share some of her struggles as well as the highlights and cultural education she was receiving. E-mail was a marvelous boost and a vital means of emotional support. She received messages from family, family letters and the missionary letters. Her mother had a health crisis while she was abroad and via e-mail we kept her informed of the medical information and implications.

I was fortunate to be able to travel to a work related conference in Krakow, Poland. At the end of the conference, I took a train ride to the Czech Republic and surprised my son with an eye-popping, mouth-dropping visit. In Krakow and Brno I hunted up Internet cafes and Darlene and I exchanged e-mails via the Internet. What an amazing thing! I have one suggestion for a dynamite business opportunity in Eastern Europe and Russia – Internet laundromats.

After a week in Europe I was able to meet Darlene in St. Petersburg and share her last few days in Russia. That was the best! E-mail will never top face-to-face relationships, but for seven weeks it was second best.

I am a true believer. E-mail is great for uniting a family with adult children in far-flung places. It is great for keeping Dads in the picture. We Dads probably haven’t been great phone conversationalists, at least I haven’t been. E-mail is absolutely terrific for aging parents! This year we found out what a marvelous tool it is for travelers.

I don’t know if you have mail, but I’ve got mail and I love it!