The other day I was sitting and thinking about parenting. Not necessarily about changing diapers or what school my kids will attend, but more of the “grown up” situations. What will I do to make sure my kids live a life of fulfillment, chasing dreams that they want while not losing character.
All too often parents try to force their kids into a niche. You have to be the whiz-kid, you have to the jock, you have to be what I was at your age. I’m guilty of this as well. I have an 8-year-old step-daughter and I find myself often trying to mold her into who I think she should be. For those of you who know me, those expectations are what I fight against the most in my own life.
I noticed as well that in the heat of the moment it’s easy to be biased. You get in an argument with your kid about what they “should” do and the options of what they “could” do dwindle into nothing. It’s your way or the highway. I wanted to put some notes down right now. Good ‘ol non-biased advice.
Just to note: I do not have a son nor are we expecting a son. In fact, when we have another kid I (for obvious reasons) don’t even know if it will be a boy. But because I am a man and as every man dreams at some point in his life, hopefully I will have a little man of my own…one day.
Below is a letter that I wrote to him. This was for my own personal use, but thought some of you may want to read it so I decided to post. I hope there is some value in it as you read it either for yourself, your husband, boyfriend, or son of your own. But ultimately, I hope that it adds value to my boy – should that day come.
To my son,
I’m writing this letter to you as more than just fatherly advice. This letter is to serve as your companion as you go on in life. Something you can refer back to and assist you in the decisions you may make.
By no means do I have all of the answers. In fact, I have anything but. However, I’ve learned in my life so far that with years comes experience. And with experience comes knowledge and wisdom that can never be taught.
Understand that first. This letter is not to teach you any life skills or wisdom that I have learned. It is only to put it out there. To allow you to translate as you wish at the time you read it. Trust me, if you’re reading this letter today, I guarantee if you read it in a year you will think differently about some of my advice. That is life.
Another important reason I am writing this letter to you prior to you being born is simply to remain unbiased. As you get older and start making decisions there is no doubt I will try to sway those very decisions of yours. Just as you want your life to have meaning, as do I. The difference is that I know more and therefore you do not know what a life with meaning truly is. It is in that situation that my bias and my desires will overpower your own in my head. I wanted to write this letter before either you or I knew each other. Before I had a chance to care of the life you will lead. The advice in this letter is true and honest. I am not looking out for my best interest at all – only yours. No bias, no hypocrisy.
There are many valuable lessons I have learned in my life. However, some of the greatest lessons I have learned are the ones that go against society’s teachings. These will be the lessons I will continually battle with myself in teaching you what is right and what is expected.
Which brings me to my first lesson and possibly the most important one of all:
True Character: No matter who you are or what you do, where you’re at or why you’re doing it, always remember that the calls you make show you’re true character. One of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau, once wrote, “Often if an accident happens to a gentleman’s legs, they can be mended; but if a similar accident happens to the legs of his pantaloons, there is no help for it; for he considers, not what is truly respectable, but what is respected.”
You will be pushed and pulled so many times in life to do what is respected that it will feel as though you have almost no choice but to do what everyone else expects of you, including myself and your mom. Do not confuse what is respected for what is respectable. Earning someone’s respect does not necessarily come from fitting in but sticking to what your heart says and putting in the work to do what’s right. To take the cute, popular girl to High School prom may get you respect, but taking the neighbor girl who could not find a date is truly respectable.
Relationships: Understanding the true man is essential in relationships. I apologize in advance for my lack of knowledge as I have just recently begun to realize this myself. I did not get a letter from my father nor the teachings from him or society to show me what a true man is. But I can tell you that what I thought he was, he is not.
As you grow older you may begin to notice “men” acting in certain ways. Some may lift weights and get tough. Others may start to talk devilishly towards or about women. Some may even become women themselves (“women”, of course, in society’s eyes.)
Know though, that it is okay for a man to have feelings and show those feelings towards the ones that he loves. A man’s brain is usually wired to be analytical. As you start to get into intimate relationships know one thing: your analytical brain is of no help to your significant other in times of depression. As a man you have a duty and that duty is not to try to find the root of the problem and resolve the matter. Your duty is to use your unconditional love and comfort. That is all. It is not to act tough or get angry. It is not to analyze the situation and make sure it never happens again. It is to love and only to love.
Success & Happiness: Define what success and happiness means to you early on. I say this because you should start separating them at an early age. There is no doubt that your definitions of each will change many times in your life, but as long as you are focusing on them separately and continually defining them then you are focusing on what matters. Albert Einstein once said, “Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.” People will not care if you make a lot of money or drive nice cars. What people will care about is if you help – if you serve a better cause. Do not assume that with success comes value. I have met many people, including myself at one time, who were very successful but provided absolutely no value to society. Always focus on adding value to a problem or someone’s life and happiness will follow.
Life’s Path: I can not stress this enough, but in life you will be pressured to follow a specific path. For example, mine was to go to college and immediately start my career. Which I did and then I realized that was the wrong path for me to be on. This will likely be the only time I say this to you so be prepared when I say something different when the time comes, but please feel free to remind me of my writings once I do. As I see it, the only benefit to school (high school and above) is what happens in between classes. That is not to say that if you enjoy learning and don’t have a feeling otherwise you should not go to school, but if you are like me you will not necessarily “enjoy” the classes. The value that school has given me is purely social (and of course a diploma which society basically requires). If it wasn’t for school I would not have had the friends who have truly inspired my life. In fact, I wouldn’t have met your mom and there is no doubt my life would be completely different without her in it.
If you enjoy something, do it. If you don’t enjoy something, give it a bit more time to truly understand why you don’t enjoy it, and then stop doing it. Life is short and there is no reason to do something you don’t enjoy. I know many people who loved the arts but were forced by society or their parents to go to school and become doctors. Within 10 or 20 years of being a doctor they gave the profession up because the yearning of being an artist became too strong. Don’t focus on what you should be doing. Focus on what you could be doing and then do it.
Always Learn: Although I may not agree 100% in the idea behind school, don’t think for a second that learning should ever stop. Every situation, every day, is a learning opportunity. Never turn down an offer to try something you’ve never done, especially if you feel a little nervous about trying it. Those are the moments we live for. The moments that start off scary and end with wanting to try it again.
If you live a life of trying new things let it be known you will fall down. There will be mistakes and there will be poor choices made. However, know that a mistake is not a failure unless you give up at something you truly want in your heart. To live is to learn and to learn is to understand you will always be a journeymen in your life and trade.
Slow Down: At the time of writing this letter the world is moving at a seriously fast rate. It may seem strange for you to hear, but things like Facebook or Twitter and mobile phones and apps are making it easier for us to multi-task. I’m sure when you’re reading this that the world is moving even faster. Remember to take the time to slow down. Humans were not meant to move and act the way we do today yet we push ourselves to do it anyway – to keep up with the herd.
It’s okay to use modern technology to better your life, but never forget what truly matters in your heart. The world of needs and wants is extremely blurred and it’s much easier too over complicate your life than it is to simplify it. If you’re taking time out every day, every month, every year to slow down and appreciate the moment it’ll be easier for you to focus on what truly adds value to your life.
Family: When I was in my teenage years I didn’t fully appreciate my family. In fact, living with them and taking orders from them daily felt more like prison than anything. You can say the day I left to go off to college was a great day and I don’t expect you to be any different. But just know that what I know now is nothing but the exact opposite.
Through your years you will have many friends. Friends who you know for a year, friends you know for a lifetime but there will never be anyone quite like your family. These people have a certain unconditional love for you that no one can duplicate nor replicate. And although you may not see it now, they are the people who want the best for you and only you. Look to them for support in difficult matters. No matter how embarrassing, or foolish, or difficult it may be.
These are my words to you. My goal is to help you as you move through life but remember my words from the start. Wisdom cannot be taught. Do not think that I am trying to teach you how to live a life without failures. Do not think you will not come across challenges of your own that I did not. My advice to you is strictly that – advice.
But I know, as my son, you will be as curious of life as I am. With that curiosity comes a great deal of pressure to do what’s right. Just know that in times of uncertainty or depression you can come back to this letter and know that I was once there too.
And if this letter does not help, know that you can come to myself or mom as well.
I love you bud,
September 16, 2012