(This is an actual letter I wrote to my son. These are thoughts, ideas, and morals he and I discuss on a regular basis and are well ingrained in my interactions with, and in the example I have tried to set for, him. But, as completing the 9th grade seemed like a good milestone, I chose to write these ideas down and print them out so he would have them to look at over the years. I thought it would make a good inspirational piece for others… as well as myself)
My youngest son,
I know full well that raging blood, testosterone, and a host of other hormones, thoughts, ideas and dreams boil through one’s body at the gnarly age of 15. In completing your first year of high school this month you have so many things ahead of you that it would be overwhelming for even the brightest minds to prepare you. But, I can offer you some very simple rules that will help you no matter where you find yourself in the coming three years you have left of high school, and even beyond that.
“What have you done for me lately?”
I think one of the most important lessons a young man can learn is to realize that your success lies not in “the past” but in “the present” and “the future.” Intriguingly, human nature dictates a “what have you done for me lately” mentality. And that’s a good thing!
Those who fail the most often are generally those who focus too much on the past and neglect their present and future actions. People who insist on being continually congratulated for past actions are typically those whose self-esteem is based on constant “pats on the back” and this causes them to require constant gratification rather than constant re-proving of oneself.
How well you played football last year, how well you did on a math test last week, or how well you did on a JROTC inspection yesterday doesn’t matter as much as how well you will perform today! The reputation that counts most is the one you earn today!
Don’t be afraid to challenge others, even your superiors. I’ve spent a lot of years giving you the Forrest Gump “Lt. Dan” treatment, telling you to “Get down, Shut up!” But those demands were because you were a child. You’re not a child any longer, you’re a young man, and I’m sure even you have noticed that you don’t hear those words from me anymore.
I think it was Dr. Laura Schlessinger who once wrote something to the effect: “Every good man I know had a father who was more than a little hard on him.” These words ring true because the best men among us have been those who had a hard, disciplinary father to guide them. So, you’re lucky!
You don’t hear harsh words of reprimand from me much anymore because being a young man means that you acquire much more responsibility to interpret and decide for yourself on issues of what is right and wrong, without having to be being told to do so.
Remember that it is very much human nature to follow others. Very few people have the guts to stand up and lead, and this is why it is so easy to do if you have good moral character. It is easy because people “want” to follow a charismatic leader. The hardest part will always be to maintain good moral character after others have chosen to follow you.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict every occurrence that might happen to you in the future, or the correct action you must take for every occurrence. Therefore, it is important to maintain a simple “test” when making life’s decisions. This test includes asking yourself two very simple questions: (1) Is what I am about to do honorable, and (2) after I do this, will I be able to look my friends and family in the eye with confidence?
Despite what other parents might accept, I have long told you that I expect your standards to be much higher than the rest of society. This is something that some men simply choose, and some men simply don’t.
This includes not engaging in activities that many view as being not necessarily “illegal.” That is to say, just because you might be able to “get away with” something, doesn’t mean it is right.
If you set high standards for yourself, you won’t have to worry much about how well you pick your friends. When you decide “not” to do something because it isn’t right, those who follow you will very often be those with good moral character, and you will often help to dissuade those who might have chosen the wrong path.
“The only way to stay out of trouble is to stay away from it”
One of the earliest lessons I taught you was that “The only way to stay out of trouble is to stay away from it.”
That very simple message clearly explains that anytime you get into trouble it is your fault and no one else’s. Anytime you get into trouble it is “always” your fault because “you” are responsible for your own actions; not your friends, not your older sister, not your older brother, not the TV, not your teacher, or anyone else. You alone determine whether or not you make the right decisions.
This is precisely why I say that, as a young man, you always possess the moral responsibility to challenge others when you suspect that they might be wrong. This is the single most important responsibility that we, as men, possess.
Never, ever go along with the crowd just because you don’t want to be an annoyance, or because you think you might hurt someone’s feelings! Always, always express your opinion! Another’s wrong opinion will always take charge when your correct opinion is kept silent.
Remember, you are the direct link to all the members of our family who have come before you. Respect them by showing them – in your actions – that they have done well.
You’ve become a very impressive young man! But that was yesterday. Your actions today and forward will determine how well your children admire you, and what example your name will leave in our family.
As Winston Churchill spoke in 1941: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”