Didn’t we both think this day was never going to come? But here it is, and I am entirely unprepared for all the feelings.
Of course, we both know your graduation means the end of an era.
It’s the end of sack lunches and marching band.
It’s the end of school dances and football games.
It’s the end of me signing your report cards.
It’s the end of my making you eat your vegetables.
(Side note: it’s also the end of my paying for your car insurance. I’ve been meaning to tell you).
It’s also a marvelous beginning.
I am so very proud of you, not just because of your academic accomplishments, but your character. You are kind, sometimes to a fault, and you’re always the first to ask how you can help someone.
This is rare, not just for your generation, but for the world we live in.
We live in a world that says:
“How can I get what’s coming to me?”
“I deserve the best.”
“Look at me! Here I am, being awesome again!”
It’s difficult to rise above these urges.
As you leave high school behind and move to greater things, don’t for a second underestimate your power in this world.
Power begins with choices.
You’ll be making your own decisions about your career, your love life, and what kind of person you want to become. Yes, I know you think you’re all finished growing up, but believe me when I tell you, this is only the beginning.
Because you’ve managed to overcome much of this “me first” mentality, many will try to take advantage. Please don’t let them. It’s difficult to balance kindness and self-respect, but it must be mastered. It is part of loving yourself and embracing maturity.
Another part of maturity is responsibility. We hear so much about what it means to “be a man.” Many inflate masculinity to the point it becomes vulgar: a caricature of itself. They point to their conquests as a mark of manhood. They brag about pushups and athletic prowess over intelligence and sensitivity.
I’ve known many weak men, many selfish men, many corrupt and vulgar men, and a few truly good men.
Do your best to fall into that last category.
I know your dad has been a positive role model to you, and you are fortunate to have him. You were also lucky enough to have known your Papa, my daddy, for a few short years (not nearly, nearly enough). You’ve also been fortunate to have met good men in the form of family, teachers, coaches, and pastors. But, before you leave my nest, I want to make sure you hear this from a woman’s perspective.
On Being a Good Man
A good man knows when to apologize. He knows when to own up to his mistakes. He knows when to dig in, and when to let go.
A good man also knows how to treat a lady. It’s not just opening doors, although that is a good start. He is a good listener, even when the topic is not personally interesting. He knows how to be authentic, true. He loves when she is unlovable. He takes up for her even when she doesn’t deserve it. He is on her side.
He is intelligent enough to listen to other’s opinions, understanding how and when to disagree respectfully and without insult, but he is also able to not internalize the negativity.
A good man knows how to help others, not just when he will receive accolades, but even when he knows helping will not benefit his own agenda. He helps others when they are too proud to ask. He helps others who don’t know how to ask. He does not expect or demand to be “paid back.”
A good man lets his moral code guide him. He listens to his conscience. He doesn’t cheat others or himself. He doesn’t lie to others or himself. He never steals from others; he only takes what he earns or is given freely. This goes for money, time, or love.
Speaking of love: a good man doesn’t force his intentions, agenda, or affections on anyone else. A good man doesn’t have to try too hard to be loved. He knows what “no” means, and he respects the word and the connotations behind it. He never pushes his advantage. In this way, he earns love and loyalty. When you become a husband, your heart becomes one with another. If you treat your wife as if she is part of you, most of the time you will do the right thing, though nobody is perfect.
When you are on your own in this world, you will be tempted in every way. A good man knows when he is in over his head, and when to look away or walk away. He knows when he’s crossed the line and when to ask for forgiveness. He’s not too proud to admit he’s failed, and he’s not afraid to dust himself off after falling.
A good man is not afraid to love with his whole heart. He understands to love this way is to open his heart for potential pain. He will almost certainly suffer, because it’s difficult to go against the grain of this world. He doesn’t let the hurt scar him, because he sees the good in others and gravitates toward this goodness. To display courage doesn’t mean you haven’t been wounded. It just means you have determined to not allow these wounds to be fatal.
Not all good men will be fathers. Although I hope this gift comes to you when you are ready; it might not. Nature makes no sense regarding who she lets father a child.
Some men want to be dads more than anything, and for whatever cosmic reason cannot.
Some men father children who should not be allowed to take care of a houseplant.
Many men are given charge of children but don’t know (or choose not to) to guide them. It’s really not that difficult to be a good father. You just need to show up and take care of business. You love with your whole heart. You do what it takes to pay the bills and put food on the table. Nobody is perfect; you will make many mistakes, but if you love your kids that is what they will remember. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
In a few days, you’ll walk across that stage, and you’ll move the tassel, signifying the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. You’ll leave childhood behind and take on adult responsibilities. You will make mistakes. you’ll fall and get up again. You will encounter great joy and indescribable pain. You will love. You will lose: sometimes big and sometimes small. Some losses will be devastating–people you love. This, my son, is enough to make us want to give up.
I wish I could protect you from this, but I cannot.
I know you. You will, as Maya Angelou says, rise. You will stumble, and maybe fall again. But when you stand–you will run. You will fly.
You will not just fly–you will soar.
You’ll make your mark on this world.
The world has been changed by many men, both good and evil.
You will strive for the good, the pure, the authentic.
And you will be a good man.