A Letter to My Son on His Graduation Day: On Being a Good Man

nate-18.jpg

Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind”

Dear Son,

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:

“Me first.”

“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.

 

 

 

 

Why Writers MUST Write

snow

 

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
Anaïs Nin

Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand when it comes to being a writer.

The cadence of words, they way they are communicated from keyboard to screen–to us, it’s lovely. It’s a kind of delicate dance with many missteps.

Many people write for fame and glory. Many people fail.

But those of us who write to remember will always have a reason to rejoice.

The recording of life’s seemingly insignificant moments takes them from ordinary to extraordinary. We are the historians.

If I take a moment to write about the surprise snow day when my son was ten, it ties this moment to both our hearts. If I describe his joy as he ran around in the front yard before 7:30 in the morning, glorying in the ease of the wet snow’s ability to form dozens of snow balls, it won’t be forever forgotten. If I mention how I put a coat on over my scrubs and followed him into the yard for a snowball fight under the treehouse, it matters. And, years later, when my boy is no longer small (he’s 6’5″ now) and the treehouse has been long gone, it won’t seem sad, but precious.

If I don’t note the exact day my  baby girl lost her first tooth, who will? Who will give this moment the importance it deserves? And, years from now, when my daughter has gone gray and visits me at the nursing home, how else will I be able to remember? How else might I carve these memories in my heart, press them to my soul?

Memories fail, but the pen does not.

 

 

5 Things I Want My Son to Know

dad and bike

I know what you’re thinking.

How could you possibly sum up everything you want to teach your kid into bullet points? That’s crazy. That’s insane. Get this woman a padded room.

Be honest–doesn’t a padded room sound pretty great sometimes? It’s quiet, it’s comfy–nobody’s talking…

Okay, back to reality.

You’re right. Life lessons are complicated and people can and do write obnoxiously long books about them. Here’s the thing, though. We are busy! We have so much going on. Lessons and ball games and concerts, deadlines and grades and buying toilet paper and washing underwear and taking the dog to the vet (somebody has to). The list NEVER gets shorter, it just changes with age (like me).

It’s like the old joke about how to eat an elephant…one bite at a time.

Since I’m not a child psychologist or Oprah or anything, I just have to do this a bite at a time. If I wait for that “perfect moment”, inevitably it will never come. So here’s my best shot–5 things at a time. If you want to see the previous blog about this, click  here.

5 MORE Things I Want My Son to Know:

1.How to be a good dad. This is complicated, for sure, and when I think about things my own dad did that made me love him I think that 90% of it was just being there. He worked a lot (so did my mom) but as he grew older he noticed that sometimes just showing up was support enough. My dad wasn’t perfect, and he made lots of mistakes, but what I remember the most about him was that he never gave up. Not on me, not on himself. I don’t think he knew how.

2.How to be a good husband. Again, this is complicated, and not necessarily something that can be summed up in a few sentences in a blog. But the essence of being a good husband is, I think, in the little things. Like coming home when you say you’ll be home, and turning off the t.v. when you said you would. Like picking up the ice cream I like without being asked, or replacing that light bulb that’s out in the bathroom. Little things add up to love.

3. How to be stubborn about doing the right thing. Again, I’ve done                 and said the wrong thing MANY, MANY times…we don’t need any                 specific examples here, that’s not really the point…but I do hope that           MOST of the time I’ve modeled the right way to do things. I want to               be a good reference for what integrity looks like, and when I’m not, I             hope I own up to it and make it right.

4. How to properly wash a dish. Okay, I know this is NOT a “big” item, but it’s important. To be sure he understands this basic principle, I feel he needs lots of practice.

5. How to finish what you’ve started. This is a big one to be sure. Sometimes we start and stop and start and stop again. Sometimes big events are interrupted and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep trying and to stick it out. Sticking it out–in marriage, in life, in work-it’s all important. Sticking it out in the hard places, when you’re scared and blind and you have no clue what’s happening next or even  if this is the right thing. You stick it out, you stay put…you dig your heels in and you scream at the wind “I’m not going anywhere!” And if you’re lucky, somebody’s there holding your hand, sticking it out with you.

That’s what I want my son to know–at least for today.

 

 

The Top 10 TV Dads EVER!!

When I was growing up in the 1980s, summer smelled like coconuts, sweet tea and chlorine. I watched a TON of TV, especially on summer break. About 95% of my TV viewing occurred mostly in my swimsuit because I migrated back and forth between the public pool and tv. I would stay at the pool with my best friends from noon to 6:00 p.m. when the pool closed. I even reasoned that it was a waste of time to shower because everybody knows the chemicals in the pool water completely sanitize both the water and everybody in it. Also, I would like to point out that sunscreen was not even invented, and I’m here to tell you that even if it WAS invented nobody would have used it back then because everyone wanted to be TAN. Nothing signifies the beginning of summer quite like a second degree sunburn. Who would have predicted that 30 years later I would have developed a vitamin D deficiency?

Anyway, after 6 hours at the pool, I’d come home, have dinner, and park myself in front of the television until I passed out.
Periodically, my mom would come in and say, “Turn that thing off! It’s been on TOO long!” So I would turn it off, wait a few minutes and turn it BACK on. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that part of what we base our expectations of fatherhood on the approximately 3000 hours of input into our tiny little psyches.

Nothing says Happy Father’s Day like a list of the best TV Dads.

10. Dan Conner from “Roseanne” would have been much higher in the lineup except for the unfortunate last season he cheated on Roseanne. Good dads cannot be cheaters! Before that happened, though, Dan was an awesome Dad who loved his kids and worked hard to support the family. He was real, too…a bit overweight which didn’t matter so much because come on, so is Roseanne. Those two were a match made in TV Land heaven. This clip is the one where Dan gets bailed out by Darlene. Yes, he’s in jail–for beating up Jackie’s boyfriend for beating her up. Because justice.

9. Mr. Krabbs from “Spongebob.” This was Mancub’s vote so I had to include it. Although he’s depicted as a penny-pinching stinge, nothing helps him open up that rusty wallet like his whale of a daughter, Pearl. He’s a single dad, too. Way to go Mr. Krabbs.

8.Ray Barone from “Everyone Loves Raymond.” Also a writer, Ray’s whining sometimes gets irritating but my favorite episode? When Ray drives to Jersey to get Allie the special trading card she wants, not knowing that it’s a super expensive collector’s card. And he gets it for her anyway. Also, when Ray encouraged his boys to be the best fairies in the school play. Love it.

7.Richard Gilmore from “Gilmore Girls.” I know he can be a bit snobby and pretensious, but come on! He made mistakes when raising Lorelai, but then he more than made up for it with Rory.

6.Jim Halpert from “The Office.” Even though Dwight tries to guilt trip Jim for working late when his daughter CeCe is at home, he’s actually seen changing a diaper in one of the episodes. Score!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qo5OJwmnjgA

5.Adam Braverman from Parenthood. One of the most patient and tolerant dads of TVdom, he manages to be firm yet kind with his unruly brood, even when his wife has cancer, his son’s autistic, he has a new baby and he’s managing a new business.

4.Stephen Keaton from Family Ties. Father of future superstar Michael J. Fox, Mr. Keaton could do no wrong. Even though he was a bit of a (gasp!) hippy…Mr. Keaton really was the “cool” dad.

3. Andy Griffith from the Andy Griffith Show.

I had such a crush on Andy! I would love to know the total amount of hair gel he used in his TV career. Also a single dad, Andy managed to keep the sleepy town of Mayberry safe while also taking time out to take little Opie fishing. Aww!

2.Paul Hennessy from 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter. Paul is a writer so right away you know he’s just good people. Ok this is not always true but Paul is the real deal. Even though he managed to be kind of bullied by his teenagers, you know deep down that he’s just a giant softie and that if any of his kids were threatened, CRAP WILL GET REAL.

1. Charles Ingalls from Little House in the Prairie. A perfect mix of brawn, hard-working ethic and prayer, Pa was awesome. Did I mention he could also kick some prairie butt if necessary?

Don’t like my list? Think I skipped someone? Put it in the comments section below! 🙂