To My Dear Son James:
The last time I traveled to Europe on business was in 1993, in the first week of September. I remember it well; in part, because you, my first born son, had just started kindergarten the week before.
Now, here we are 13 years later, I just got back from Europe on business, for only the second time. You are now 17. And in just a few days, you’ll graduate high school.
Talk about symmetry.
I have a picture of us together from your first day of kindergarten. We’re holding hands, smiling big. I think we need to take another one on Saturday, with you now almost as tall as me. We don’t hold hands anymore, but sometimes I wish we still could. Or more accurately, sometimes I wish you were still a 5 year old boy, when holding your Dad’s hand is still OK.
So I think I’ll put those two pictures side by side in one frame, and then I can reminisce about the blinding speed of childhood whenever I pause to look at it.
And now, here we are. High school graduation. This is serious business. It’s really the end of a phase of your life, not just a graduation from a school. Most of us, I think, as the years go by, wish we could go back and do some things differently. I imagine you have some feelings like this; if not yet, you probably will some day. So rest assured, you are not alone. Very, very few people manage to make it to high school graduation without making any major mistakes; I’m not sure we’d want to hang around with them, anyway.
But none of that really matters right now. You are passing into a new phase of your life, and along with that, new opportunities and challenges await you.
I recommend re-re-re-committing yourself to your future. You will never regret working hard for your own benefit.
I’ve tried to push you fairly hard over the years, on things that I value: responsibility, moral reasoning, perspective. But of course, in other ways we’ve become good friends, despite all the traps that usually seem to catch fathers and sons.
You still make me laugh faster, and more often, than anybody I’ve ever known. Maybe it’s just me, but you have a kind of charisma that draws people to you. You smile a lot. People like that; I know I do.
Maybe other fathers and sons have good relations like we do; many do not. Good relations don’t just “happen”; it takes guidance, and effort, to make a series of small but mostly correct choices about words, and tone, and message, and respect for the other’s feelings. This is the foundation upon which good relations are built.
Don’t ask me how we stumbled upon this treasure; I don’t know. I do know that I bonded with you from the beginning, and liked being a Dad, and having you around, and tried to show that in small ways. I guess it worked.
I think this foundation has allowed us to survive some rough spots better than we might have otherwise. And will continue to allow that, into the future.
Of all the things we measure our lives by, I’ll never treasure anything more than that. We should be proud of what we’ve built; not everybody can do it, or there wouldn’t be so many parents and teens fighting all the time.
I know I could be a better Dad in many ways; who couldn’t? Well, most Moms, I guess, but that clearly isn’t the point right now. A little advice for your future: being a parent is like a 24×7 classroom, where you are being quizzed every day and tested every other day. Your kids are the teachers, constantly throwing scenarios at you to see if you can handle it or not.
The thing is, you know that passing the class is the most important thing you could ever do, and so you try. You try really, really hard.
And it is simply not possible to pass every single quiz, every single test. Sometimes you fail miserably. But you don’t let that stop you. You look at what you did, you try to figure out what to do different next time, and you move on. “Teachable moments”, they call them.
But one thing I’m having trouble “moving on” with is the fact that you’re graduating high school in a few days, and that you’ll be “moving on” yourself in a few short years. This is hard to think about. But, it happens to everyone eventually.
So I truly hope and pray that I’ve prepared you for your life out there in the real world. It doesn’t have to be scary; even a schmo like me managed to create a halfway decent life for myself and my family, with the help of God, a good wife, some effort, and probably a bit of luck.
May you be blessed in these and many other ways.
All My Love, And Hugs,