A Final Letter To My Son
The following is a letter I wrote to my 5-year old son while I was in the throes of my second cancer. The doctors were telling me (again) that I would likely not be around much longer and that it might be a good idea to “get things in order.”
This messy freeform life advice letter was originally included in an earlier draft of my new book (release date still unknown) and recently taken out. I don’t know if it’ll make the final cut, but for now here it is verbatim. I pre-apologize.
My beautiful boy,
I don’t where to start. I’m watching you sleep and I’m having so many thoughts. I don’t feel like I have any kind of handle on what it is I want to say to you. I have so much to say and so much to share but I don’t know how much time I have left and that’s an awful feeling. Not knowing how much time you have. So, what do I tell you in the time I do have left?
Shit. I’m already not making sense.
Maybe that’s all you need to know about your dad. He made very little sense. I like that. Put it on my headstone. “Here lies Glenn. He made very little sense.” No one would argue with you.
It’s surreal to have you in my bedroom sleeping by my side the way I did with your grandpa when he was dying. I can’t imagine what he was thinking. I can’t imagine how he did it, especially worrying that I would be dead soon after or even before he died. If that had been me and you, I probably would just have to thrown in the towel.
I really don’t know how he did it.
I don’t know how he stayed so lucid and so measured in the face of all of that. Your grandpa was a pretty amazing man. He was tortured by his unquiet mind but so goddamn smart.
Oh, you’ll probably remember that I curse a lot.
I’ve been cursing since you were born and I’m still convinced you won’t curse the way I do because I will have taken the fun out of it. It’s not a taboo thing if you hear it all the time, right? One of grandpa’s doctor friends used to tell me that people who curse do so because they’re not smart enough to articulate their thoughts with real words. That guy’s a dick. Don’t be that guy.
That’s my first bit of advice: It’s possible to know everything and still know nothing. So stay humble. Not false modesty humble but genuinely humble. Humble yourself to the fact that you can always learn more and you can probably learn the most from people you least expect to learn from.
I hope I’m alive long enough to tell you about grandpa. I promised myself that I would write about him one day but it’s looking more and more like my body’s not going to give me the chance.
You may have already stopped reading so I don’t know if anything I write beyond this point will matter. But fuck it. I love you more than I love anything or anyone on this planet and maybe all my shitty decisions will serve as a cautionary tale for you. Maybe they’ll help you avoid at least some of the pain I’ve had to endure.
I just hope you make a shitload of your own mistakes because I think the most important thing you can be in life is wrong.
It may sound like cliché bullshit but it’s true.
Make glorious mistakes.
Just make sure you don’t ever intentionally hurt anyone along the way. Ever.
That’s the most important part. Don’t intentionally hurt anyone.
By the time you read this, it’s possible Mom has already gotten remarried. And that’s a good thing. She’s an amazing woman and she deserves to be happy. I just hope the guy isn’t one of those dicks with the big calves and the ponytail and the hoop earring who never shuts up about wine. That guy’s probably into cycling too. That’s my worst nightmare for you.
I know I should have bigger concerns but sadly right now that is all I can think of. He sounds horrible. I bet his name is Blake. Fuck that guy.
See? Not making sense.
This is your father. I bet you’re proud.
Okay, what else?
Don’t trust any man who wants to work with kids.
No normal adult man genuinely enjoys kids. And if they do, it’s a big red flag. Stay away from that guy. Kids are mostly horrible and the only humans who have the strength and patience and emotional range to deal with them are women. It’s why women are the better sex. Seriously. Close your eyes and think of any problem in the world and I guarantee you it traces back to a man.
I haven’t tested these theories in a lab yet but I feel pretty confident I’m right.
What else should I tell you as your father?
Drugs. Yes. Do them. But only in moderation. And if you’re still doing them after you’re 25-years old, kill yourself. Don’t be that guy.
And don’t actually kill yourself. Ever. The people you leave behind will never be okay again. Never ever. No matter how horrific life gets — and it gets horrific — just hang on until tomorrow. And maybe the day after that or the day after that. Your grandpa used to love to remind me that nothing in life is static. Everything happens in cycles. There will always be a Spring after a Winter, no matter how brutal that winter is.
I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes and that’s fine.
If I’m boring you, go ask your new dad Blake to tell you about his backpacking trip through the Netherlands.
Okay. What else?
Music. Yes, music. Music music music. Immerse yourself in as much of it as possible as often as possible. Make music if you can. And if you can’t make music then make music out of whatever you do. If you want to spend your life detailing tractor trailers, no problem. Just be the best you possibly can be at it. Make music out of it.
And since I’m on that subject, let’s talk about shitty jobs. You’ll have a bunch of them. And the quality of the job has very little to do with how much it pays. The best job I ever had paid me the least and the worst one paid me the most.
Just promise me that you won’t be a victim. I hate victims. If your job is shitty, find a new one. Don’t be that negative asshole at the office that takes everyone down with them. Someone is paying you. Do the best job you can. And if you don’t like where your boat is headed, either take over steering or shut the fuck up and row. Or ask Blake. I bet he’ll sell you one of his kayaks.
Sorry. I sound way angrier than I actually am.
It’s just how your dad’s brain works. Hopefully you get your mother’s brain. It’s not pretty in here.
What else? Surround yourself with people who are better than you. It’ll make you work harder and it’ll make you better. If you surround yourself with people who are worse, you’ll get worse. Sure, you may feel better about yourself during the day, but at night you’ll struggle with the fact that you’re the tallest midget instead of the shortest giant. Be the shortest giant.
Also always say Yes as often as possible. Your other grandpa taught me this. He was offered a TV commercial where he had to be on-camera driving a tractor and when his agent asked him if he knew how to drive one, he just said Yes. Then he hung up the phone and told me he had two days to learn how to drive a tractor.
And he did.
So say Yes and figure it out later. Saying yes makes your world bigger the same way saying No makes it smaller.
Of course I can think of a bunch of gross examples where this would be terrible advice, but I trust that you get the gist of what I’m saying and that you’ll use discretion. Like I said, none of this has been tested in a lab yet.
What else? Be generous. Like beyond generous. Like retarded-level generous. I know everyone thinks your father is generous to a degree that affects his life for the worse. And they’re not wrong. But I believe the most important job you can do on this planet is to help other people get better. Safer, healthier, stronger, whatever. If everyone tried to do that even the tiniest bit, the world would be a pretty fucking amazing place.
Ready for whiplash? Good. Here’s the other thing. People are garbage. So don’t ever be generous with the expectation that your generosity will be reciprocated. Expect nothing from people and you won’t be disappointed.
People who don’t know me well think I’m a huge pessimist. Not even close. Your father is a disappointed optimist. And he’s dumb enough to keep believing that people will do the right thing. They usually don’t. But then you’ll meet someone who does and that’s the person who will enhance your life in ways you can’t possibly imagine.
Shit. You woke up while I was writing that last sentence so I had to continue this and now I lost my flow.
So if it gets worse, it’s your fault.
And that brings up something really important: own your shit. That means that if you screw up — and you will, and hopefully a lot — take responsibility for it. It’s easy to blame someone else for your shit, but if you do, you’ll be trying to jump from your knees. You’ll become bitter and angry at a world that you could’ve changed if you had bothered to try.
Your dad has a lot friends who never stop complaining about how their lives have turned out so differently from how they expected. Of course I can’t relate to that. When I was your age, I prayed every night that my life would be a never-ending battle with cancer and heartache. And you know what? It happened!
This is sarcasm.
I know. I’m a dick. I’m no better than Blake. I get your point. You don’t need to rub it in.
Oh! Random one but important: don’t trust any adult male who’s into Disney. Something’s up.
Sorry. You’re probably glad I’m dead at this point, huh?
Let’s talk about love. Your grandpa had a friend who would constantly tell me how wonderful his marriage was and how the honeymoon phase never ended.
He was so full of shit.
Love is crazy and wonderful and hypnotic and magical and a million beautiful things all at once. But if it was meant to stay that way, we’d all be dead by the time we hit twenty-five. Remember what grandpa said? Nothing is static. Love is the perfect example of that. It will eventually calm to a real and natural place. And that’s a good thing and a normal thing and a healthy thing. It only gets unhealthy if it gets completely static. If the bad parts of a relationship become the biggest parts then it’s time to make a different choice.
And if you find yourself in a relationship with someone who creates drama, run. Fucking RUN.
Or fake your own death.
There’s enough real drama in the world. You don’t need to be with someone who manufactures it.
Also never make a choice based on fear. Fear is the enemy of joy. And I promise you that all choices you make from fear will destroy you over time. Shitty job, shitty relationship? If fear has its way, you’ll stay there. And you’ll make choices that aren’t the right choices for reasons of comfort.
You have to push through that no matter how much it hurts.
In fact, I’ve found that the only way I know I’m doing the right thing is by how uncomfortable I am.
Do shit that makes you uncomfortable.
Do a lot of it.
Also, don’t worry about what other people have. I think there’s a Buddhist saying about how comparison is the root of all pain. If you weren’t sleeping so peacefully beside me, I’d go look it up. I guess you’ll have to look it up for me. Or maybe Blake will have it tattooed on his inner thigh. I don’t know. I can’t do everything for you.
What else? Oh yeah. Don’t get SO into sex that you have to buy equipment. It’s great as it is. Put your energy somewhere else. Make the world more beautiful. Love the shit out of the people you love and then love the shit out of people you don’t know if you’ll ever love. There is so much darkness in this world. Be one of the ones who bring light into it.
Okay, I’m running out of steam. Sorry I don’t have Blake’s stamina.
Well, if you only take one thing away from this weirdness, let it be the one truism that has never let me down:
Don’t take advice from someone you don’t in some way aspire to be like.
Really. This has always been true for me.
I’m so open to advice, but when I need advice on things that are really important to me, I only listen to people who I in some way aspire to be like.
I hope that makes sense. I really think it’s the only thing that’s never not been true for me. Of course that means that if you don’t want to be anything like your father, then you should ignore everything I just wrote.
And that’s okay. I’m sure Blake can tell you cool stuff about pinot noir or martial arts or whatever.
I don’t know. I’m looking at you right now and I’m watching your eyeballs go back and forth and I’m wondering what you’re dreaming about. I don’t know how much more of this I’ll get to see but I feel so fucking grateful that I even get to be with you right now in this moment.
Even though I’m in pain and even though I’m really scared.
I hope you get to experience a love this strong one day. And if you can’t find it, please promise me you’ll create it.
I love you,