An Open Letter to My Sons

Boone, when you were two years old, a boy your age lived with us for a while. Whenever he had a toy you wanted, you walked up to him and took it. I secretly felt proud. I believed that the world is tough, and it would be easier to teach you not to be a bully than to stand up for yourself in the first place. Benjamin, you are nearly two today, and watching you muscle past Boone to get cherry tomatoes in our garden, I still believe that. But I’ve never thought much about how I would teach you. Maybe this is a start.

Decide who you want to be and build towards it. Learn to accept and to love yourself. This process will hurt. You can make it happen faster if you lean into feedback, especially from people who care enough to tell you the unvarnished truth. Be proud of your good choices, not your gifts. As your public reputation falls and rises, don’t believe the hype. In high school I felt I didn’t fit in and often hated myself for it. In college I found my tribe, but a friend told me “For a guy whose schtick is being a good person, you can be a real asshole.” He’s right. Another friend pulled me aside at a party in my twenties and said “People love you because when you pay attention, it’s like you’re shining a light on them that makes them feel special.” I nodded, basking in the praise. “When you drink too much, that light goes out.” Oh. She’s right too.

When you make a mistake, feel it deeply, fix what you can, and commit to changing, and then try to forgive yourself. When others make a mistake, and they’ve felt it deeply, fixed what they can, and committed to changing, try to forgive them too. Get comfortable with two questions when you feel wronged: “Have I ever made someone else feel the way I feel right now?” and “What if this is actually my fault?” Even when neither is true, both are useful.

Take care of your mom, she is wise, powerful, and beautiful and we are lucky to have her. Honor and respect the good people in your life, and tell them you love them.

Tell the truth.

I’m not saying you should always believe the women, but I can’t remember a woman ever lying to me about something important.

Be kind. Bring people in. You don’t always have to pick a side, but if you don’t know who to support, pick the underdog. They need more help and it’s more fun anyway.

In the right circumstances it is your ethical responsibility to punch someone in the face.

If you are lucky to live a privileged life as I have, the temptation to believe you’ve earned it or that you deserve it more than others will be strong. Do not be the person who was born on third base and thought they hit a triple. The pressure for self-justification will be even stronger. Cut yourself and everyone else some slack, but distribute it evenly. Recognize that you are playing life on easy mode and be thankful. Figure out where you are uniquely suited to help other people and do it. Don’t wallow in ignorance or guilt. Just do it.

As I write this out, I wonder if it is already written in your hearts. I see so much good in you it makes me cry sometimes. It wouldn’t be the first time a dad pushed dreams on his children that were actually his own.

Either way, please know that I love you. And hold me and yourselves accountable.

Things will only get better if we do.