A Letter To My Son (and You)
[December 13, 2018]
Let me start by saying how proud I am of you — not for what you have done, but for who you are, and who I see you becoming.
Your youth leader told me that you feel more like his friend than his student. I know that I still have to parent you (and, I guess, be your driving coach at some point) but I feel the exact same way. Especially after a trip like the one we just had together.
Nolan, you will always be my son, but you’re also becoming such a great friend.
It is so much fun to have you as a friend.
Our time in Vegas last Monday was so fun.
I was excited to share that kind of day with you. It’s the kind of day that David Dean and I have made a tradition of each year (except we end up gambling, and you like higher-end window shopping than that Indiana-boy does…I suppose I have myself to thank for that). We visit the same restaurants I took you to, bet on the same games and just hang out and enjoy one another.
It’s exciting for me to get to share something special — something that I love — with you like that. My favorite parts, though, were our conversations.
We went deep.
First, over dinner, it was our conversation about forgiveness. About making peace. After that, your cousin Mike came up — and I know things have been hard there. Mike’s story somehow led to me telling you about my dad, and the way I wasn’t there for him when he died.
I wish so badly that I could have been.
I didn’t have fun with my dad when I was young. We didn’t get along, and I didn’t see him much. Not enough to know him, anyway. He was too busy trying to provide for us, which might sound noble, but it pulled him away from our family.
I’ve had to learn a lot about forgiveness and making peace, too, Nolan. I’m so thankful that I was able to make peace with him. We finally became friends seven years before he died. I never knew how much I needed it until it happened, and my memories of him — of us together — are so special. Priceless.
I miss him.
It was nice — you asking me about that time in your life. About what was really going on, even beyond my dad dying. We took the same Vegas trip together, too, you know. I’m thankful that I got to be there with him — I as his son and friend the way that you are to me. Being there with you this week made me realize just how fast you are growing up. Time really is flying, and you are only a few, short years away from adulthood.
Then, I thought about how ours was technically a work trip for me. We haven’t done one like it together since the year you were born, but this was something different. It wasn’t the same as it has been in the past — you coming to listen to me speak before we peel out and play games somewhere. This was more like you entering into my world. Taking it in. Meeting some of the people you’ve always heard me talk about. It was a first-hand view of the challenges we face in ministry and the strategic conversations that exist in relation to the businesses I run.
I’ll be honest: I was proud to show you off in those rooms, and I was proud of the responses demanded by your presence. No one could believe that a fifteen-year-old could actually carry himself the way that you do. And I’m proud of you for it.
You know I work hard. In fact, you know that I work too hard, and often spend too much time with my head buried in projects, but honestly? I hope you were just as proud to see me in that room. I want you to be proud of me, too.
The next night, I got to jump into your world.
It wasn’t just to see a band — it was to see your environment. Your world.
Watching girls pick-up on and take photos with you.
Watching you figure out how to be in the front row for LANY, or how to meet them afterward, deliberating over which of them you’d love to meet the most.
I was proud of the decision you made. It’s who you are: someone who doesn’t want to stand in front, but rather, someone who wants to stand beside others, and them beside you. The whole band loves you, Nolan. After something as special as that was, they talk about you for sure. There is no one else quite like you.
When we walked out and you told me the story of the model, I was stoked. I loved the way that you wanted to talk to me. The way that you trusted me with something. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry that I paid part of that story forward when I now realize you probably weren’t all that excited about it. I will learn to figure out what not to say, and when, but I was just excited that you talked to me like you would your friends.
Thank you for being willing to talk to me like that.
Remember when I asked you what was one thing that stood out to you during Jeff Walker’s two-day conference?
You responded, “A lack of confidence.”
And you’re right. The only difference between myself, Mark, and Jeff Walker — as compared to the other people in that room — is confidence.
I am not smarter than everyone else in the room.
I don’t have a better business mind than everyone else in that room.
I don’t study and prepare better than everyone else in that room.
I just believe in myself a bit more than they do, and I want you to remember that. Confidence will get you in the room. Sure, if your confidence turns to cockiness, it can also get you kicked out of the room, so you have to learn how to use that gift. You have it. I know that you have it, and when confidence is paired well with a personality like yours, I swear you’ll go far, Nolan.
I want to help you build that confidence. I want to do it for Elise and Mom, too. I hope you see me doing that with all of the people that I work with.
The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
- I want you to be confident now and forever, and to know where it comes from — who you are in Christ. It’s not you, but He who is within you. And He who is within you is capable of accomplishing more than you could ever ask for or imagine.
- I want you to keep believing that anything is possible. Dream big. Compete for spots you want, even (and maybe especially) those that most would say are impossible to get.
- Don’t settle. I’m talking about girls. I’m talking about your values. I am talking about your life. I know you’re making a list…believe that you will find a girl who is everything on that list and more.
- Don’t stay quiet. Your voice matters. Most people are scared of the microphone, Nolan — but you aren’t. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind, share your passions and stand out. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep being you. Show us something different than everyone else out there. Don’t stay quiet.
- You are living your bucket list. It’s okay to write your dreams down, but remember what we’re always learning in church: your best life is now, here. Enjoy your youth. Enjoy this season of life while you still get to look forward to summer vacations, and fall breaks. Keep saying yes to the things that come your way, even when you don’t think they sound fun. Even when you don’t think you’ll get your yes. Keep living, and keep inviting others in to live right alongside you. I’m glad you decided to take the road trip.
- Continue to care for and love your sister and your mom. Love them well now, and for as long as this life gives us.
That’s all I got.
After the first trip that I took with my dad, he wrote me a letter, too. I received it in the mail — his shitty, cursive, almost illegible handwriting on a piece of lined yellow paper — thanking me for sharing something with him.
He wrote me after every trip we took together. I always thought it was crazy, because never in my life did I think it would happen until, by some miracle, we became friends. I can hear mom’s voice perfectly, announcing their arrival: “You got a letter from your dad on your desk.”
For some reason, I didn’t keep them. I thought I did, and every time I’m in the garage, I look for them. To find just one would be so sweet, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Nevertheless, I wanted to tell you the same. Thank you, Nolan.
It’s late, and I’m still awake, thinking. After our trip, I thought about the way my dad would write those letters, and I wanted to do the same. I can’t promise I’ll do it after every trip, but when I think about it, I will.
Do me a favor, though? Don’t delete it, or erase it, or throw it away. Keep it. You might never know why, or when you’ll read it again, but at least you will have it.
I look forward to many more trips with you. I look forward to watching you grow old (and myself grow older).
I love you Nolan.
P.S. I’ve spent too much of my life thinking about all of the things that I could say to people, and I think a lot of those same people spend their lives in the same way. I wish we’d all learn to speak. This letter is — in a way — my attempt at speaking. I remember Levi challenging people to love the ones they love out loud. I love you out loud, Nolan. Try to do the same for others, too.
P.P.S. Since you’re keeping this letter forever, I have an answer to the question we’ve been asking, “What does Nolan do better than anyone else I know?” It might be rough, but I pulled all of my thoughts into a one-liner:
“Nolan’s vast creative knowledge and interests allow him to relate to people of any age, race, or gender, which causes him to discover new interests, and pushes him to learn new things…that is why you are the best 15-year old I know.”
Put better — You love, learn, relate and create, and to circle all the way back around…
I am proud of you.