Letters to my Boys
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Letters to my Boys

Uncle Matt at Two-Score and Ten

You are extremely fortunate to have many good men in your life.

One of those men crossed the semi-centennial mark today.

Uncle Matt is 50 years old. That merits a moment of honor.

Now there is a tension in the Stowell family. As a rule, we celebrate achievement and good deeds. At the same time, we ridicule and tease as a form of praise.

Let today be a day for the former.

You have many reasons to appreciate your uncle.

Uncle Matt wants to bend the world to his liking. Or to others’ liking. That’s why he studied engineering at Utah State.

There is no inconvenience too small for Uncle Matt to engineer a moon-landing-scale solution.

One tiny monument to his determination stands. At grandpa and grandma’s, we can all enjoy the shade on the deck thanks to the rigging he built with telescoping rods to accommodate the retractable shades.

Engineering in the service of others is his forte.

When he was a junior in high school he drove a Volkswagen Rabbit. He began charging friends for rides in order to build up a wallet fund since he had no wallet.

Ironic, no? He might have avoided the entire need by not raising money. But the habit held, and he continues to maximize his earning ability and purchasing power.

It is rumored that on a visit to Baskin Robbins he sweet-talked the server into piling extra ice cream into his shake. He didn’t even finish the shake. It’s all about how much you can get, not how much you need.

At your age, Uncle Matt was a founding member of the Rangers. This was a neighborhood militia of wayward youth. It was modeled on the U.S. Army, so naturally, Matt appointed himself the commanding officer with the rank of colonel or something. If memory serves, the motto of the Rangers was “we do things the hard way.”

Now, things weren’t all smooth with the Rangers. Some members seceded and formed a rival club called the Xs. Tensions ran high and diplomacy failed. There was a great battle.

Uncle Matt would have organized a sure victory were it not for the intervention of the dads. They had little appreciation for the grandiose schemes of pre-teen boys.

But he continues the tradition today with all our family activities. Notice that he rarely participates. He is content to selflessly bring everyone together as long as we have fun.

Let’s make him proud.

Just check out his garage. Or mine. A few years back he decided that canoeing should be on his annual summer to-do list. We had one canoe, and that wasn’t enough. He asked me to find one that he could buy and store it at our house. I think he would like a fleet. Maybe this is the year.

His book collection grows, as does his minivan collection.

He used to collect Chrysler Sebrings. When one died, he would replace it with another.

Uncle Matt’s favorite car

Now he collects income properties.

Each year he hosts the cousin-palooza. It can’t be cheap feeding all those kids, but he generously does it.

And each family reunion he provides t-shirts for everyone. And when we do other family activities, he is happy to treat everyone to McDonald’s, ice cream, or another treat.

He recently treated your other uncles, me, and grandpa to a night with Jordan Peterson. He’s always willing to ante up if it means spending time with those he loves.

You can give like Uncle Matt too.

He got his professional life in high gear by teaching classes at Tennyson High School in Hayward, California. After a year on the job, he invited me to join him on the staff. In a fit of unapologetic nepotism, he selected me as the head track and field coach.

I learned a lot from him, especially how to get to the point. One day he bought donuts for his students. After class there were extras. A custodian, as I remember, came around on routine. I offered him a donut.

Now I’m not sure if this particular custodian thought it was out of place to accept a donut, or if he was just caught off guard because no one had ever offered him something like that before, but he hemmed and hawed.

“Take the donut!” Matt said abruptly. He was so kind like that.

Also, he was the subject of an in-depth interview by a sophomore who wrote a feature in the student newspaper. She described him as a “social engineer.” I’m not sure if he taught her what that was.

Uncle Matt loves to plan. Reunions, cousin-paloozas. Almost any get-together takes on the magnitude of one of those events.

And his spreadsheets. Those are the backbone of his plans. One day, you should ask him what his favorite feature of MS Excel is. Those will be good times. He probably has a spreadsheet that will sort his favorite features.

Learn how to plan from him. I remember him teaching me a lot about financial planning when we lived together, in the olden times. He is so good at it that he will be the custodian of your money should your parents die. Silver linings.

So happy birthday to your Uncle Matt. Treasure what you know and learn more. Honor him, and make fun of him a little too. That’s how we know you love him.

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