Jack, Reid and Cal —
When I was a senior in high school, I was sent on a Kairos retreat. In hindsight, it’s an odd graduation requirement to ask 270 young men to open up and cry in front of each other.
One priest — young, bearded — talked to us about manhood. I don’t remember much of what he said, save for this: “Don’t be a pussy! Be a man!” He wasn’t serious, as I remember it, but parroting something boys hear in one form or another almost every day of their lives. My high school friends and I turned it into a thing we randomly threw at each other the rest of our senior year. “Don’t be a pussy! Be a man!! KNEEL before Zod!!!” (The priest in question looked a lot like Terence Stamp from Superman II without the vinyl fetish gear.)
When you are old enough to be one, it will be harder than ever to be a man. Our failings as a gender are well-documented and discussed often. Pollution. Waste. Poverty. Hunger. War. Rape culture. Sexism. The boorish behavior of the internet. Hollywood. Government. Fiscal disasters. These problems are generally attributed to men.
I have been blessed with you three boys. If I have a mission statement as a parent, it’s this: raise good people. Maybe it’s apologetic or too politically-correct by half to say that. Why wouldn’t I tell you to be good men?
Because I think you and the world would be better served if you live by the best qualities that tend to be associated — or claimed — by each gender, not just ours. To be a good person is to be comfortable with human duality. Toughness and kindness. Passion and reason. Aggressiveness and empathy.
This is advice I give to myself as much as I give you. I do not always succeed. Not even close. But the point is to try. Try every day.
Be honest with people and yourself, even when it’s difficult.
Know your mind and your heart. Listen to them both. They rarely steer you wrong and we tend to spend too much time ignoring them both.
Try new things, even if you’re convinced you aren’t going to like them. You’ll probably be surprised.
Be kind. It costs nothing and it’s far easier than being unkind.
Listen. Conversations work better when you’re engaged, not just waiting for your chance to talk.
Share appropriately. Find people you trust. The ones who build you up rather than tear you down. The ones who tell you things you may not want to hear, but do it out of love for you. The ones you feel most yourself around. This will not be everyone you meet. That’s fine. Not everyone you meet deserves your heart. Trust your truth to those who deserve it.
Respect yourself. Respect others. It is not always easy to do both.
Do something artistic, even if you are not good at it. If you love doing it, work at it. You’ll get better.
Make things. Enjoy the feeling that comes with turning nothing into something.
Read every day. Thumbing through a listicle on your phone is not reading.
Be direct, not cruel.
Don’t be late. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Habitual tardiness doesn’t mean you’re important. It means you’re rude.
Express your feelings and fears to your people. Feelings and fears only make you weak if you give them power over you.
Let your anger guide your actions toward the things you want to change in your life, but never your immediate reactions toward people.
Lead by example. Be someone others want to follow, even if they weren’t being paid to do it. Intimidation and control are the lowest forms of motivation.
Believe the best in people until they give you a reason to believe differently.
Play a sport. There are lessons to be learned when you commit, train and compete in a thing. Learn them.
Don’t whisper. If you don’t want someone to hear you, then you probably shouldn’t say it.
Express your feelings, but never take your mood out on someone else.
Expect nothing. It will make you less prone to disappointment and more open to surprise.
Find the humor in things. You can take your life seriously without being so serious.
Be uncomfortable. Striving for absolute perfection keeps you from doing things. Strive for your perfect, the best that you can do.
Focus on what you are doing. You will finish faster.
Focus on who you are with. Other people will feel like they matter to you.
Learn the difference between supportive listening and solving someone’s problem. Most arguments can be avoided by knowing when you’re supposed to do one or the other.
Own your mistakes. When you fuck up, apologize, learn from it and move on.
See the best in people around you. Encourage them to live to their fullest potential, even if their skills make you jealous. There is a grace in generosity and a pride that comes in seeing someone in your life really nail something.
Learn to argue with both reason and passion.
Be comfortable in your skin. Find moments of solitude. Bathe in them.
I could go on. But I won’t. Because this is the most important bit: listen to advice, but make up your own mind.
I love you,