A New Year's Letter to My Sons
One father's thoughts at the dawn of 2022
I still call you boys. Funny, isn’t it? Although you are grown men, leaning into your third decades in this world, you both will always be and always have been my boys. And here I am waiting for the emergence of a new year, considering my words, as I have done many times. But this time, they come easily. I don’t struggle for a hidden emotion or some imaginative spark. Instead, the words flow like the water in a mountain river after a long winter.
You can read this now or wait, or read again when I’m gone, after you have said goodbye and memorialized me in some way, after you have scattered ashes or planted me somewhere, and after you have laughed at some silly moment with me, some dorky dad-ism, or cried with joy at a resurfaced memory of a trip we took together. Cuba comes to mind. When the three of us drank mojitos and smoked cigars late at night in that small square in Havana with a street dog resting at our feet.
Why does a dad write to his sons? There are many reasons. We have had nearly two years of incredible challenges and we remain uncertain of the long-lasting impact. This alone is enough for any of us to contemplate our place in the world, and that includes the role of a father. I can tell you for certain that some of what I write here will be sappy. It’s unavoidable. Some of it may also be sad. Maybe funny. Some advice, and some suggestions. All of it from deep inside. Some of it you have heard before, enough to roll your eyes. Some of it will surprise you. All of it, you must know, comes from a love far beyond words.
I write this now as I consider what 2022 will bring. But it could be any year at any time. No matter when you digest these words, I hope they will resonate in some positive way. Read them now or later. And if you wait until I am gone, let us first get grief out of the way.
It may be the most honest emotion of all when we allow it to be. But do not let grief keep you from laughing. That too, is grief manifested. Both of you have senses of humor that permit the dark and absurd. Laugh. Please. Laugh at my death. Someone said once, in so many words, and I hope I’m not plagiarizing, but it goes something like this: It’s not the rain that is painful. What’s painful is trying to control the sun.
As I write, I think that maybe the best way to offer fatherly wisdom, if you want to call it that, is to create a list. Here are the thoughts I hope you will take with you as 2022 emerges.
Above all, express yourself. Express love to those you most care about. Friends. Family. Partners. Lovers. Don’t let friendships fade. Time and space should not erode those dear connections. This seems simplistic and cliché. But damn, it is not always easy to do.
Rebel. Question everything. Especially authority. Yes, I’ve told you this all your lives and maybe it has gotten you in trouble from time to time or put you in an uncomfortable or challenging place. But ultimately, you must question. And with this comes a chance to question yourself, too. Am I being the best I can be? Doing the right thing? Am I true to who I am and those I love?
Find someone to have coffee with, someone to break bread with, and someone to travel with. Being a human with humans will keep you alive.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Screw others. You are you. Praise yourself. Be what you are. But be sure to take the time to find the real you. You can’t be the best you without discovery. Take time to be alone, find passions, and open up to the world. Read. Sing songs. Do the things you are afraid to do.
“Later” never comes. Don’t wait.
Be a Renaissance man. I already see this in the both of you, but don’t ever stop adding to your talents. Cook new things, know how to drive a nail the right way, how to fix a sink, tie a tie, and dance a reasonable dance. Make music. Make a great Manhattan cocktail. Tell a good joke. Know the meaning of cultural references from film and literature. Memorize a poem.
Know when you are wrong. Say it out loud. Take responsibility. Own up. Avoiding this is weakness. Living this is powerful.
Hold no grudges. A grudge is a sign of weakness. Forgive. Always.
Be vulnerable. It leads to the truest of loves and the most rewarding moments of your life.
Find time to walk and live in nature. Be in the wild.
Believe in something bigger than you.
Smile. It’s infectious. Oh my, does that sound trite. But the simplest truths sometimes are the most profound.
I haven’t always done it right, this fatherhood thing. Who truly knows what is right and wrong in the framework of this important job? I don’t have regrets, but on some matters, do-overs would be nice. Still, if I were given that chance, I’m not sure I’d take it. There is an odd kind of beauty in the mistakes—giving up the ruse of Santa Claus too early, and those occasional mini-bursts of anger that seemed misplaced. The forgotten words at your wedding, when I thought I had the officiating thing down pat. I did eventually get it right, though, didn’t I? And when you were away at school, did I reach out enough? When I look back, I see it as a selfish time for me. Was I there for you? I hope so.
I think that’s enough, enough to ponder or enough to make fun of, however you wish to digest these words. But before I stop, there is one last thought.
I have said so often how proud I am of my boys. But pride is a complicated emotion. Sometimes it is dreadfully selfish. I do not write about pridefulness here, the idea that I should be acknowledged or praised for helping in creating who you are is absurd. Parenting is not about ownership of the glory and goodness you possess. I am not proud. Instead, I am impressed. I value you. I trust you. I know you will rise above mistakes or challenges and continue to find a way to grow. But mostly, I am impressed by who you have been, what you are now, and what you will become in 2022 and in the years to come.
There are a hundred billion stars in the sky, my boys, and yours are the ones I see shining.
Photo by cottonbro