Dear son,

There are things that I want to tell you, that I need to tell you, but I don’t know when, or how. So I will tell you them here. These are the lessons of an old soul in a man-child’s body, and I want you to understand that these aren’t written in stone. These are just guideposts that I hope point you in the right way to wherever it is you want to go.

First, if you want to be a good leader (and I can tell already you do), first lead yourself. By that I mean do what you wish others to do. Be the example you wish of those you eventually will lead. This means serve. Set an example for your sister and mother. Be strong. But be forgiving. There is more power, believe it or not, in mercy and grace than fist and fury.

Second, learn the value of what can be replaced and what cannot. Your heart, your love, your time, and your attention cannot be replaced. Money. Items (physical and intangible) can be. Value these things accordingly. What is often given to us at birth “for free” are very much our most valuable possessions. And what we exchange for money is often worthless or even worth diminishing. Unless we invest. Chase the right things and invest.

Third, play the long game. Your desire to satisfy your immediate desires is a typical one. Many never outgrow this. I pray you do and do early because this will allow for you to save. And saving is one thing I never learned about in practice until I met your mother. She saved pennies and turned them into the comfortable life you have always known. But know that your comfort came from the seeds of your great grandparents. They never had a lot, but they never required a lot, and thus they saved the remainder and invested it. If you learn this, particularly when you do have surplus and abundance, you can store a lifetime supply of rainy day funds in a season or two. Your mother and I have a two week rule, if we want something expensive, we try and wait two weeks and see if we still want it with the same (or greater) intensity. If so, we go for it. If not, and it is often not, we pass.

Fourth, be generous with your respect but stingy with your heart. By that I mean, respect other people and treat them decently. But protect your heart and share it only with those who have earned it. This is a hard thing to explain. And I fear, as we all inevitably do, we give our hearts too easily and often to those with hammers for hands. But as I said, respect them as they often have had their hearts hammered or will in the future — just keep them at a distance.

Fifth, all-in. When you are an older man, things will change. But for now, go all-in. I don’t need to tell you this because you personify it in your actions. You learn things to a degree that staggers your parents. And you often learn it by yourself. And that is a superpower. Obsession is a powerful weapon so make sure your aim is virtuous and true. I am obsessed with you, your mom and your sister. You are my calling. My all-in. Hope that’s ok.

Sixth, PACE yourself. This is a term in sports. Performance After Critical Error. PACE. If you master this, everything else will fall into place. And I mean everything. As perfect as I know you are, you will make what you believe are “mistakes.” You will “fail.” And you will hurt because of it. However, everyone does. What distinguishes you from other people will be in how you perform AFTER your so-called “mistakes,” “errors,” and “failures.” The bigger they are, the larger your bounce back. Every negative event has an equal or greater opportunity underlining it. I believe this because it has been true for my entire life. There are no failures. There are simply opportunities to learn and to grow and to turn every setback into an opportunity. When I was young, like yourself, I admired the babyfaced, flawless hero. The one with shining armor and gleaming teeth. But now that I am your father, I admire the figure with dirt on his face. With scars on his body and soul. With dented, but well used, tools. I admire the flawed, because it has shown the marks of a life lived earnestly. I don’t want you to seek scars, but I want you to welcome them as part of your experience and wisdom.

Seventh, protect your family. Every time I leave the house, I try and remind you to “Protect the House.” And every time, you say with authority, “OK, Daddy!” And I know you do. I know it because you have my heart. You protect those you love and for now that circle is small. When and if you are lucky enough to know what a father’s love feels like, that circle will grow, but it is similar to what you feel now. The love of a son to his mother. The love of a brother to his sister. The love of a son to his father. Along the way, a stranger may eventually earn her place into your circle. Your mother may be a bit funny during this time, for good or bad reasons, but remember your mother’s place in it. She was your first love and honestly I haven’t been able to compete with you for hers. You are lucky. You have a mother and father who have been PRESENT your entire life. This is a very, very unique thing nowadays. But it wasn’t always so. It used to kind of be like this. And I think, we think, that’s a very good thing. For a parent to parent. For parents to parent. It is my highest calling.

Eighth, actualization. You know this word. It was one of your first words. And it is a very special word in our house. Actualization. It is the word I found when I wanted one word to describe it all. And I hope it has some value to you. As you have hopefully seen, to me it represents our life’s goal to become, every single day, a little bit better in all the right things. To you that might be physical strength, height, weight, and stamina. It might mean your ability to code. To run. To leap. It might also mean to control your temper, your tone, your fire when warranted. And when to unleash it where its due. As you may have noticed, Daddy went through, is going through, a period of time where maybe I haven’t been growing, where I haven’t been getting better, and that can happen. There can be steps back. There will be steps back. But as you learn things like the stock market and start to see patterns everywhere, the ultimate trend line goes up.

Ninth, trust in yourself. You are a good person. You have a good heart. Remember this when things get confusing. And they get confusing a lot these days. You know how you can detect a scam ad from a mile away? That’s your BS detector, and like your old man, your meter can only take so much before it blows. So trust your self. Trust in yourself. As much as I have said to respect others, it all starts with respecting yourself. If you can trust in yourself, even during the most chaotic of times, you will be something most people can never be. You will be content.

Tenth, moments. Your life will seem long, but it’s not. Yet it is. You may feel like time passes slowly, particularly when waiting for certain milestones like birthday parties and vacations, but you will understand as you get older that every moment is an opportunity to create a memory. You might have 1,000 memories you treasure right now. And I can tell you that as you grow up this number might stay around there. The number might even shrink. And the things you remember most are those times where you were emotionally affected the most. I remember things like holding you to sleep. Like seeing your mom in her wedding dress. Like you and your sister walking to the park hand-in-hand. There are pictures of you I forgot were taken, and many in my mind’s photo roll of those we have never photographed or documented. It is those latter moments you will find have the greatest personal impact. I can’t document the scent of your hair, but I know it by heart. I can’t describe that look you have the instant you have accomplished something great, but it is etched in my soul. And while photos and videos are so very useful in recording some moments, I want you to also remember to store them in your brain’s computer. There are many such moments in your past, present, and future. Live IN the moments. Not for them.

Eleventh, believe. There is a God. There will be those who tell you otherwise, but I am pretty sure they are selling something you don’t want to buy. There are also those who tell you they believe as you do, only to find that they fall quite short of the mark. And that’s ok, too (see Four, above). It shouldn’t affect your view on something greater than yourself. Something greater than all of us. You should feel it. In your heart. In your breath. In your laugh. In your smile. I see God everywhere. And I hope you do too. From the night sky to the glistening sands. From your sisters’ giggles to your mother’s hugs and kisses. You will see signs of His presence in your life. You will feel His guidance as you make your way through it. And as much trust as I put in you, He puts in far greater. My greatest “proof” son, should  you require it, is to look in the mirror or selfie camera on your tablet. You are my proof of God. I had faith before, but I never understood as well as I do now. A father and son. Sacrifice. As you get older, there will be more and more people who choose to hate you for believing in God. They have likely come by this worldview by living a sad life. And we should treat them not with anger, but with understanding. Your faith is a private matter. An individual right. It is and contains more power than any other known to mankind. It is your most powerful weapon. It is your most powerful shield. It is your most power. You will always be my son, my only son, and I will always be your father. It is just that you (that we) have a far greater Creator.

There’s obviously more things to say. This whole place is really for you. I will try and add more to these as I think of them. This was an off-the-cuff riff. Something your old man does. I hope this serves you. And as always, take what is useful to you and USE IT! Throw the rest away.

I love you, son.

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