An Open Letter to my Sons

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of being a father is figuring out how to connect to my sons, to pass on to them the things that I have learned, especially when that learning came at a high cost.  We want to give them enough information to allow them o be successful in life while minimizing unnecessary pain.  We want them to know we love them and that we are always available to them.  But finding the time to say it, particularly when caught up in the daily process of making a life and living can be exceptionally difficult.

Sometimes the best way to do it is through a letter,  So today, I am going to take a few moments to pass on some of that information to my sons, and I’m going to let all of you in on the info.

My son,

As you continue to grow, you are going to be confronted by opportunities that will challenge your character.  You will see friends give in to the temptations of immediate gratification of appetite and pride, and you will wonder how much little infractions of a moral code really impact your life.  You may wonder what character is all about, and with good reason.

Allow me, for just a few moments, to explain what I think character is and to build a case for living a life committed to maintaining your character.

Character is one of those words that we use, and that we think everyone understands, but sometimes we don’t share the same meaning.  While there are many aspects to the definition, the one I wish to focus on for just a few moments is described by Dictionary.com as “qualities of honesty, courage, or the like; integrity.”  Honesty, courage and integrity.  these three principles might be called the pillars of character.

In today’s society, some will contend that maintaining these standards is too hard, that they are fine ideals to talk about and to use to inspire the lives of children, but that in the lives of adults they are just too lofty to achieve.  That may be true.  Every man that I have known has had times when maintaining these virtues was nearly impossible, and many of us, if not all, have been imperfect at maintaining them in our lives.  But I contend that the struggle is all the more important because it is so hard.

Consider the politician or activist who spends a lifetime building communities and giving service who is discovered later in his life to have been involved in dishonest business practices, falsifying simple documents to get ahead in life or committing similar lapses in honesty.  All the good that might have been connected with the individual, both past and future, can be destroyed in a few moments.

Or imagine the plight of the man who shies away from difficult things, the risks that are necessary to make changes for the better in his life?  How does such a man encourage his sons or others who might be looking to him for inspiration and encouragement when he takes himself out of the fight?  Such a man will have a difficult time rallying others to fight, especially when the fight is most needed.

Finally, think about situations that you have seen, perhaps in the lives of friends or family or played out in the media, where an individual is shown to be hiding a lie.  Think on the pain that is caused in the lives of family and friends when the deviation is revealed.  A simple lapse in integrity may not result in the crumbling of western civilization, but the trust of family and friends may take significant time to earn back, and may not be earned back fully ever again.

Please understand, son, I’m not saying that if you fall short you are not a man.  I am urging you to never excuse yourself from the fight!  I am lodging an impassioned plea for you to spend every ounce of strength you have in maintaining these pillars.  Strive to be honest, and you will never worry about what others say about you.  Work to be courageous, and when you are weak you will find yourself surrounded by those who will gladly help you.  Live every day with an eye to integrity and you will find yourself at peace in spite of difficulty in every aspect of you life.

Son, I love you.  And I promise you, out of both my own experience and the experiences of the other men of substance in your life, these principles will help you live with success and peace.  And an absence of them will bring nothing but sadness, misery and anguish.  And I love you too much to let that happen to you.

And remember, when you struggle, and when you fall short, you can always start again at any moment, and try one more time to be a man of character.  And I will be right by your side, any time, and will fight with everything I have to help you.

Now go forth into the world, and be a man.

I love you,

Dad

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