Letters to my sons

A collection of thoughts and lessons I've learned along the way for my little men, and anyone else that's interested.

Posts tagged with #Books

My sons,

We’re currently in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s something that this world hasn’t seen in quite some time, and is something that I sincerely pray you won’t have to experience again in your lifetimes. There are many tragic stories of loss, of separated loved ones, of devastation. There are also many stories of hope, of perseverance, of strength, of unity, and of support. The impacts of this pandemic are both global and local. Globally, our economy has taken a huge hit, our social structures are stressed to the point of breaking, and our government is struggling to act decisively and swiftly. Locally, we are practicing social distancing, staying home with our families and going out only out of necessity.

It has not been an easy adjustment for many.

I recently finished a book called “A gentleman in Moscow”, by Amor Towles. It is a wonderful and beautifully written book that seems poignantly relevant in our current world situation. The book is a novel that follows the life of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who after the revolutionary war ended in the 1920s is convicted of such. He is forced to live out his days as a “Former Person” within the confines of the Metropol hotel, not being permitted to ever leave its premises.

The book chronicles the life of the count, who first sets foot inside his new quarters in the prime of his life. He immediately has the realization that in order to survive the constant mental assault and boredom of several more decades in this space, one must have resolve, determination, and fortitude of mind. As we walk through his early days of captivity, he quickly establishes a regular routine that provides him the much needed structure of a productive life. As he settles into that routine, we watch him evolve from a person who is striving simply to survive to one that is longing and looking for ways to thrive.

It is that mental fortitude, that singular belief that in order to flourish, one must overcome one’s current situation that allows the count to positively thrive for decades in such a small space.

“Our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity - a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

I certainly don’t profess to know the secrets of mental fortitude, nor do I know by what magical coincidence or stroke of good luck I have been blessed with some measure of it. I do however know the secret of building fortitude, of building strength. Exercise. Just as our physical bodies require exercise and a healthy diet to build strength, our mind requires exercise and a healthy diet of positive inputs and interactions.

I’ve discovered a few key things that have done wonders for me:

  1. Read. Reading not only develops our creativity, but it challenges our mind to imagine, to ponder, to think deeply about topics and situations that we may not have had the chance to face yet. It allows us to develop the ability to empathize with a character, to reason with an author, to dream wondrously with the protagonist, and to suffer deeply with the fallen hero.

    Reading also gives us the opportunity to build relationships, to dialog, and to discuss with friends new and old the topics and virtues of the latest book that we’ve read. Read for enjoyment, read for self-development and self-improvement, read for knowledge, and read for perspective. Read fiction to dream and paint canvases in your mind. Read non-fiction to be challenged, to think critically, to ruminate, to reason.

  2. Meditate. Meditation builds focus of mind, and trains our discipline. It allows us to process our thoughts, to understand ourselves, and to listen to our innermost mind.

  3. Write. Writing causes you to elaborate on your thoughts, to organize them, and to provide structure to them. Regardless of whether your writings are read by three people or by three hundred, writing builds your ability to expand on a thought and to nurture and bake an idea in your mind. We all have the spark of creation within us; let it be a tool to help refine your mental process.

Jesus tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble”. That is a certainty. Those with an ample supply of mental fortitude are the ones who are able to not only survive, but to thrive in those troubles. And that’s my hope for you today, that you both would be strong men, physically, emotionally, but most importantly mentally. That you would have the strength of mind and discipline of heart to achieve all that you set your sights on.


My sons,

I’ve been reading a book that a great friend recommended to me called “Where the crawdads sing”, by Delia Owens. So far, it’s an artfully written book full of beautiful and vivid images the author paints for your mind’s eye combined with insightful nuggets of truth for you to ponder. Perfectly up my alley.

There’s a beautiful dialog in the book between father and son where the son complains to his father that he’s studying poetry in English class and doesn’t like it. The father’s retort is beautiful:

Don’t go thinking poetry’s just for sissies. There’s mushy love poems, for sure, but there’s also funny ones, lots about nature, war even. Whole point of it - they make ya feel something.

I love that. They make ya feel something.

So much of our lives are about things that don’t touch on the topic of feelings. We’re inundated with information, obsessed with learning and progressing, and laser focused on academics and achievement. But we’ve got to remember to feel. As Robin Williams puts it in Dead Poets Society:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion.

Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

Perfect. In the book, the author says of the father:

His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.

My sons, if I’m able to accomplish that, to impress that single line upon you, then I’ll be beyond ecstatic. Be strong men, yes. But strength is not only stoic and outwardly fearless. It also embraces vulnerability so that one can be known and understood. It is confident in the relationships and connections it has built enough for vulnerability, for sentiment, for sensitivity.

So my charge to you today is this: be strong and decisive men, yes, but take the time to do things that make you feel. Watch a beautiful sunset descending between the crevice in the mountains. Sit still and deeply listen to music that moves you. Rekindle an old connection. Embrace a friend fully and earnestly. Love big. And be loved big.

I love you, my boys.


My sons,

Hopefully by the time you both read this, I’ll still be as avid a reader as I am while I’m writing (or perhaps even moreso!). Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to read books that are outside the standard set of things that I have spent much of my life concerned about. Books that don’t have to do with leadership, technology, faith, or self-improvement. Books that are works of fiction. Books that are on topics I’ve spent less minutes thinking about than I’ve got fingers.

A great friend recommended one to me, called “When Breath becomes Air”. It’s a beautiful memoir by a brilliant young doctor as he struggles for meaning knowing that he’s terminal and that he hasn’t got a lot of time left. As I journeyed with the author through his struggle and through his quest for meaning, I found myself relating, empathizing, and searching for those same answers. Instead of an informative last testament of a man I’d never met I found a mirror held up to my own question of meaning.

And I cried. I cried for him, for his family, for his wife and daughter that survive him. I cried deeply as his wife’s Epilogue ran across the pages, speaking of his focus for life and his love of relationship. It was that book that started me on my journey to better understand myself, my purpose, my meaning.

I won’t say that I’ve found all the answers since then, and I don’t doubt that when you boys read this, I will still not have all the answers. But I will say that along the way, I’ve been learning more and more that connection - meaningful connection - matters.

We were made for connection, made for relationship. We were made to do life together.

I’ve found that to be true. When I look back on the time lapse of my life so far, when I see the fleeting three-second clips of deeply cherished memories, I see connection. In every single one of those memories I see connection. Whether it is sharing a beautiful sunrise with a great college friend after pulling an all nighter together, or chatting with the one friend that stayed awake while the others slept in the back on a long cross-country drive, or even celebrating our childhood sports victories over milkshakes. Most of these moments were about connection.

It’s not an accident that every success, every victory, every win that I have I immediately want someone to share it with.

It’s also not an accident that the deepest, sorrowful moments of my life were all moments that I felt alone and abandoned.

We were made for connection.

So my challenge to you then, is to be generous in your attempt for connection. Put yourself out there. Be courageous. Be willing to make the first move, to initiate a conversation, to sit next to a stranger on a plane and not immediately put in headphones or pick up a book. Even small connections matter. A smile, making eye contact with a stranger, a friendly wave, a warm hug goodbye. You never know just how much those moments may shape someone’s day.


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