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 #Connection

My sons,

We all have different characters in our lives, and each one plays a specific role and occupies some amount of space within our social circle. Some of these characters bring joy to our lives, some bring insight, some bring comfort, and some bring companionship. Each relationship is unique, and each person adds different things to our overall experience.

It has been said that friends may be friends for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Some friends are in our lives for a reason; whether it’s to help us learn something, for us to go through an experience together, or simply because we’re classmates for a particular class, there are some people that fulfill their purpose and then exit our lives almost as quickly as they entered. Others are here for a season; perhaps they are there to walk with us through a season of change, or to help shoulder our burdens through a season of pain, or to be our sounding board in a season of growth. Finally, there are a small number of friends that are around for a lifetime; they endure through thick and thin, and support and encourage us through all the best and the worst that life throws our way.

It is this lattermost group that is not only the most difficult to find, but also the most difficult for us to be.

In my life, I’ve only got a handful of friends that I think will be with me for my lifetime. As I consider these friendships, I realize that each of these friends has a common trait shared among them. They are and one people.

If you’re basketball fans, then you’ll know that in basketball, “and one” means that after you make a shot and get fouled, you have the opportunity to add to your score. Similarly in life, “and one” people are those who “add to your score”. They are people who take whatever you do, think, or say, and add to it. When you tell an “and one” person your idea, they want to add to it, to riff on it with you, and to push you to think more. They say “yes, and you can also do this-and-that too!”. A few things that are common across all of these people:

THEY FOCUS ON THE POSSIBLE

While “and one” people may see the negatives, the roadblocks, the hurdles, and the potential pitfalls, they choose to focus instead on what could be. They ask questions, provide support, cheerlead, and encourage us to expand on our ideas, to push past our perceived limitations, and to achieve more. Because of their focus on what could be, they give us that boost that we need to move forward.

THEY FOCUS ON YOU

We’ve all known people who listen to your story only long enough to remind them of some experience they’ve had that then causes them to interrupt and share with you. “And one” people focus on you. They are good listeners. They are there for you; not for themselves.

THEY HELP US BUILD MOMENTUM

We are by nature creatures of great inertia. “And one” people help us build the momentum that we need. They get excited about our ideas and create a virtuous cycle of forward thinking. They take our budding ideas and give them light to nurture.

Not only is it important to surround yourself with “and one” people, it is also equally important for us to learn to be “and one” people for others. I’m a big believer that a life well lived is one that impacts, influences, and inspires others to be the best version of themselves that they can be. “And one” people do this naturally. A few thoughts on how to become more of an “and one” person:

DON’T COMPLAIN

As Dale Carnegie posits in his book https://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/0671027034, we ought not to complain. Yes, life may provide us with a series of unfortunate circumstances and events, but complaining doesn’t do anything positive for us in the least. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t have hurt, upset, or angry feelings; rather it is to say that we ought to practice self control such that even when we’re overcome with those feelings we don’t complain.

By not complaining, we begin to orient our thinking along a positive track instead of a negative one, and in so doing become more able to see the positive in others.

THINK ABOUT OTHERS

It has been said that humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. When we spend less time thinking about ourselves and more time thinking about others, we begin to think about the possibilities for their lives and endeavors and are more ready to support and encourage them.

BE “FOR” SOMEONE

Champion someone. Decide that you will become their biggest advocate. Be for them. As you take on this task you will find presently that not only are you able to espouse their great qualities but you are able to more readily see opportunities ahead of them to build on those qualities.

My sons, life is too short to be lived alone. Surround yourselves with people that are “and one” people, and be “and one” people for those you surround. Encourage one another, spur each other on, and move life forward together. I love you boys!


My sons,

Life is an adventure. It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is full of joy, of triumph, of victory, of mountaintop experiences. It is also full of sadness, of loneliness, of gut wrenching sorrow. It is about the journey and not the destination.

The Good Book tells us that “in this life, you will have trouble.” It’s not an if, it’s a when.

Composure, then, is the manner in which we meet that trouble. It is the perspective we take, the peace (or lack of) we have, and the mindset we embody. It is the expression of our true selves, our inner core, our self discipline, our grace.

As you know, we’re currently in an unprecedented time in our world. In an era where global travel is incredibly accessible, individual freedoms are at their prime, and technological advancements have created an expectation of connection and information, an outbreak of this magnitude has been difficult to contain. The death toll is nearing a half million, with hundreds of thousands of new cases still being confirmed. There is currently no known cure or vaccine, and much of the world is living in self-quarantine.

It’s very easy to feel that things are unfair, to feel hopeless and helpless, to feel that there isn’t anything we can do.

In these situations we are presented with a choice. We can choose the path of self-pity, of externalization, and of blame, or we can choose the path that is steadfast, that is bold and courageous, and has the resolve to go through this painful refinement of our character and come out stronger. We can choose the mindset of merely surviving, grasping at any means to do so, or we can choose the path of flourishing and prospering despite our circumstance.

The difference between believing things are unfair vs unfortunate is subtle but important.

When we feel that things are unfair, we believe that things are outside of our control. We absolve ourselves from blame and from responsibility for the situation, and we believe that there is nothing we can do to influence the outcome. We believe that undesirable things are being done to us. We position ourselves as the victim, and fixate our mind on a position of self-pity.

On the other hand, when we feel that things are unfortunate, we remove blame from some unreachable or invisible actor that has it out for us and instead focus on the situation itself. We recognize that we live in an imperfect world, and that inexplicable things happen. We take the perspective of recovery, of advancement, of moving life forward. We see ourselves not as helpless but as capable and able to change our stars. We have self-compassion, taking the necessary care for ourselves so that we can recover and thrive despite our surroundings.

This difference, while subtle, end up causing ripple effects in our mindset and in the actions that we take. Over time, it affects our constitution, our demeanor, and the way that we approach the world. That in turn impacts the interactions and relationships that we have, ultimately deeply impacting our lives. And so I encourage you the next time you find yourselves in unfortunate circumstances to think of them as just that; unfortunate circumstances. I pray that you have the discipline and mental fortitude to direct your reactions so that not only will you survive, but will thrive in those times.

I love you, my boys.


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.


My sons,

We live in a world that is quickly commoditizing skills, assets, experiences, and capabilities. Globalization began with goods; starting with raw minerals and materials and eventually expanding to finished products. Then came services; the ability to have offshore call centers for example. Then came ideas and philosophies; the internet has made mass proliferation of thoughts and ideas instantaneous.

Just about everything you can think of that is outside your body can be exported to you in a matter of days, if not sooner, and if desired, can be replicated fairly effectively and efficiently.

That leaves our minds, our opinions, our beliefs, and our convictions as the last bastion of our unique selves.

There’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption where the incarcerated main character Andy Dufresne, played by the marvelous Tim Robbins risks his life boldly stepping up to one of the prison guards to offer his services as an accountant. After dangling Dufresne’s body over the edge of the roof where they were standing, the guard relents and accepts Andy’s help. In exchange, Andy asks simply for two buckets of beers for his fellow prisoners currently working roof detail.

His prison mate Ellis Redding, played by the legendary Morgan Freeman narrates, speculating that the reason Andy pulled off such a stunt was simply so that he could feel human again. That sitting up on the roof in the hot sun with a bucket of beers allowed him and his fellows to remember what it meant to be free men; and that was a beautiful thing.

Our beliefs, our convictions, our values - these are things that can never be taken from us.

And so it behooves us to be critical of them. If men are defined by what they believe in, what they stand up for, what they are passionate about, then you must be critical of those things. Do not allow the world to imprint them on you unwittingly. Be intentional about defining and refining your beliefs. Debate them with trusted peers. Meditate on them. Reflect and expound on them. They are the things that make you unique, and are the things that will ultimately drive the direction of your lives!

My prayer for you is that the two of you will be steadfast in your beliefs; that when the winds of the world blow, they will find you firmly grounded in beliefs that you have thought out, debated, and formulated as a culmination of your experiences, your relationships, and your critical thinking. I pray that the two of you would have a relationship where you can be that sounding board for one another. May you both grow to be men of bold beliefs, strong convictions, and non-extinguishable passions.


My sons,

Today, we grew our little family of three to a family of four! What an amazing journey it has been, and what a thrilling ride, filled with many ups and high points as well as its fair share of plummets into the low points. But I am blessed. We are blessed. Welcome to our world, my little boy.

To my firstborn -

You will always be my firstborn. You will be the one to blaze the trail, to forge a path for you and your brother to walk. You will hold a special place in my heart, not because I love or will love you any more or less, but because you are my firstborn son. Yours is a life of leadership, of nurturing, of guiding, and of great responsibility. I love you and will always root for you, cheer for you, converse and discuss and debate with you, and be here to support you as many days as I have.

To my newborn -

You are my baby boy. You are blessed to have someone who is a little further along to look towards, and to walk with. You will hold a special place in my heart, not because I love or will love you any more or less, but because you are my youngest, my baby. While your life may have an example and a blazed trail ahead of you, you will also have the luxury of choosing whether or not you want to follow that trail. Where your brother needed to lead, to nurture, to guide, and to be responsible, you have the privilege of deciding which of those things you want on your own unique path and journey. I love you and will always root for you, cheer for you, converse and discuss and debate with you, and be here to support you as many days as I have.

To both of you -

Today, our family has grown. May this be a reminder to both of you to always grow, to always be learning, to always be moving forward. May you grow individually into the men that you are meant to become. May you both step into the richest and fullest of lives laid ahead of you. May you decide to grow together and to walk this journey with a friend. And may God’s favor and blessing be upon you, all the days of your lives.


My son,

Each generation stands on the hard work and tireless efforts of those that have come before. The world changes at a rapid rate, and this fact has never been more evident than it has in our lifetime. The information revolution has exponentially accelerated the pace at which the world changes, ideas proliferate, barriers are broken down, and collaboration happens.

This is the world that you will grow up in, that you will experience, and that you will impact.

As such, it becomes increasingly important to be mindful of where you get your grounding and the influences that shape you. There is no such thing as a self-made man; every man learns from others, studies those that have come before, and gets advice from those that have run ahead.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Never forget that. In times past, social currency was anchored on many different things; coats of arms, gold in the vault, status in society, position in a patriarch, net worth, and even physical beauty. In an age of globally proliferated ideas, social currency is being increasingly anchored on thought leadership and on the reach of one’s ideas.

I urge you to be well-learned; study the thoughts and artifacts those giants before us have left behind. Learn from them. Life is too short for us to learn everything we need to know on our own. Ask for help, seek advice, and listen to the stories of your elders. Though they may come from a different context and from a different time, there are transcendent lessons to be learned and universal concepts to be shared. And who knows, you may stumble upon a wonderful mentoring relationship in the process.

Learn from those giants. Stand on their shoulders and elevate our world to new heights. I’m so proud of you, and can’t wait to see the world that you shape.


My son,

Today, you turn four. What a joy you are! You are such a beautiful, wonderful, kind, adventurous, and mischievous little guy - I love you so much! Your mom calls you my little buddy cause we do all sorts of things together. I couldn’t be happier. Much of what I’ve been learning these days I’m learning from you and with you, and I love the thought that I get to share those learnings with you here with the hopes that someday when you’re older, you’ll read them and they’ll be learnings for you as well.

When I was growing up, I read many different articles and perspectives around what love is. Love is a feeling. Love is a commitment. Love is a choice. Love is easy. Love is hard. Love is patient. Love is a million different things, depending on who you ask and what perspective you’re coming from.

While I don’t pretend to be any expert on the matter, and while I won’t attempt to give a full definition of what love is, I believe that one of the things that defines people who love strongly is that they choose to love. Regardless of your definition of love, regardless of how you experience it and what it means to you, I firmly believe that very often, love is a choice.

It’s easy to love someone when everything is going very well. It’s easy to love someone that’s very lovely, loves you back, is in sync with you and your thoughts and perspectives. It’s hard to love someone that is doing things to make themselves less lovable to you. It’s hard to love someone when they’re at odds with you, when they’re attacking you, when they’re in violent opposition to things that are at the core of your being and values.

And yet I urge you to choose love.

Whether we’re talking about an unlovable neighbor, a combative classmate, a family member currently at odds with you, or even a spouse that you’ve got a strong disagreement with; choose love. It’s hard. It takes self sacrifice and patience. It requires you to grit your teeth and not fight back. It means you have to take punches without throwing up your guard and without counter attacking.

But it will be worth it.

My prayer for you is that you are able to choose love more often than the alternatives, and that you grow to become a man that is characterized by his heart for people. We have always prayed that you be a kind person; I would urge you to go one step further and be someone that chooses to love when everyone else disagrees. Because love conquers all things. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


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