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 #Love

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,

Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the concept of choosing to love, especially when it’s hard.

It’s very easy to choose to love someone or to choose to do the loving thing when things are easy. But the true test of character is what we do when things aren’t easy, when they’re not ideal, when they’re not living up to our expectations. How do you respond? What choices do you make? Do you choose anger? Or do you choose love?

Anger begets more anger

So choose love. Choose to do the thing that you know is right, even if you don’t feel like it. Choose to hold to the principles that you believed to be praiseworthy and worth pursuing when you weren’t in the midst of the storm. And hold on. Tight.

How do you do it? How do you choose to do the hard thing, to do the unnatural thing, to do the thing that you know you ought to but really, really don’t want to? How do you choose to hold your tongue when you’re ready to rip someone a new one? How do you choose to love, to swallow your hurt and pain, and do the right thing?

There’s a song that I love from a movie I watched recently that’s entitled “The next right thing”. I love so many things about that song, musically, dramatically. But most of all, I love the message the song conveys.

This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
“You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing”

Break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

There will be times when you feel like you’re flattened, that you’re on the floor. You’ll feel like the world is against you, and you’ll want to give up. I hope that in that moment, for just a moment, you’ll be able to take a breath and get even the briefest hint of perspective that will allow you to choose to do the next right thing.

It’s something that gets easier with each victory, and is something that should be celebrated when you succeed. Take a second for yourself to internalize that feeling when you know you’ve chosen the right thing, even when the walls are still crumbling. When you know that while you may not have saved the current situation, you’ve chosen the right thing. The thing that will let you look back and be happy at the men that you’ve become, that despite all odds and worldly wisdom or reason that told you to choose otherwise, you chose the next right thing.

And that’s my hope for the two of you; that when life goes sideways, when things really suck, that you’ll be able to choose to do the next right thing.


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,

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.


My son,

As much as we'd occasionally like life to run entirely on our schedule, the reality is that it doesn't and it won't. And so this entry, while on the one hand is about being dressed well, on the other hand is really about being prepared for the unexpected to happen, and to be able to gracefully handle those situations.

The face value of the title here is very true - you should dress every day like you're going to meet the love of your life. Because who knows, you just might meet her some day, and you'd ideally want your appearance to give you the confidence to be on your best foot. Like we discussed last time, appearances matter, if only to give you an extra boost of confidence - and every man knows that when you first see that face, first encounter that angel that you'll want to spend the rest of your days with, every ounce of confidence is going to be welcomed.

The underlying point here is that life won't go according to your schedule.

That's not to say you shouldn't plan - no, definitely make your plans, and lay out the course that you want to take. But be flexible on that course. Often, the best times in life - the most memorable, the most impactful, the most exhilarating - will come when you least expect it. And if you're dressed and ready for the occasion, you set yourself up for a much better experience.

And so my advice here is to be ready for that. When you're ready and expecting the unexpected, you're able to take things in stride and handle the situation with more grace. When you're ready for life to throw its curveballs at you, you're best equipped to knock that sucker if not out of the park, than at least out to the right field corner for a double. So be prepared. Be dressed for the occasion. Plan, but be flexible. Let life take you where it will.

And who knows, you might just meet the love of your life along the way.


My son,

My hope is that as you’ve grown up, you’ve begun to discover things that inspire you, things that provoke your thoughts and challenge your world view. These things can come in many forms – experiences, images, poetry, books, movies, music. The one thing that all of these inspiring mediums has in common is that they all tell a story. They may tell that story through a vibrant splash of color on an otherwise dark canvas, or through an uplifting major chord emanating amidst a dark and minor passage. They may speak to us through a surge of feeling as we stand atop a vast mountain range, surrounded by the breathtaking view of creation all around.

Whatever it is that inspires you, it has a story to tell.

Most of the highly influential people in my lifetime have been great storytellers. Whether they’re recounting an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity in their youth, or reminiscing about their first love; whether they’re channeling their innermost fire and rallying their audience to action, or expressing condolences to those that have lost, every great storyteller has the ability to bring you along with them on their journey, captivating your senses as you live in the moment that they create.

And what is it that so intrigues us when we listen to the stories of these inspirational giants? What is it that draws us into their universe and allows us to hear every sound, feel every touch, and sense every feeling in the world that they’re painting?

Personal

Every great storyteller tells stories that are wrapped in the consciousness of their existence. Whether they are ideas that resonate with them, challenges that they strive to overcome, experiences from their past, or dreams that they long to have fulfilled, every great story is laced with the soul and life of the storyteller.

Simple

Great stories are told simply. This isn't to say that all great stories are simple or that their contents are necessarily rudimentary; rather they are told in a way that is accessible to all who would listen. They are remarkable in their simplicity, yet can be equally expansive in their depth. The greatest stories can be understood by young children and studied by sophisticated adults all at the same time.

Timeless

Finally, the greatest stories are timeless. They speak of virtues, values, and topics that span generations. They inspire us to look beyond the temporal and focus our thoughts on things that last, things that stand the test of time.

And so my hope is that you tell stories. Tell stories that inspire others to be better, to think of better things, to imagine the world as it ought to be. Tell stories that challenge your listeners to love recklessly and to dream big. Your mom and I deeply believe that you were meant for great things; no matter what you decide to do, who you decide to be, we will love you and support you every step of the way. My challenge to you is that no matter what all that is, that you tell your story to everyone who will listen.


My son,

Despite my best efforts, by now you'll have experienced fear in your life, and will hopefully have recognized how you deal with those fears, and what your perspective for responding to those fears are.

The etymology of the noun fear comes from the old English "fær" for "calamity", or "danger", and its verb "færen", meaning "frighten" but also "revere". Reverence and fear are very closely related, and can be seen many times fairly interchangeably in the Bible (Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10, Ephesians 5:21). This is because they both inherently have to do with our reactions to things we don't fully understand or have control over.

Reverence is a response which focuses on the awe and amazement of the unknown. It deals with the sense of solemn greatness by which we approach the object of our reverence, and instills in us the desire to be better, to imitate, and to emulate.

Fear on the other hand, focuses on the threat and possible danger of the unknown. It places emphasis not on the unknown, but on ourselves, and the damage that can be done to us by the unknown. It causes our self-preservation instincts to kick in, and makes us take a defensive posture thereby drawing our vision and attention inward.

As a father, I've come to a whole new level of understanding of fear. Where my life before merely had my own personal well-being to be fearful for and that of my loved ones, those threats and dangers were never particularly imminent, and were easily understood and mitigated. Being a father though, changes everything. As I'm writing this, you have just turned 9 months old, and there are so many threats in the world that are very real and can cause a severe amount of damage to you, and that is certainly something that causes fear in me. Suddenly, all the physical, emotional, and psychological pains that you might experience become very tangible and within the realm of possibility, and I'm forced to learn to trust that God will take care of you when I can't.

They say that faith is fear that has said its prayers.

I believe that to be true, and though I may not always be able to live it out, and my fears may sometimes get the best of me, in the deepest places in my heart where my convictions and ideal projections of myself live, I know it's true.

The Bible tells us that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that God has given us a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). My prayer is that in your life, you will understand and experience the deep and perfect love that God has for you, and that you will never doubt the deep and complete love that your mother and I have for you as well. I pray that our love for you can help you approach the unknown with awe and wonder, and can help encourage you down the path of reverence rather than fear. I pray that you will grow up always knowing that you are deeply loved. Know that we want to do our best to support you and walk with you through it all. I love you, my baby boy.


My son,

Jesus says that "you will have suffering in this world" (John 16:33 NIV). It is a certainty, and as much as I would lay down my life to keep it all from you, I can't. You too will know suffering just as Jesus did, just as we all do. The true test of a man's character, then, is how he deals with that suffering, how he responds to it, how he chooses to live his life in spite of it.

As you already know, I love the epic. I love the pursuit of greatness, the passion for the human spirit, the desire to "have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10). In light of this suffering, my charge to you is to love recklessly as a response.

By the time you are old enough to read and understand this, I hope that U2 is still around and you'll know have heard the song Pride, which puts it in such a beautiful way:

"In the name of love! What more in the name of love?"

Pride pays a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King (the last verse sings of April 4th in the Memphis sky, which was the date and location that Dr. King was assassinated), and is a response to the legacy and example that he lived. Despite the assassination, the song writer poses the question, "what more in the name of love?" What more can we do, in the name of love? How can we follow this example, in the name of love?

When we love recklessly and focus on seeing, believing, and fighting for the good in people, it doesn't only change our world; it changes us too. When our response to conflict and tribulation is to ask what more we can do in the name of love, we change our perspective. To be reckless means to choose to take an action, despite rational thought telling us otherwise. The more we choose to be reckless, the more our rational thought adjusts to compensate. This in turn removes the inhibitions of what we believe is possible, allowing us to think of the world not as it is, but as it ought to be - and that is certainly a good thing.

And so my prayer for you is that you respond to the obstacles in your life not with frustration, anger, or disappointment, but with a response that throws reason out the window, and just loves.


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