An Open Letter to My Sons
Advice from a father who knows time with them is short.
Typically in this space, I write about sales, marketing, branding, or the power of promotional products. While I borrow from my life to make business analogies, I rarely use this platform to express what I'm feeling. Today, however, I hope you'll indulge me as I composed an open letter to my boys as they begin their senior year in high school this week. If you know me at all, then you know I'm emotional, and I'm neither embarrassed nor ashamed to admit I cried and cried a lot as I penned the below. We aren't talking about cute tears - these were ugly, raw tears that came from deep within me.
You might question why I would share something so personal, and the answer is simple: I genuinely don't know any other way. I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea, something I came to terms with a long time ago. However, I take solace because I always strive to be authentic even when I'm scared to death. And, rest assured, I'm terrified to post this. As they say, growth comes when you step outside the comfort zone, and I'm going to do precisely that. This week marks the beginning of the end of an enormous portion of my life, and it was critically important to me to document my thoughts and feelings for my boys.
Drew and Mitch,
This week you will start your senior year in high school – a year that represents so many things both symbolic and tangible: your final homecoming dance, the last time you will sit freezing in the stands to the bitter end at a Cougar football game, your senior prom, and your last full year living with us at home. This is the year you’ve been looking forward to since you were in middle school, but we all know it won’t be anything like what we hoped or imagined.
I desperately want to put a positive spin on it, tell you both to focus on the bright side of things, maintain some semblance of a stiff upper lip, and encourage you to be thankful for what you do have instead of lamenting what has been taken away. I want to, but I can’t muster up the courage to do that when I know it will be a lie.
By the same token, I don’t want to focus on what your senior year was supposed to be as that doesn’t do anything but reinforce what you have already lost – and what you will likely lose over the next nine months. This is where you both are probably asking, “Dad, so what IS the point of this note?” Good question and one I’m happy to answer: My time with you is short, and, as such, I want to share some candid thoughts with you on this year before the madness of college applications begin.
Being your father – your dad – has meant the world to me. Many people cringe when I tell them I have twin boys, but I was truly blessed to have been given the two of you at once. From the moment I carried you both in my arms at the same time, I have been a better man, and I have you two to thank for that. As unique individuals, you each have many beautiful specific gifts that will take you far in life. You also share many wonderful traits: you are both passionate, sensitive, intelligent, witty, loving, and care about making the world a better place. Honestly, that’s really cool.
I have reveled in each of your sports seasons over the years: soccer, baseball, swimming, football, basketball, cross country, and track. As both a parent and as a sometimes assistant coach, the pride I felt watching you grow on the field, in the water, and on the court is something I will hold sacred in my heart forever. Just as memorable, however, were the many nights spent lying next to each of you as you fell asleep as toddlers. During that bedtime routine, we would read and you would always ask me to create a story for you both. There were also times you shared your world with me in profoundly meaningful ways.
As you begin this oddball senior year of high school during a global pandemic, I do have a few bits of advice I’d like to give before you slip away into the inevitable craziness this year will bring:
Stay Positive – in every problem, challenge, or crisis, there is always opportunity. Never lose your unshakable faith in yourselves, learn from your mistakes, and be secure in the knowledge that every one of life’s seemingly insurmountable problems has a solution. COVID-19 has robbed you of much. However, it has also brought us closer as a family and I’ll forever be thankful for that.
Cut Down on Social Media – all of us, including me, are so heavily influenced by what we “should” like, do, buy, or have it pulls us away from the very people we love the most. Learn how to look people in the eye during a conversation, smile warmly when greeting someone new, and, when the pandemic is over, shake their hand with sincerity.
Respect Women – learn how to treat every woman you meet like a lady and give your time and attention to the women who respect you. Nothing says more about a man than how he treats and speaks to women.
Meet New People – make an effort to meet and have conversations with people outside your usual friend group. It will be perfect practice for when you eventually go to college and you’ll be forced to do it.
Be Courageous – it’s effortless to follow the same path as others, but neither one of you has ever been a lemming. This is your final year at home, and there is no better time to take some chances knowing that you have a soft landing if you make a mistake. Please, chart your own course, take chances, and don’t be afraid to fail.
Seek Joy, Not Happiness – both feelings are lovely, but they are very different. Happiness is experienced externally and based on other people, things, places, and events. Joy, however, is more consistent and cultivated internally – it comes when you become comfortable in your own skin, how you are, why you are, and who you are. Shoot for joy, not happiness.
Slow down – throughout this last year, there’s a good chance you’ll each experience heartbreak, disappointment, or a loss of some sort. Sometimes things go sideways for no reason at all. In these moments, it will feel like time is moving backward and you’ll say, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” Don’t rush it because this year will pass faster than any of us can imagine.
Be Secure – always remember you have parents who love you deeply, no matter what. If you make a mistake, find yourself in a situation that seems hopeless, or feel sure we wouldn’t understand, know we are always here to listen, to love, to help…and never to judge.
I could go on and on (and, as you are both likely thinking, and on and on and on), but I won’t – at least not right now. Right now, I simply want to breathe and soak you both in for the next nine months. I hate that your senior year will be radically different, but that can be filed in the “sometimes things go sideways for no reason at all” department.
Boys, you are no longer those toddlers I used to make up stories at night to help you sleep. You are no longer the boys who would wake me up at 5:00 AM every Saturday to build Legos. You are no longer the boys who loved going to Krispy Kreme for hours to watch how the donuts are made. You are no longer those athletes I got to coach on the field. However, you will always be my sons, and I will always be so damn proud of you.
My arms aren’t big enough to carry you anymore, but my heart will always have all the room in the world to support, love, and carry you both to the ends of the earth.