Promises are a tricky thing when you’re a dad. I want so much for you that sometimes I worry that I’ll fall into the trap of promising things that I have no chance of delivering, just because I don’t want to crush your little dreams. Of course that ends up happening anyway once I can’t deliver. Promising and not delivering actually ends up making things worse, because now not only are you disappointed, you’ve learned that you can’t trust in me.
That’s why I’ve had to think long and hard about the things that I can promise you, particularly about how things will go growing up. Here’s what I came up with:
- I promise not to give you everything you want. This one’s simple for two reasons. First, I can’t afford a Batmobile. Second, and most important, I need you to understand that wanting does not equal deserving. You’re going to have to work for the things you truly want. You can’t depend on someone else to give it to you. Not teacher or coaches. Not church or government. Not even me or Mom. If you’re not willing to put the work in for those things, maybe you don’t really want them.
- I promise to bring down righteous fury upon you when you do wrong. I’m not talking about spilling milk on the floor, or drawing on the walls, or showing up an hour past curfew some night. I’m talking about those things that can either harm yourselves or someone else. Bully a kid that’s different? I’ll find ways to publicly humiliate you that will make even that kid feel bad for you. Why? So you’ll get a taste of how you made that kid feel. Take something that doesn’t belong to you? Say goodbye to the things that do. End up in a cell because you got caught stealing, or doing something even worse, like driving under the influence? You’ll be spending the night there. Dad won’t be showing up with bail money. When you get out, you’ll be glad you were able to have that night in the klink to stall coming home. If this sounds harsh, then I put to you that coming down hard on you when you come home after a run-in with the police is better than taking the chance that you’ll continue to engage in behavior that will keep you from ever being able to come home again.
- I promise I’ll let you fail. You’re not going to succeed at everything. You’re not going to be the best the first time you step up to bat. When you fall short, or miss out on the trophy, I’m not going to go nuclear on the umpire, ref, teacher, or coach. Why not? Because I want you to learn that failure isn’t someone else’s fault, isn’t the end of the world, and definitely not something to be afraid of. Nobody in history has ever won at everything they did. You won’t either. That’s okay. I’m more concerned that you learn that losing is just as important as winning, that it can show you what it takes to win, and that winning itself isn’t necessarily the most important thing. The only true prize for participation is the experience. Anything more than that is going to take some blood, sweat, and tears. It’s up to you to decide what kind of effort you’re willing to put into the things you do.
- I promise you’ll fight your own battles. Much as I wish otherwise, the world’s not always a nice place, or filled with nice people. The unfortunate truth is that you’re going to run into people who will make your life difficult for any number of reasons (yes, aside from me). When that happens, it will be on you to stand up for yourself. Don’t worry though, I’m never going to throw you completely to the wolves. My job is to teach you the lessons and show you the tricks that will help you deal with these type of people. Your first lesson: what people say about you does not define you. The only person who can ever dictate who you are is the one in the mirror. Someone says something harsh about you, or stands in your way? Ask yourself two questions: are they wrong in what they’re saying, and have you done everything possible to get where you want to go? If the answer to both of those of these questions is “yes”, than the problem’s not you. The problem’s them. We’ll figure it out.
- I promise to do everything in my power to get you out of my house. Don’t get me wrong. I love having you around, but you’ve got to go. Eventually. About two decades down the road. But you do have to go. It’s not just because I want control of the TV again, or because the grocery bill when you’re in the house rivals the GNP. It’s because I want you to live a full life, and that means living one on your own terms. You don’t get to set the terms at Mom and Dad’s. You’ll always have a roof over your head as long as we have one, but you won’t be lounging around on the couch until something better comes along. Oh, no. You’ll be working your tail off helping out around the house, paying your own bills, and if my plan works, scouring the want ads like a thirsty man desperately searching for water in the desert. I love you very much. You have to get out.
I know you’ll read this and think that Dad has it out for you, that he’s looking forward to putting you through hell. Far from it. You guys (next to your mother) are what I love most in this world. You’ve brought me more joy and pride than anything else I can possibly imagine. You are the best things I could ever hope to offer this world.
That said, I have a responsibility to raise you to be your best selves, and it’s not just a responsibility to you. I have a responsibility to the community that you’re going to be part of. My only dream for you is that you grow up to be good men who know how to trust in yourselves. I want you to be men who deserve the things you want and you have by working for them. Most of all, I want you to be men who live by the one rule I hold higher than any other – treat others as you would have them treat you.
You do those things, and I can make you one last promise. No matter what you choose to do in life, what you choose to believe, how you vote, or who you choose to love, your old man will ALWAYS be proud of you. Always.