Son, I wrote this letter during your first few days in this world. Your mother and I are so happy that you are here. Your grandparents, great-grandparents, aunties and other relatives are excited to get to know you. Even strangers who will never meet you sent their congratulations.
And it is one of their messages that I want to talk to you about.
In addition to the usual best wishes, this particular message said that they’re looking forward to seeing a “softer side” of me. By the time you read this letter, this might confuse you. You know how caring I am with you, your mother, our family and friends so why would someone suggest there’s a softer side that’s needed?
You see, son, the world is full of people who mistake passion for extremism, confidence for arrogance and drive for selfishness and ambition. No matter who you are or what you do, you will encounter this over and over again.
It is not their fault. Most people, me included, have been trained to fit in. The very genes we carry have shaped us to fear stepping outside the group. As your grandmother used to say to me when I was a little boy:
“If you spit society in the face, society will wipe it off and carry on. If society spits you in the face, you’ll drown”.
And your grandmother was right - if you want to live a comfortable life this is good advice. Fit in, don’t ask too many questions and keep your head down.
But son, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that comfort is overrated. You did not come into this world to consume as much food, pleasure and entertainment as you can. A fulfilling life is one of purpose and the meaning of your life is to identify that purpose and pursue it with every fibre of your being.
Most people never get there. They don’t even try. Don’t blame them – no one ever told them that giving up on their dreams was a recipe for misery. As little kids, they were trained to do what they were told, to think how others told them to think and to avoid standing out at all costs.
When they look at you, they see only their own, distorted reflection. Those who lack the courage of their convictions will be threatened by yours. Those who lack confidence will consider you arrogant for having it. And, most of all, those who are desperate to fit in will hate (and secretly admire) you for standing out.
You’ve only been here a couple of weeks so I do not yet know who your heroes will be but when you choose them you will notice that they’re all extraordinary. They did something different, created something new, achieved something impossible. Keep working until you’re one of them.
You see, son, people who refuse to settle recognise this in each other. They may have nothing in common. They may differ in their political, religious, cultural and moral views. But once you are on the path, they will see that in you. They will give you opportunities and reward you for taking them. People will help you so much more if they know you’ll make the most of that help.
I said above that you would likely be confused by my friend’s message but you might not be. Perhaps you already know that your dad is “outspoken” and “controversial”.
Because many years before you were born I knew that you were on your way. And I refused to accept that little boys and girls like you should be taught that their skin colour, sex and sexuality makes some of them better than others. I rejected this new cult and I made it my business to oppose it.
I will never accept and I will never keep quiet about the awful idea that you are better or worse than others because you are a boy or because you carry our genes or because of the person you marry. This ugliness has been tried before. Our ancestors paid for it with their lives.
We come from generations of men and women who refused to accept what they knew to be wrong. They refused to kneel. And they lost jobs and livelihoods for it. They went to prison for it. They starved to death for it. We owe it to them to speak the truth.
And so, while you will always get to see the softer side of me, out there in the big world where we go to be extraordinary, I will never stop honouring their memory. Because I know they’re watching. And so are you.
In the Fifth grade I brought home a report card with A's, B's and one C. My father sat me down, his daughter. He made the following statements. "See these B's? They are unacceptable. I expect you to get A's. See this C in conduct?" I bristled, thinking if he was upset at the B's, what of the C. And then he told me something I will never forget, something that explained his core and explained my responsibility to all those who came before me to create me. He said "don't you ever bring home better than a C in Conduct because if you do that means you are just sitting there doing what they tell you." Remarkable and imprinting from a father to his daughter. And in my life I have never brought better than a C in Conduct despite the best efforts of even powerful people to dissuade me.
You remind me of this:
"Whittaker Chambers ended his Letter to My Children: ...I am leading you, not through cool pine woods, but up and up a narrow defile between bare and steep rocks from which in shadow things uncoil and slither away. It will be dark. But, in the end, if I have led you aright, you will make out three crosses, from two of which hang thieves. I will have brought you to Golgotha the place of skulls. This is the meaning of the journey. Before you understand, I may not be there, my hands may have slipped away from yours. It will not matter. For when you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know that life is pain, that each of us hangs upon the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman and child on earth, you will be wise. Your Father."
Thanks for the reminder.