Son, you've single-handedly made my life worth living.
Unlike many expectant parents, I wasn't nervous about your arrival. You see, I've always known that I was put on this earth to be a dad — your Dad.
You arrived in late April of 2000. The week you were born your Mom and I were putting the finishing touches on your room in our little apartment in North Carolina when I first heard "With Arms Wide Open" by Creed.
There it was: you and I had "our" song before we ever met. And every second of the 15 years since then has been an adventure that's exceeded all of my hopes and dreams.
The world has changed so much in the 15 years you've been here. We've seen the horror of 9/11, have been in two wars, elected the nation's first black president, and have witnessed the legalization of same-sex marriage. In so many ways the world is a better place, but in others we're scarily worse-off.
Most notably, we've progressively become horribly uncivil to one another. I often say that raising a child today pins a traditional parent against the world.
Movies, TV shows, social media, have absolutely no interest in providing messaging that will help parents raise their kids. It's certainly not the responsibility of the those outlets, but it sure would make life a lot easier if parents weren't fighting to explain every horrible example that's provided to our kids on a daily basis.
Many would think that I'm raising a lamb for a wolf's world; that I'm providing you standards of living that are better suited for an era that's long gone. But I'm certain that somewhere in the world there are parents hoping and praying that you're becoming the man their little one will meet someday.
Too often I wonder about all things I'd like to teach you before I go. Hopefully, I won't be leaving you for a very long time. However, if I unexpectedly go too soon, I want you to remember the following 8 lessons:
1. Revere your Mother.
She's a spectacular human being, and she loves you more than anyone EVER will. Moms have a way of striking a nerve that can trigger frustration in us, but always fight the urge to be short or sharp with your tongue.
Keep in mind that the way you react and treat your Mother will be indicative of how you will interact with women throughout the course of your life. If you can't always be loving towards your Mom, the women in your life will not fare any better.
2. Accept yourself as you are.
This is a challenging proposition. Today's messaging is filled with suggestions on how to lose weight, how to become rich, how to appear more attractive to a romantic interest, etc. The reality is that self-acceptance is a key element to living a gratifying life.
We all have things about ourselves that we wish were a little different. Put yourself on a path that will enable you to become the best of version of you, but never lose sight of the fact that you're an extremely talented and beautiful person. The sooner you accept yourself, the sooner you'll find peace.
3. Leave the judging to others.
The world is composed of over 7 billion inhabitants. There's no reason why one person should believe they have the answers to how life should be lived by all. It's OK to live a life of conviction based on what you believe to be true, but don't impose those standards on others.
We're all unique beings, shaped by our experiences and perspectives. Embrace diversity and form opinions based on your own personal experiences with each individual as you encounter them. Fill your life with people from all walks of life, so long as they believe in the old adage, "do no harm."
4. Avoid group-think.
Your Mom and I have raised you with a set of principles that we believe can lead to a fulfilling and honorable life. My hope is that you fine-tune our lessons and improve upon them.
Use the lessons from your life to inform your opinions. Remember that just because a crowd joins forces on an issue, it doesn't mean that they're right. Hold on to the strength of your convictions and you'll always be able to hold your head high.
5. Choose a career because you love doing it, not because it represents wealth.
I cannot emphasize enough how significant following this suggestion will be to your overall satisfaction. Please forget all the advice or pressures about being perceived as successful or wealthy.
Chances are that you will work for an estimated 40 years of your life. Figure out what you love to do and take a course of action that will lead you to doing that for a living. Son, I don't care what you end up doing for a living as long as it brings you happiness.
6. Always remain dignified and chivalrous, no matter the situation.
Undoubtedly you will face challenging times. People will disappoint, confront and anger you. It's critically important that you always react in a respectful manner. It's OK to be upset, but what you do with that feeling will shape the kind of man you'll eventually become.
You must resist the urge to yell, curse or otherwise lash-out in anger. Keep your emotions in check and you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror with pride.
One of my favorite quotes on this topic was provided by President Grant, when he said, "Emotion is the natural enemy of a rational thought." Try to remember that quote when someone aggravates you.
7. Keep in mind that the wise man is the one who realizes that the more he knows, the more he has yet to learn.
One of the beauties of life is that we have the opportunity to learn until the day we die. I've found that my opinions have softened with age and experience.
Interestingly, I know more now than I've ever known, yet I realize that knowledge is limitless and in many ways unique to the individual. We all know facts that are unquestioned; however, no two people react to those facts in the same way.
Our view of things as human beings is shaped by our experiences and perspective. Therefore, try to sustain a thirst for knowledge while accepting that there's no finish line.
8. When you fall in love, give that person everything you've got.
This will require you to take a huge risk. Sadly, more often than not love doesn't win in the end. However, you have to take a chance because when it strikes just right it will provide you with the greatest opportunity for pure joy.
Take the first step: love someone with all your might. But be prepared to walk away if your gut tells you they're not "all-in" with you. Go ahead and try it at least once. I promise that the pain of failed love will subside and you'll be a better man for the experience.
Son, even if I accomplish nothing for the rest of my life, please know that you've single-handedly made my life worth living.
I only wish that your grandfather could've been around to watch how the lessons he taught me have helped make you the man you're becoming. I hope you adopt these principles and pass them along to future generations. I'm proud of you.