My younger son turns twenty one years old today. For his eighteenth birthday I gave him “Measure of a Man,” a note I had written specifically for him. (Luckily his mother, my wife Pat, gave him a generous amount of cash. Some of us are sentimental while others are practical.) In “Measure” I outlined eighteen broad principles of which we should all be mindful. I then printed, matted and framed these principles and presented this to him for his birthday. They hang in “his” room in our home.
Measure of a Man
The measure of a man is the unflinching examination of self.
Each of us has traits, characteristics and actions in which we take pride as well as ones that cause us shame and pain.
A man is a creature divided: On the one hand he is a pleasure seeking animal while on the other a spiritual being.
It is through balancing these contradictions that we create our man.
There are many who espouse a belief that Man is inherently evil and incapable of saving himself.
Others insist man is nothing but an animal and owes no thing to anyone but self and is here for naught save pleasure.
These extremes are folly: To grow a man must accept responsibility and balance this with self-interest.
Our time on Earth is short and our measure is scored with how we fill it.
Know that it is through our labor that we are remembered. Strive for excellence and be forever vigilant in battling ennui and complacency.
Conflict is inevitable and should neither be avoided nor patronized. Work toward civility in disagreement yet remain vigilant to the rare necessity of martial defense.
Remember that we are all human and forgive both others and self upon the occasion of sin.
We are given a great gift in flesh and we owe it to our Creator to honor this gift with care of self.
Love is our gift from Heaven. Love self: Love others: Embrace life! Do not confuse the pleasure of flesh with the love of another yet rather reach always for the highest love you can create.
Value knowledge and empathy: Know that learning without a change in behavior is shallow and weak.
“What profits a man to gain the world but lose his soul?” Listen to God and follow his ways.
Life is for living! Do not sit idly by concerned with others view of you. Embrace life! Participate!
Revel in your mistakes as you would in victory: Learn from both.
The least and greatest of us is a comical figure: Accept your feet of clay but work toward the creation of self that reflects His Glory!
Three years have elapsed since his eighteenth birthday and today he is a different man than he was in 2011, and so am I. We both have grown in the last three years and even though we spend less and less time together as he moves further and further away from us, we have grown closer. Sean is a man whom I admire very much.
Today you have reached the age of majority and the world is yours for the taking. Of course, you figured that out a long time ago. When you turned 18 I wrote “Measure of a Man” for you. Measure had 18 items listed, one for each year. You have taught me at least three more since then so in honor of your birthday I add three new measures to the list.
No man is the father he thought he would be. Every non-parent has sat in judgment while watching other people’s children and said, “I will never do that to my children,” or, “My children will never do that.” These are platitudes of the ignorant and the arrogant for anyone who has been a parent for very long knows that we are imperfect and make mistakes. If we are worthy parents we do the best we can, which is all any man is capable of.
You are learning this as you help your aunt rear her three grandchildren and babysit for your cousin’s toddler. Parenting is hard and we all make mistakes but giving up is a contemptible option at best.
Children teach us many things. One of the things you have taught me is the importance of balance. I would watch my father leave our home at 7:30 in the morning to return after 6:00 that night. He spent most of his life working at something he loved and which was important to him but this left little time for family or fun. One of his brothers confided in your uncle Greg, “Your dad just doesn’t know how to have any fun!”
I don’t think that it is true that Frank didn’t know how to have fun but I do know that he put security ahead of enrichment. Your grandfather believed in caring for those whom he loved, an honorable and important goal, but he lacked balance in spending time with those for whom he provided. This need for providing for my family has been a compulsion to me as well. I have lived my life with the thought that after I obtain a goal, pass over an obstacle, subdue a demon that then I should lead my life rather than it lead me. Even though I had told myself not to follow in Frank’s footsteps of setting work above family I still fell into this trap. Security trumped enrichment.
I urged you to fall in line on this as well. To continue your education, to find a job that you enjoy and to dedicate yourself to it, to fall in line. I think those three things are important. It is my heartfelt belief that each of us is responsible for caring for our self and our loved ones but I know that this security must be balanced against an enriching life. I think you live that better than I.
So to your 18 measures that I gave you three years ago I add:
Do not sacrifice today on the altar of tomorrow.
This ability to care for oneself is closely tied to independence. To be an adult is to care for oneself but balance is again a key feature. I left my parents’ home and communicated with them rarely and by letter. I felt that I was on my own and that success meant weathering storms without help from others. When I needed assistance, be it financial, emotional, physical or intellectual I felt as though I had failed. This is hubris. We are all dependent upon each other and recognizing this is a key to growth. When we work as a team it is important to carry our part of the load but as a team we can achieve so much more than we would alone.
Understanding our interdependence has given you insight into how our actions affect others. It is only through decades of hard lessons that I have learned how important what I do, how I treat people and the ways in which I handle conflict are all interrelated. In life it is essential that we be there for each other and I know that you grasp this far more fully than I did at 21.
Just as we would gladly give a hand to one in need, so too should we lovingly accept a hand-up when we are down trodden.
I took a course in college in which I learned to define risk as the potential for damage or loss. This course was designed by your grandfather Frank though by the time I took Health 280 at University he had left teaching and moved on to other pastures. The goal of the course was to teach us how to identify, evaluate and through actions available to us, reduce the likelihood of damage or loss. While this is laudable it detracts from the fact that not only is risk inherent in life but that it is both necessary and desirable. (To be fair I think that telling college age students that risk is desirable is a terrible idea as they wantonly take crazy chances without first recognizing the risks they are taking, but I digress!)
I can think of nothing in life that is meaningful that does not involve risk. Goals that are easily reached are as memorable as brushing our teeth or combing our hair. I do not endorse jumping off of bridges into rushing water before first reconnoitering the subsurface terrain, hitch-hiking across the country nor long-boarding without a helmet; I do endorse the assumption of risk in the course of a life well spent.
You, dear, dear, Sean are my role model for increasing the amount of risk that I am willing to take, though I will continue to look before I leap and pray that you too will moderate your risky behaviors with some risk reducing preliminaries. Your planning and procuring of needed materials and a trustworthy companion in regards to your upcoming travels to the western parts of the United States fills me with hope that perhaps you will begin to view risk a bit more through my eyes as I try to break a thirty plus year habit of being overly cautious and look at things more from your perspective.
I will try to reach out and embrace life more fully because that is what we are meant to do. Retaining a youthful, excited outlook toward a world that should be viewed with wonder on a world that should be seen as offering unlimited opportunity for growth, fun and adventure is something that you have reinforced for me. I will go forward and not only view my world with the wonder that I usually see in it, but I will try to embrace the untold risky adventures that await me if I am just willing to let go the safety rope and travel off the secure path. I know that if I get lost or fall that you, my son, will come to my aid.
Embrace risk but eschew wonton risk as light fare that we reserve for nibbling. Instead endeavor to fight and work for your dreams while accepting and clasping the joys that difficult, heart-pounding struggles present.
Risk is both a necessary ingredient in sustaining life and the spice that gives it flavor.
Twenty one. There is a world of growth that has occurred since you have been on this earth. You and your brother are great gifts to us and we are so proud to call you our sons. Thank you for being a boy I could adore and a man that I can love and respect. I promise I’ll try to let go of the rope a lot more in the next 21 years!
All my love,