Hey, buddy – you turn eight-years-old today. Happy Birthday!
You are loved so very much, Parker. And while I think you know this, until you become a parent, you won’t really understand what it feels like.
Before you were born, people tried to tell me how much life would change. That it would seem like my heart was walking around on its own outside my body. But no matter what I was told, nothing has compared to the experience itself. Words alone could not do justice to actually knowing you.
Being your dad is my favorite.
I love your personality. Your quirks. Your Parker-ness. You regularly come home from school with no explanation for the dirt and food on your face and clothes. When I ask about your day, you can’t remember anything that happened (other than lunch, recess, or PE). Mimi tells me I was the same way at your age.
As you grow up, there are some important things I want you to know. And while you can read the words I’ve written now, it will be some time before you’ll understand the whole message.
You’re still too young to fully appreciate this country. Even at my age, I’m not sure I completely do. I’ve never lived anywhere else. You’ve not experienced enough of the world to grasp how special it is to be an American. Now, the United States is not without its flaws; I’ll touch on this more later, but suffice it to say, billions of other people hope and pray for the very freedoms we enjoy every day.
There are places on this Earth, sometimes called third world, where people live in unspeakable ways. Displaced refugees. Deplorable living conditions. Malnourished children. Living in America makes it far too convenient to put this knowledge out of sight, out of mind. But we can’t. Doing so is irresponsible and inconsistent with our value system.
As an American, you’ll be free to choose what you want to do with your life. Who you want to spend your time with. Where you wish to live. And so on. It’s not like this everywhere else.
And as you grow up with these Ameri-centric privileges, I hope you’ll never lose sight of the great, big world in which we live. Because the people that live elsewhere are loved by God just as much as He loves you. They’re just as special, unique, and worthy.
You live in a safe area with friends and neighbors who are nice and, generally, look out for one another. There are many eight-year-olds who aren’t so fortunate. This doesn’t make you better, and it doesn’t make them worse. Contrarily, we have a responsibility to extend our own generosity whenever possible. To seek out ways to befriend others and invite them into community.
There’s also the topic of your skin color. In America, this places you in an advantageous position. I don’t envy this, and I hope your generation can do more to break down these walls than mine has. But, these social conventions are real no matter how much I wish they were not.
Grown-ups call this racial inequality.
You see, there are some people who don’t believe every life is equally important. They believe the color of one’s skin entitles certain groups to special privileges. This mindset isn’t just wrong – it’s an outrage.
Now, there’s also a group who claim to be “colorblind.” They’ll have you believe they can’t tell the difference between how one person looks from another – but this is foolish. Nothing more than an elaborate ruse packaged in political correctness. One problem with this kind of thinking is how it overlooks others’ heritage. It doesn’t make room for the influences that have shaped them, or the places their families came from, or for the stories they have to tell.
It pays no respect the burden that, regrettably, our ancestors may have placed upon the shoulders of their ancestors. Burdens that laid the foundation for many of the inequalities we still see today.
Parker, there will be no more revealing quality in your life, no characteristic more defining than how you choose to treat people. If kindness is a manifestation of love, then it should be on full display as you interact with others. Jesus commanded that we love God and love people. If you get these two things, you will have done an awful lot right.
After all, kindness isn’t a strategy it’s a virtue.
When it comes to others, how they treat you should have no bearing on how you treat them in return. We’re supposed to treat others how we wish to be treated – period. Even if they’re unkind to us. Now, this doesn’t mean you become a doormat for people to trample upon. You should stand up for yourself, but this can be done in a loving manner. Because you’re not responsible for the actions of others – only your own.
And I believe there is no greater agent of change than love. So dispense of it generously, my son.
There will be times where you’ll observe some people – students now, adults later – who try to take advantage of people they deem weaker, less attractive, less affluent, whatever. This may come in the words they use or in the muscles they flex, and you’ll know it when you see it. Parker, you need to stand up for people who are mistreated. There will be times where it might be easier to look the other way, but don’t you do that. Stick up for the one whom no one else is sticking up for. They’re worth fighting for – trust me on this.
And if the day comes where you’re the target of mean-spirited behavior, we’ll work through it together, my man. I promise.
By the way, if anyone ever tells you that sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you, you have my full permission to politely disagree.
Because it’s not true.
The words we use are POWERFUL. So use them wisely because, once said, you can never get them back.
Right now, you don’t look at girls quite the same way that you may in several years. As those days near, I want you to keep some things in mind. For one, very little of what is portrayed on television, social media, and elsewhere is reality. Girls are often taken advantage of so people can make money off how they look. But looks come and go. They aren’t what make someone else special.
Girls have so much to offer. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned and how my life has been enriched because of them. A world without the contributions of Shonda Rhimes, Brené Brown, Amanda Duseberg, Christine Caine, Regina Spektor, Susan Cain or Rashida Jones would be a world with far less to offer.
More than anything, my hope and prayer for your interaction with girls is that you will treat them with respect. Because that’s what they deserve.
As for money, Parker, it’s important. Money provides the roof over your head, the clothes on your body, and the food on the table. You’ve never gone without these basic life necessities, while many have. Learning to be a good steward with your money will be an essential life lesson.
But, money isn’t all some people have made it out to be. Money is a means to an end – not an end itself. You may accumulate an awful lot of money in life, or you may not. But it isn’t money that brings about happiness or satisfaction. How you use your money has far more to do with that. Because, as with love, the more generous you are with your money, the more satisfied you are likely to be.
Who you choose to surround yourself with will, in many ways, help define who you become. At your current age, finding things in common with your peers is as easy as it will ever be. As you grow up, your interests will narrow, and you’ll seek out friends with similar interests.
A piece of advice: place a high value on normal. What do I mean by this? Well, normal isn’t always easy to put into words. Sometimes people will come across as down to earth or easy to talk to, but by and large, normal is more art than science. You’ll recognize normal because of how it feels. There are no judgments with normal. No categories. Normal works because it places you at ease and allows you to be yourself without any pressure to be someone else.
There is no test for normal. It’s an acquired understanding refined over time. You’ll latch on to it pretty good. I’m sure of it.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. You’re eight today – how great is that! And you get to be eight for the next 365 days. So be eight. Have fun. Be silly. Get dirty. Laugh.
And more than anything, know that I love you very much. My beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy….