To My Sons on Father’s Day
I have three sons. As a result of divorce, I don’t see our three sons daily. I do see them frequently. Not every day of every week, but in some weeks every day. It is a tremendous blessing. I’m at their baseball games, lacrosse games, football games, swim meets, basketball games. I go to their art shows. I go to other events at school. I have lunch with them at school every week. I volunteer in their classrooms. I’ve been the mystery reader so many times in my son’s 2nd grade class, that it’s not a mystery to anyone anymore. Even second graders intuitively understand probability and likelihood. We go to church together every week. They are with me Wednesday after school and every other weekend. They are with me for half the holidays and half the summer.
I try to be at the crossroads for my boys. I cheer them on. I encourage them. I talk to them when they need me. Like most dads, I also talk to them when they don’t want it. I hope they see all of this as my unconditional love for them and my hope for their wellbeing.
I will miss all of these moments when they are older, but I also look forward to the relationship that will develop as we age. There is something extremely delicate about balancing being present in the present, looking forward to the future, and longing for the past. As humans we are not always perfect at finding the balance between those three diverse and powerful states of mind and at different times fall into one of those three spheres more heavily. Too heavily. The balance is something I am always working on.
I optimize on them with every decision I face. I try at least. I’m surely not flawless and I’m constantly fighting off self-doubt. I’m filled with massive amounts of self-doubt around Fatherhood and love (and probably a million other things).
I don’t get to pick what they remember of me, or remember of anything. Memories are funny things in that way. We remember some things while forgetting others. We focus on some things while glossing over others. We don’t get to decide what our children remember, but we do get to decide whether it is a good memory or a bad one. I have influence on how they remember things. I get to decide what role I play in those memories. Was I patient with them? Did I listen to them? Did they feel heard? Did they feel loved unconditionally? Did I teach them good principles and let them govern themselves? Did they feel guidance? Did they feel autonomy and freedom of choice? Did they see what they could have done differently rather than just blaming others for a given outcome or interaction? Am I helping them along the path of self-mastery?
I write each of my boys a letter every week. I’ve missed a week here and there. When they are with me in August for example, I generally don’t write them. But by and large, I write them every week. It’s one of those trade-offs life gives us. One of those tender mercies of life. I’m optimistic, perhaps even bordering on idealism and romanticism. I like to see the good in experiences and the good in people. I like to see the good in all that life throws at us. I believe in the perennial art of making lemonade.
Growing up with parents who are divorced will give my sons different experiences than they might have gotten had their mom and I been able to work through all that life threw at us. So often people see only the negatives. The loss that occurs because of divorce. I can see those too. I have felt those losses deeply. But I also see positives, even for my three sons. Or perhaps I’ve tried to create positives to offset the negatives. Experiences they wouldn’t have gotten had their parents stayed married. Lessons they might have never learned.
My weekly letters to them are one of those things I’ve created. I hope they are positive (did I mention massive self-doubt??). By the time my youngest son graduates High School, he will have some 500 letters from me. I hope these letters can be a positive force in their lives. I hope these letters can give them something – if not now, then sometime later in their lives. Imperfect words of advice from their imperfect dad. Above all else, I hope these letters show each of them just how deeply I love them.
My three boys are perfect to me in that imperfect kind of way. They aren’t as polite as they should be. They aren’t as empathetic to each other as I’d like them to be. They should be kinder to their mom at different times. These are all things we are working on. It’s a slow work. And I often think that I’ll only know if I’ve done any good some twenty years from now. Perhaps even longer. Fatherhood is a long exercise. A patience exercise. You get flashes of feedback, but for the most part you have no idea if you’ve done any good until they themselves reach the age of fatherhood.
As I reflect on my own fatherhood, today on Father’s Day, here are some of the things I want my sons to always know.
To My Sons on Father’s Day
Know that I am proud of you. Know that I love you unconditionally. Know that I believe in you. You can accomplish anything you put your mind to. I truly believe that. Know that I think about you constantly. I reflect incessantly on your wellbeing. I wonder if I’m doing all I can. Am I showing you how much I love you? Am I teaching you the things you need to learn. How to tie a tie. How to score a baseball game. How to drive stick. These are all lost arts in America today. But especially this last one. You really need to know how to drive manual.
Know that I believe in you. Beyond the baseball fields. Beyond the basketball courts. Beyond anything and everything you accomplish in school, I believe in you. I believe you can be a source of good in a world that is progressively in need of good people doing good things. I believe you know the difference between right and wrong. Your resolve to choose right needs to be concrete in the years and decades to come.
Know that you are very different than your brothers just as they are different from you. I love your differences. At the same time you share many things. You share loving parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. You are surrounded by people who love you dearly. I know at times you might feel like you want to escape this lovefest! My hope is that this love grounds you. I hope that it steadies you.
There will always be storms in your life. Hopefully not constant storms, but inevitably, unavoidably, unescapably, unsurprisingly there will be storms. They will build on the horizon and attack you unexpectedly. I pray that these storms will be short. I pray that the love I have for you, the faith I have in you, will ground you in these moments.
You have countless people who are invested in you. I hope you see the great lengths to which all of these people go on your behalf. See the good. Find the good. Seek the good. Replicate the good.
I am grateful for every moment I have with you. I hope you see in these moments my love for you. I hope in these moments you see that I always chose you. Sitting on the coach, xBox remote in hand, losing to you badly, I hope you see my eternal love for you. Jumping on the trampoline with you until you want to move on to other things, I hope you see my eternal love for you. Playing with you in the pool and letting you stand on my back while you pretend to surf, I hope you see my eternal love for you. When I’m in the stands cheering for you or at the school helping, I hope you see my love for you. In all of the experiences I try to provide, from camping to traveling, I hope you see the eternal love and hope I have for you.
My greatest ambition for you, my greatest hope, is that you are simply better than me. I think every father hopes to raise boys that are better than themselves. I hope that you are kinder, wiser, and more empathetic. I hope you work harder and smarter. I hope you are more aware of others. More willing to give of yourself. I hope you are a better father and husband than I have been. I hope the mistakes you make in life are less pronounced than the mistakes I’ve made or will make. I hope you can take the good in your mom and I and build upon it. I hope you can cast off the areas where we simply aren’t that good yet. In a single word, I hope you are better than I am. In that single accomplishment, I will feel like I have been successful and I will feel like you are on your way.
Do not delay the decision to choose the right until the choice is before you. By then, it is too late. Choose today to be someone who always chooses the right. Protect those who can’t protect themselves. Serve others unconditionally. Be kind no matter how you are treated. Do these things because they are good. Do these things because it is right. Don’t look for reciprocity in life. The reward for doing good, being kind, and choosing the right is self-awareness that you did all you could. Mindfulness that you gave all you had.
In a recent letter I outlined a few things I hope you can internalize as you grow older. You won’t do all of these perfectly at all of the time. You probably won’t do any of them perfectly any of the time. But life is about striving. And specifically striving to do good. I hope these can act as waymakers as you work through life and establish your identity.
- DuBravacs are cognizant of others and their feelings
- DuBravacs value meaningful fun together
- DuBravacs love working. We have strong work ethic. We work hard, especially on behalf of others
- DuBravacs are charitable. We help others and we serve others.
- DuBravacs are empathetic. We are aware of the plight of others.
- DuBravacs support each other. We build each other up. We take the time and effort to build people up.
- DuBravacs Stick-up for each other
- DuBravacs are kind and compassionate
- DuBravacs have a strong instinct to obey God
- DuBravacs have a joyful attitude
- DuBravacs are physically active
- DuBravacs love and respect nature
- DuBravacs value family
- DuBravacs respect their mother
- DuBravacs value education. We are lifetime learners.
- DuBravacs do not resort to physical violence.
- DuBravacs love to travel and learn from the experiences that travel affords
- DuBravacs are creative. We look for non-obvious approaches.
- DuBravacs are problem solvers.
- DuBravacs are humble and we approach others with humility.
- DuBravacs are good listeners.
- DuBravacs are respectful.
- DuBravacs are generous in all things. We share and are kind.
- DuBravacs talk through issues. We talk through our emotions. We talk about tough subjects in an open way.
- DuBravacs seek to live a life of integrity.
- DuBravacs have a mutual understanding of what things we prioritize, how we solve problems, and what really matters.
Certainly we could add to this list. And I hope you will. As you define who you are, you will in turn be defining who we are.
I love you. More than any letter could ever convey.