Promises are a tricky thing when you’re a parent. I want so much for you that I worry I’ll promise things I can’t deliver, just because I don’t want to crush your dreams. Of course, that will happen anyway — I won’t be able to deliver everything I plan to — but I don’t want you to feel like you can’t trust in me. So I thought long and hard about the things that I can promise you, and here’s what I came up with. Some might call these promises tough love; I see them as a foundation for making you honest and thoughtful men.
I promise not to give you everything you want. This one’s simple for two reasons. First, I can’t afford a life-size, working Batmobile (and if I could, it would be mine). More importantly, I need you to understand that wanting does not equal deserving. You’re going to have to work for the things you truly want. If you’re not willing to put the work in for those things, maybe you don’t really want them.
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I promise to bring down righteous fury upon you when you do wrong. I’m not talking about spilling milk on the floor, or drawing on the walls, or showing up an hour past curfew. I’m talking about things that can harm yourselves or someone else. Bully a kid that’s different? I’ll find ways to make you squirm that will make even that kid feel bad for you, so that you get a taste for how you made that kid feel. Take something that doesn’t belong to you? Say goodbye to the things that do. End up in a cell because you got caught stealing, or something even worse, like driving under the influence? You’ll be spending the night there. Dad won’t be showing up with bail money. When you get out, you’ll be glad you had that night in the klink to stall coming home. I’d rather come down hard on you after a run-in with the police than have you do things that will keep you from ever being able to come home again.
I promise I’ll let you fail. You’re not going to succeed at everything. You’re not going to be the best the first time you step up to bat. When you fall short, or miss out on the trophy, I’m not going to go nuclear on the umpire, teacher, or coach. I want you to learn that failure isn’t someone else’s fault, isn’t the end of the world, and definitely not something to be afraid of. Nobody in history has ever been the best at everything they did. You won’t either. That’s okay. I’m more concerned that you learn that losing is just as important as winning, that it can show you what it takes to win, and that winning isn’t even the most important thing.
I promise you’ll fight your own battles. Much as I wish otherwise, the world’s not always a nice place, or filled with nice people. The unfortunate truth is that you’re going to run into people who will make your life difficult (yes, aside from me). When that happens, it will be on you to stand up for yourself. Don’t worry, though — I’m never going to throw you completely to the wolves. My job is to show you how to deal with these types of people. Your first lesson: what people say about you does not define you. The only person who can ever dictate who you are is you. Someone says something harsh about you, or stands in your way? Ask yourself two questions: are they wrong in what they’re saying, and have you done everything possible to get where you want to go? If the answer to both of those of these questions is “yes,” than the problem’s not you. The problem’s them. I’ll help you figure things out from there.
I promise to do everything in my power to get you out of my house. Don’t get me wrong — I love having you around, but you’ve got to go, eventually. It won’t be for another two decades or so, but you do have to go. It’s not just because I want control of the TV again, or because the grocery bill when you’re in the house rivals the GNP. It’s because I want you to live a full life, and that means living one on your own terms. You don’t get to set the terms at Mom and Dad’s. You’ll always have a roof over your head as long as we have one, but you won’t be lounging around on the couch until something better comes along. You’ll be working your tail off helping out around the house, paying your own bills, and if my plan works, scouring the want ads like a thirsty man searching for water in the desert. I love you very much. You have to get out.
I know you’ll read this and think that Dad has it out for you, that he’s looking forward to putting you through hell. Far from it. You guys (next to your mother) are what I love most in this world. You’ve brought me more joy and pride than anything else I can possibly imagine. You are the best things I could ever hope to offer this world.
That said, I have a responsibility to raise you to be your best selves, and it’s not just a responsibility to you. I have a responsibility to the community that you’re going to be part of. My only dream for you is that you grow up to be good men who know how to trust in yourselves. I want you to be men who deserve the things you want and you have by working for them. Most of all, I want you to be men who live by the one rule I hold higher than any other: treat others as you would have them treat you.
You do those things, and I can make you one last promise.
I promise to always be proud of you. No matter what you choose to do in life, what you choose to believe, how you vote, or who you choose to love, your old man will always be proud of you. Always.
An overgrown man-child and connoisseur of geek culture, Jeremy Wilson is striving to raise his two sons to become more responsible, self-actualized men than himself. So far they are not cooperating. You can follow along at fatherhoodinthetrenches.com.