Finding a brotherhood as powerful as the U.S. Navy SEALs may tempt you to lose yourself completely to the cause. Don’t. Keeping your identity is as important to the health of the group as it is to your well-being.
Fatherly’s Letters to Boys project offers boys (and the men raising them) guidance in the form of heartfelt advice given generously by great men who show us how to take that crucial first step in confronting seemingly unsolvable issues — by offering honest words. Read all the letters here, or share your own.
When I was your age, I was forced to find my own path. I left home — the family sailboat in Tahiti— after a big argument with my father. I moved to Hawaii and lived on my own, working on a dive boat as a deckhand to make ends meet while I finished high school. Leaving Tahiti for Hawaii was tough. I cried myself to sleep the first three nights. I was alone in the world and scared. I was also learning I was an individual with great freedom who could make my own way. My journey into manhood had begun.
After I finished high school, I joined the SEALs as a young man who had learned responsibility but also great freedom. The Navy taught me something new: to be part of a team. I learned my own life was no longer as important as my fellow SEALs. I would lay my life down for them, and they me — giving up one man’s freedom for the freedom of many. It was a lesson that came naturally to me. When facing the brotherhood of the SEAL community, I found purpose. That brotherhood, and the idea of sacrificing oneself for the greater good, is something I believe in strongly to this day. I have tried to mold my life around these values. You were born when I was doing my second combat tour in Afghanistan, shortly after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I would come back from that deployment a changed person, and more compassionate for seeing the callousness and coldness of war. I found hope in seeing you for the first time, a 4-month-old beautiful baby boy. My son. Looking at you I knew I was now part of another team more important than myself, another team I would lay down my life for: My family.
Once I left the SEALs and came home to my family, I had to find myself again. The same group that embraced me was lost to me. The brotherhood is a thing that only exists when you’re on the inside. When you become part of a group that has your back day in and day out, it’s hard to cope without them. Once you’re gone, it’s easy to feel lost, unmoored. When you’re a Navy SEAL, part of such a powerful brotherhood, it’s easy to forget that you’re still an individual — a human being subject to weaknesses and the personal liabilities of ordinary men.
Losses are harder when you’re on your own. When I lost my first business, it was tough. Then your mom and I parted ways, and soon after, I lost my best friend and former teammate, your uncle Glen, in Benghazi, Libya. All the grief came crashing down like a massive tidal wave. For a moment, I was alone again.
Fortunately, I was able to find strength in you, my new mission. Your mom and I choose our kids over our own self-interests, and we made a decision to love you guys and raise you as co-parents.
You’re 17 now and have accomplished a lot — in school and through the volunteer work you’ve done and the example you set for your siblings. When you were named an Academic All-American for your GPA and your speech- and debate-tournament wins this year, it was an amazing thing to witness as your father. You’re becoming your own individual, without having to be flung from the nest as I was as a young man. As you continue to make your way in the world, to find camaraderie as strong as what I found in the SEALs and in our family, I want you to remember:
Believe in yourself, understand yourself, keep your individuality, do what you’re passionate about, find diverse and interesting friends, live life to the fullest, remember it’s harder to be kind than cruel sometimes, and lastly, reach as high as you can for your dreams. And if you fall, we’ll always be here to catch you.
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