Happy Father's Day!
his coming Sunday, June 15, 2014, is Father's Day. The occasion is designated as a day for wives and children to honor the father in the family. While I think that is laudable, I also think it should be a day on which fathers reflect on how they are fulfilling their responsibility to raise strong, independent, and responsible children.
I became a father late in life, at age 47. When my son was born in 1992, I began to write a series of 'Dear Zachary' letters to him, telling him about what was ricocheting around in my head -- things that pleased me, infuriated me or worried me at any given time. My hope was that as he grew older he would, through my words, understand not only me, as his father, but our mutual place in this complicated world and how to cope with life's inevitable frustrations and still be happy and well-adjusted.
I am happy to say that I am proud of my son, now aged twenty-one. On this Father's Day, I will be especially grateful for the privilege of being a father.
Happy Father's Day to all fathers 'out there' -- being a parent is hard work and you deserve every bit of attention lavished on you by your family!.
Today's Next! article is a very slightly edited version of a letter I wrote to my son in 2004, several months before his twelfth birthday. In it, I talk about the things that might worry any responsible father. As I read over what I wrote over ten years ago, I think that things have gotten worse in our world, instead of better. I hope that my son and your own children will thrive and be happy in spite of what challenges they might face in the years ahead.
'Expiration Dates' - A Father Writes to His Young Son
Published: June 5, 2014 12:55:47 PM EST
I’m feeling old today. Well, maybe not old, exactly, but older than usual. Usually, I’m just a big kid at heart, excited by life and all it has to offer.
This morning, I got out of bed with a nagging backache. Nothing serious, but it was enough to get me thinking about things during the fifteen minute drive to work .
What things? Well, expiration dates, if you really must know.
Well, if you look in our pantry, next time you’re reaching for a cookie or some other treat, have a look at some of the packaging. The bags of potato chips, the cans of tuna, the boxes of cereal, just about everything in the pantry, has an expiration date or at least a ‘best before’ date stamped on it.
Human beings are like that too. We have expiry dates and ‘best before‘ dates. No, I’m not suggesting that anyone knows exactly when he or she will expire. Still, as every day advances, especially past middle age, we all know that the trend is downhill. Our bodies begin to deteriorate. Our arteries harden. Our bones lose density and become more fragile. We go from looking ‘distinguished’ to looking ‘extinguished.’ Eventually, we all die. We expire. Hopefully, we will live on in ideas we have passed on to others and in achievements we have left behind. If we are lucky, we will live on in children who carry our bloodline.
Unlike cans of tuna, we don’t have a pre-determined expiry or ‘best-before’ date. Some of us live shorter lives, some longer. Sickness and accident can cause our premature demise. Genes play a significant part in how long we might expect to live. If our parents and grandparents managed to live a long, healthy life, there is a pretty good chance that we too might be around for a long time.
Still, there are no guarantees. Statistically, I should be around for quite a while. I want to be around for a long, long time. There are still so many places to go, so many things to do, books to read, ideas to promote. I would love to be around to see, someday, that the human race has cast aside its need to be controlled by ‘leaders’ and that, instead, each individual would accept full personal responsibility for his or her own life and actions.
That would be a world in which you, Zachary, would shine. You are not meant to be manipulated, controlled, restricted. The values I have passed on to you have pretty much helped to determine that you will be your own person. You will resent any form of bullying by those who claim to know how you should live your life. You are a free spirit who will understand that actions have consequences and that you alone will be the architect of your successes and yes, failures too.
Anything could happen, Zachary, but let’s speculate a bit together about what the world might be like in your future. At one level, I would like to think that someday everyone will realize that the best possible way to foster understanding and co-operation is to simply leave everyone else alone as much as possible. Laissez-faire. Minimal laws would provide remedy for unwelcome physical action taken against others (assault, molestation, rape, murder) and any form of theft or fraud. That would pretty much be it. Everyone would live, in my dream world, doing what they want to do, going where they want to go, trading with whomever they wish to trade. Everyone would be happy, except perhaps those who think that they are anointed somehow to lead the rest of us and to protect us from ourselves. Each person’s rights would extend to that point where they begin to infringe on someone else’s rights and no further.
Will that perfect world ever come to pass? I have my doubts. I have big doubts. There are far too many people on this planet who think that the solution to every problem, real or imagined, is to pass legislation controlling or prohibiting something.
Why is there this need for humans to control or be controlled? What creates such counter-productive and demeaning needs in some people? I hate to be told what to do. More importantly, I also hate telling others what to do. I mean this, of course in the larger behavioral sense; I’m not speaking as a boss who must direct employees to perform diverse functions to run my various businesses. Even in that context, I prefer to tell my employees what the desired result should be and then let them sort out for themselves what should be done to achieve those results. Of course, everyone in my employ with any degree of responsibility has heard my business ethics lecture at least once, in part:
Never do anything dishonest or unfair.
Always accept responsibility for your actions.
Never blame others for your failures.
You know these rules, Zachary. I have spoken with you about these very same things many times.
I am not a worrier by nature. Nevertheless, as I get inexorably closer to my own expiration date, whenever that might be, I do wonder what sort of a world you will inherit. Will it be the ideal place I described above or will it be a dark, unwelcome place where everything you do or think is controlled by government. The George Orwell novel ‘1984’ paints such a world for us: monochromatic, constrained, fearful. Virtually any thought, any word, any action, might result in punishment or imprisonment. Individuals have no control over their own lives. The state makes every decision. Everyone is merely a cog, a drone... a nothing.
What are the chances of such a world developing by the time you grow up and go out on your own? I would venture that the likelihood is greater than a much more desirable evolution to my own laissez-faire preference.
Ayn Rand wrote a short book many years ago called Anthem. In it, everyone is identified by a number, not a name. Everyone is part of the collective. Everything is ‘we.’ Everything is ‘ours.’ Nothing is ‘I.’ Nothing is ‘mine.’
That is my personal nightmare. I don’t want to live in such a world.
One of the reasons that we seem to be plummeting headlong into collectivism is that there is no continuity from one generation to the next. I am convinced that if humans lived forever, the world would already be the way that I would like it to be. Why? Because individuals would learn from the mistakes they make, whether alone or collectively. The mistakes wouldn’t be repeated more than a few times. Instead, without that continuity, the lessons learned by one generation are mostly lost by the time their children and grandchildren run things.
And that, son, is another reason why I want to be around for a long time: I want to see if the human race will ever truly grow up.
As you grow up, Zachary, before you ultimately have to face your own ‘best before’ and expiration dates, always fight for what is right. Even though our societal trend is to reduce everything and everyone to the lowest common denominator, don't make that mistake yourself. Determine what is right and what is wrong, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Make your own decisions and glory in your successes. Make your own mistakes and learn from them. Never make anyone else suffer through your actions. Be honorable, consistent, strong.
As your father, I am trying my best to set a proper example for you. One day, when you have grown up, you will decide whether or not I will have been successful.
(Updated slightly from the original letter written in 2004
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