Oct

19

Father / SonJohn,

I just wanted to take this time to wish you a happy 21st birthday. It's hard to believe that you are 21 years old, and it's harder to believe that I made it this long. I would like to congratulate you for making your life so complete, and I'm very proud of your accomplishments. You've come a long way from the little beach rat you started out to be. All of your life, your mom and I made a very conscious effort to teach you the difference between right and wrong, as that is the measure of a complete man. We diligently taught you how to think on your feet, and how to think on your own terms. You embraced our high standards, then decided to exceed our wildest dreams and expectations.

Ever since you were a little boy, you had an insatiable curiosity about words, logic, languages, numbers, and music. You saved us a lot of time by teaching yourself to read, learning how to count, and add and subtract all by yourself. Your basic intelligence provided us with a pedestal, a foundation, a sound base in which to help guide your progress. We were rather laissez faire in our approach to teaching you, but you obviously soaked up knowledge like a sponge. Teaching you was a joy for both your mom and me. I especially enjoyed teaching you, and showing you the mad experiments I would concoct for your amusement and learning.. Our little experiments drove mom crazy, but then again we sure had fun.

I like to remember our rather spirited dinner table conversations you participated in since you were two years old. We always included you in every topic and discussion, and your very patient mom offered to clearly explain everything you didn't understand. Your mom and I didn't always agree on subjects, and we allowed you to jump into the fray, developing and formulating your own opinion. We respected your opinions as long as they were well thought out and intellectually sound, and corrected you when you had flaws in your thought process. If you remember, we always had the best dinner table discussions, and somehow the kids in the neighborhood all wanted to be at our house around dinnertime to participate and hang around. You know it wasn't the cooking that brought them over, but the love and respect we all showed one another. Your mom and I made a conscious effort to make out house a "Cool" house, where all the kids would want to hang out. I must confess that we weren't entirely altruistic, but we did that to keep an eye on you and your friends. Remember how Teddy and Alan stopped coming over. Your mom and I made a decision that those boys were going to get in trouble, and that you shouldn't associate with them. It turned out that we were both right, as both of them ended up in jail, and are common criminals.

I remember when you were a kid, I'd drive you nuts asking questions and creating hypothetical situations for you to analyze. Later on when you were a Middle 5th, you finally realized that all those questions were to enable you to develop your mind and thinking process. I might have used the Socratic Method on steroids(as you put it), but it taught you how to think and apply rigorous analytical skills to problems.

I remember when you were a little boy and showed zero interest in science. In fact, you hated science and math with a passion, Your mom was more concerned than I was, as I immediately figured out that you were wired differently. You got your penchant for the classics, arts, languages, and music from mom. Since she was preoccupied with her own artistic endeavors, I decided to take it upon myself and get you up to speed in those areas of your interest. Helping you learn, teaching you, was something that taught me as much as it taught you. Still, you did learn enough about math and science to get by, and I have no complaints there.

One of my greatest joys with you has been your affability, and genuine interest in making and keeping friends. You are one of the nicest, friendliest young men I have ever known, and have more friends than I can count. You are obviously doing something right, and again, I attribute your social skills, grace, and high culture to your mom. Still, it would serve you well in the future to only associate with people of the highest integrity. After all, the old cliche, "You are known by the friends you keep," certainly holds true. So far, you have done a reasonably good job in making and keeping friends. However, you need to not always think that every one of your friends will do the right thing, like that episode last summer. If you choose your friends wisely, life will be so much easier. One strong characteristic that you have that causes me admiration is your loyalty. Loyalty, combined with your word being your bond will get you far in life.

I urge you to keep up your interest in the arts and music. Your musical knowledge, theory, and general aptitude for music exceeds that of most music professors. Keep playing the bass, and keep recording your music with the equipment I bought you. I used to do a lot of that in college, but sadly, most has been lost because everything was on tape. You won't have those problems with digital. As for the art, someday, you will inherit a fine art collection. Remember that the art collection is not yours, but you are just its caretaker. Remember that final discussion your mom had with you about art belonging to the ages.

I hope that you keep up your surfing and golfing. I'm more concerned about the surfing as I'm rather selfish and intend on keeping you in the water when you're 50+. Surfing has been good to me and kept me sane. Plus, you are the best surf partner in the world. Think about it, all the thousands of waves we've shared all over the world….not too many father and sons can say that.

I know it's not PC, and we've had countless arguments about this, but one cannot discount the genetic component of your makeup and personality. Your excellence in classics and languages is not by mere accident. Your Uncle David was a classics scholar, as well as mom's dad and her grandfather was a man of letters. Your mom was a world class artist, and you are very proud of her work, and never fail to show your friends the videos, ads, watercolors, and illustrations she made. I sense your pride, and feel it myself. Getting back to genetics, when you finally decide to settle down and find a mate, please consider all the factors that will be in the mix. You need to find someone that will improve our line, just like your mother and I did by having you. Genetics are very important, and you can go to any pub and look at most of the habitues as an example of bad genetics. Have you ever noticed how the street people look different than the people at the club? It's all genetics, and intelligent and successful people breed with intelligent and successful people. The converse is true, just look at the underclass and the differences are readily apparent. You'd have to be blind to not see the difference. Remember when you were a little boy and I'd drive you through the bad part of town and you'd ask about the angry looking men hanging around and I'd tell you, "Those are the guys that didn't do their homework." I should have added the part about the genetics, but then again, you were only five and genetics was beyond your scope.. When you find a girl to settle down, take a hard look and consider if being with her will improve you or not. Always opt for the improvement. It's a common mistake for a man to fall to ruin, because the momentary pleasures of the flesh can cloud one's judgement. Don't allow that to happen. There are going to be a lot of women trying to snag you, as you're an outstanding catch. Don't allow the woman to choose you, choose her and make it a mutual thing. Use mom and me as an example of a loving couple, and live by that.

In two years, or ten, depending on how long you study, someday the real world of mundane things like getting a job, paying bills, and buying a house will be a priority. Remember to always think everything through and not do things on a whim. That sharp salesman is not your friend, despite his affable nature. People will try to look for an advantage, and some might take you for being an easy mark. My greatest regret is not instilling any street smarts in you, but that was an argument I lost with your mom. The easiest word to say is No. Your great grandfather drilled that piece of advice into me when I was just a little kid and it has served me well over the years. Speaking of your great grandfather, I would like for you to re-read his list from time to time. I have found that list to be a guiding principle in my life.

Finally, please realize that I will always be there for you. If I'm down to my last three cents, I will gladly give you two of them. Never be afraid to ask anything of me, and never be afraid to challenge me….but do realize that you better have all your ducks in a row if you challenge me. I know it's cliche, but a good way to look at life is to always do the right thing, even if someone isn't looking.

I've never told you this before, but your greatest characteristic that I admire is your strong desire to do things on your own and not ask for assistance. When you applied to prep school, you did it by yourself, filling out all the applications, lining up interviews. Same thing with college. You've really made things easy for me and I thank you for that. Not that I wouldn't be willing to help, but self reliance and individualism has been a hallmark of our family for generations.

Now that you're 21, you will be able to become a Mason if you so wish. Since you are a legacy, there will be no problems getting accepted into the oldest fraternity in the world. It will take a lot of hard work to become a Mason, but the rewards will so exceed the effort you put in to become one. I, personally would like to give you your Apron Lecture, and that will be the proudest moment of my life if you chose that path.

John, as you become an adult, I just want to reiterate on just how proud of you I am. Your mother would be equally as proud and I know she's looking down and smiling.. You have become the best of your generation in our family. I expect great things from you and know you will be up to the challenges life brings.

The main thing I want for you to do is be happy. Despite all my [misfortunes] over the past three years, I still have remained relatively happy. I might have my moments, but you know what I mean. Life has its ups and downs and you just have to roll with the punches, no matter what they throw at you. Our family is a resilient breed, and you, clearly are the best of breed.

One final piece of advice as you become an adult. The farms you inherited from your mom, although they're not the greatest, make sure you always keep them and never sell them. That is your real legacy.

Happy 21st.

Love,

Dad

Jeff Watson, surfer, speculator and art connoisseur, blogs as MasterOfTheUniverse.


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6 Comments so far

  1. Gerard Curry on October 21, 2009 12:05 am

    That's a beautiful letter. My father lost his eyesight when I was a boy and he never really emotionally recovered. I always admired others who had relationships like the one you describe.

    Within a week, my first child, a son, should be born. My hope is to have similar experiences with my son, that you so poignantly share in your letter.

    Happy birthday to your son, and thank you for sharing such a personal and beautiful experience.

  2. William Brauer on October 22, 2009 11:15 am

    Touching save for the eugenics. Young Watson will have a tough go not marrying for love but to improve the breed.

  3. Ozymandias on October 22, 2009 12:29 pm

    Might I add one more bit of advice for your son: “..For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

  4. Anon on October 22, 2009 2:02 pm

    When I behold, upon the night's starred face Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, And think that I may never live to trace Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; And when I feel, fair creature of an hour, That I shall never look upon thee more, Never have relish in the faery power Of unreflecting love; öthen on the shore Of the wide world I stand alone, and think Till love and fame to nothingness so sink.

    Keats,John
    When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be

  5. Jeff Watson on October 23, 2009 9:59 am

    Ahhh, the eugenics. It's an honor to be mentioned with the same theory that Galton created so long ago. For those who love to study and quote the Bible, it might be a good time to revisit Matthew, Chapter 7. The Sermon on the Mount offers great advice in dealing with others and also has a couple of trading lessons as a bonus.

  6. Kermit Johnson on October 25, 2009 6:05 pm

    I was wondering what replies might follow this. I would only say, from the experience of a very full and varied life, that there are more important things than “excellence in classics and languages.” And I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the kid when he grows up with this advice: “There are going to be a lot of women trying to snag you, as you’re an outstanding catch.” To tell the truth, if I had a daughter, I would tell her to avoid that kid like the plague.

    But then, when I used to live and work in Alaska forty years ago, a friend was always puzzled by my preference for being with doodlebuggers rather than university types, so take this FWIW.

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