May

6

 Dear A.,

You might want to know some day how you were at 7 years old and what the paths and choices for the future looked like. Perhaps it will remind you some day of the good old days. You love to sing and one of your favorites is "The Good Old Days". "Like the hopes that were dashed when the stock market crashed. Ha ha ha those were the good old days". It's hilarious when you sing it and just before that line you turn around and look at me sheepishly.

You are by all accounts, the most affectionate and gregarious boy that ever lived. You radiate happiness to everyone about you. Many people have told me that they feel like a second father to you and that they'll promise to take care of you when the time comes. Wherever you go, you enter into conversations with strangers and store people. And you love to squeal with joy when you connect with someone on one of your favorite things.

You are very sensitive and aware of the emotions of others. And you have lots of empathy for those in need. You believe that even fish deserve sympathy and won't eat them because you think they're endangered. (I hope you change your mind about this because eating fish regularly is a necessary condition for a long life I think). You walk out of all movies if anyone's getting hurt and you hate superheroes for that reason. You like to be helpful around the house and to garden and cook and help anyone in need. You are particularly caring of older people in old age homes who you like to visit and always ask about you, and also for very young kids who you treat very protectively and gently. The ability of yours to inspire love is good for you.

The most important thing in traveling the path to success aside from hard work, proper organization, ability and health is to have proper mentors. I had great mentors in Barnaby , Lorie , Redel , Wiswell . You will have great ones from among those that love you. Do be sure to be properly appreciative and mentorful. The favorite things for you are singing, chess, scrabble, squash, baseball, music, counting, eating sushi, playing games (both computer and board), reading, biking, skiing. You do the first nine every day. Also recently you have shown the influence of your heritage in music. You have started to play songs by ear on the piano, you can sing many of the patter songs from Gilbert and Sullivan from memory with perfect enunciation and you can play 7 songs on the violin even though you don't practice and only take lessons twice a week.

 Some stories about them might be easy to remember in the future, and help make sense of where you are. I ask you, "what's your rating in scrabble." You say, "it's 2200." "How did you get there?", I ask. "Well, I beat someone very good. He wrote the book I read. He was the world champion." I ask, "did you tell him you were 6?" "No. I didn't want to embarrass him. How do you spell embarrass."

A typical chess story of yours. You love to go to Washington Square to play chess with the hustlers. You often beat them. And you love to jump from one table to the other commenting on the games as you play them.  "That's a wasted move. It breaks up your pawn duo and puts you offside. Now your pieces are all apart. I think you can resign." The chess players love you because you are creative and appreciative, and dynamic and vocal– qualities that pervade everything you do. Your parents read to you every day and you love to read yourself. You said to me the other day, "I can't believe that some people don't love to read and find it boring. There's always something so interesting in it. I could read all day".

The first time I knew you were a genius was when Mommy took you to Italy, when you were three, and she said "He didn't stop talking the entire trip."It's true. Wherever you are, you always ask questions. You have to ask about every new word you hear, every joke that people are laughing at, every way that something works. Actually there was another time when you were 3. We were riding the bike back from 59th street to your apartment which is 120 blocks away. When we got to first street, you turned to me and said, "we've gone 59 blocks. In another block we'll be at the -1 block, and that will make it exactly half." I should mention here that you can do all the squares up to 100 in your head, and can multiply most two digit numbers in your head using quick math techniques, and this never ceases to amaze your friends and their parents. Yes, you are very good at math, and take the Stanford course each day, and are just about a week or two away from completing your fifth grade exam, where you got a 77 on your last one, which is very good considering how easily you are distracted, and how you often have 20 computer chess games and related conversations and 15 scrabble games going on at the same time. As uncle Roy said about you: "he's a chip off the old block". What he meant was you are in the line of geniuses and renegades in our family like great grandpa Martin, grampa Artie, Roy, and nephew Ian.

 You take lots of lessons each day and week. Chess about twice a week from Raphael or the hustlers or the chess teacher, squash every day from me or Hisam, piano and math from your mother, violin and baseball from Anthony, Chinese from Jane, swimming and chemistry from Mr. Rook, tennis from Nemanya, two science classes from Jodi, history at the museum. And each weekday you always find time to play board and computer games with Doc. Sometimes you'll flop down on the bed when you're at home and say "I've just had 4 lessons in a row. Give me some time to do a little thinking on my own." But as your mother says, "Sometimes he'll flop down and claim to be tired. But he always has plenty of energy for chess, scrabble, and the odd computer game. I have to take the mouse away because no computer can withstand him.

He eats banana pancakes every day for breakfast, and remembers all my mistakes like when I burned the rice or when the butter spurted all over, and goes into fits of laughter years later. He always asks what is funny when I laugh at something and he doesn't get the joke. He is extremely social and a real ladies man. He writes notes to all his girl friends, calls them on the phone when they're not taking lessons themselves, and he often says to women, "you look very nice today all dressed up in fancy clothes".

I have to mention here that Raphael said after your second lesson that he thinks you could be the world 7 and under champion. Raphael has taught Kamsky and many other champs and won from Bronstein and Alekhine so he knows what he's talking about. And Hisam your occasional squash teacher whose brother is world number 1 said, "I think A. will be the best 9 and under in the world shortly also." I know a little about squash, also, and I am amazed that you can hit a backhand with tremendous power down the line. When I was 7 I couldn't even hit a backhand, and I was able to beat most adults at that age at handball and paddles. You also hit a beautiful bull whip forehand down the line which you're learned from watching racketball on youtube.

Your singing teaching experience is not without its highways and by ways. You tried out for the Met Opera children's chorus and had a great audition singing happy birthday perfectly and getting all the intervals correct when you had to repeat them, but then you were so pleased with your performance that you jumped around the room the way you do from chess table to chess table, and the teacher had to ask you if you wished to go into another room. Perhaps he did not realize that you like to learn at your own pace in your own way and time and express your joy when you hit the bulls eye.

Yes, you are somewhat unruly. You like to talk during movies and shows that we have been taking you to since you were 2 (you were asked to leave South Pacific on each of the 5 times we took you there). And you sometimes like to jump on the table or lie down when you're in a class with others, and when you're playing baseball, you cover all the bases on every hit when you're in the field. Perhaps this is a trait you inherit from your father. Whenever I didn't shut up in class, I found myself in the principal's office. "You should know better he'd say to me. Your father is a cop." Doing one's own thing runs rampant through our families. I brashly announced to the revered squash coach Jack Barnaby the first time I saw him: "I am going to be the best rackets player in the world in that other game you teach before I had even played it" and your mother took a year off when she was 18 traveling around to night clubs and bars making her living playing the piano and singing blues songs she wrote. I don't think you would like going to a traditional school very much where you have to listen to the teacher give a lesson on things you already know or aren't interested in. You like to say to me, "Why should I listen to you when I know so much better what I want to do then you do. You're such an autocrat". Teachers wouldn't and won't like it when you say that to them.

 One of the favorite things you like is business. You love to talk about the pricing of your mothers glass products, and how much inventory she should buy. You asked me at the age of 4 if I was bullish or bearish on gold and I said "bullish because it went down a lot yesterday. And you said, "but what about the previous day. Did you test it?". You are good at selling lemonade. And you love to Tom Sawyer up to passers by, and buttonhole them and ask them if they want to buy a very good lemonade, only 25 cents. All the people in my building are always asking me, "When is A. going to sell lemonade again. We like it".

I should mention that you are very fortunate to have two families that you love and love you very much. You love to do morning and afternoon things and evening things with your mother. You cook, you bike, you read, you learn things together, and you do everyday things like getting proper clothes and haircuts and buying food and supplies, and go to the Dr. You love to do weekend and afternoon things with me and Susan and your sisters. Often you will go for walks in the woods, mountain biking, banana grams, gardening, sledding, soccer, baseball, air hockey, chess, and cooking bread with Susan in just one day, back to back. (Sometimes I wonder if she still recognizes me because she's so busy). You are particularly close to Kira and Toria and often follow them or lie under their locked doors so that you can copy their dance steps or hear their stories or play games with them. I love to see you hugging your mother and the Connecticut family when you see them but I sometimes feel bittersweet that they are so good at playing with you that you often prefer their company to mine. When I try to read the book of the day to you, you often run away from the table saying "I know what books I want to read and hear better than you. Why are you so dogmatic?". You often ask me, "Why can't you let me have more fun?". I guess the reason is that I don't have that much time left to parent and teach you, and I want to provide a foundation, a base of operations for the rest of your life while I am young and energetic enough to transmit it. I love you very much, and the few things that I can do that I learned from my father, mother, grandparents, and siblings, I want to get into you before it's too late. Regretfully, I am the type of father that can't do all the things that men and kids are supposed to do, especially boy scout things and art things. I know my weaknesses, but fortunately between Mommy and Susan and your friends, John and Rose, who we go on a few trips a year with, and your friends, Doc, nannies, and teachers from the past, they can fill in what you didn't learn from me.

One of the most important things to learn in life is "to be unaware of your ignorance is the sickness of the ignorant." And even more important is to know that everyone is different and everyone has different abilities. Those who are good at something often specialize in it and excel at it. If you want to be a champion at something, specialization is necessary. The world works that way with people choosing to do the things they're good at. Then the whole pie gets made by the separate people that are good at things. Those two things, specialization and division of labor and the ability to choose and trade with the specialist people in their divided slots make the world a very good place.

Perhaps you will remember your seventh birthday which was a typical thing for you. You started it with a bike ride from river terrace to 59. Then you played bananagrams and fisher chess with Susan, then you rode to the Museum of Math , where you built Sierpinski tetrahedrons, then you subwayed over to Nobu for a sushi party, then you biked back to 59, went to the Jackie Robinson movie, (which you said you were going to hate until you saw him stealing home when you squealed). Then we went to the best burrito place, your favorite meal, you slipped in some minigolf at Arman's birthday party, and then we bought some big pizzas and cake which we had delivered to the hustlers at Washington Square, and we had a surprise birthday party for you and them there where they had their first square meal outside of The Salvation Army and you beat a few of them at chess as you jumped around and kibbitsed all their games.

 Okay, enough of the past. Lets turn to the future. You love to ask me about the stories that connect my past to the future. I think it might be good to put a few of our favorites down so that they might guide you and provide a base for the future. One of my favorites is the time I won the North American Open in Mexico in 1976. I had 20 injuries that final match, ranging from having Mexican disease to cramps and jock strap burn and Sharif hit me in the head full on with one of his crazy top swing follow throughs and gave me a concussion to boot. Then he got his contacts jammed and I was entitled to a win by default. Instead I told him I'd wait a week for him to get back on the court, and I waited 3 hours and then won it fairly as he came back stronger than ever. I won the Unesco sportsmanship award for that and met the four horsemen of France for that, but that's another story. The story illustrates that hard work and perseverance will win the day. And always give the other side a fair shot. Artie always gave the opponents the benefit of every doubt and call when we played. And he'd say to me "if you need it that much, you should work harder. It's only a game".

Another story I like is in EdSpec about how grandpa Martie wrote a letter to the football coach when he yanked Artie out of the game. "How could you dare to take all American Niederhoffer out of the game when he was the only one to catch, kick, and block the ball with impunity throughout the 3 to 42 loss." The coach read the letter to the players in the locker room, and my father was so embarrassed the rest of his playing days. They always kidded him and called him All American after that. Yes, but if your parents won't stand up for you and think you are the best in the world, who will? You will find in life that the ones you can trust and rely on the most are your parents and very close relatives, and everyone else you will find will be very likely to let you down in the pinch. I have carried on the tradition of defending my children with letters and one time I wrote a similar letter to Martin to Galt's teachers when they wouldn't let her in a talent show because her moves were too dynamic. I pointed out to her teachers that because of their own failure to achieve greatness, and lack of self esteem, and their oneness with the idea that has the world in its grip, i.e. that all outcomes should be equal and that the individual doesn't count for anything, and the purpose of life is sacrifice, they were threatened by the greatness they saw in her. I did use the word maggots and envy in talking about their personages, and for the rest of the time Galt and Katie were at school, the teachers called me Mr. Noriega, the terrible dictator from Panama in retaliation.  (By the way, Galt did get in the talent show after all, as people who lack self esteem are often cowards at heart and they didn't want to have the story of their suppression of talent get spread around).

I got hundreds of stories to tell you like that which will guide you in life. And many of them are in EdSpec. I'll tell you more from day to day. However, I would suggest to you that you should read stories to learn and remember things about life. And there are born story tellers like Louis L' Amour, Ring Lardner, Patrick O Brian, Victor Hugo, Jack Schaefer, Alexander Dumas, Mark Twain, whose books we are beginning to read to you who will make your life scintillating and memorable and inspire you to greatness and heroism. Well, I think you get the gist. Life can be a very beautiful thing if you work hard, play at things, learn from the greats, do some good reading and music, pursue your fantastic talents, and try to be happy. You will learn as my father said to me when I was your age, "the old buck is not so bad" and all the things I try to father with you are done to put you on a proper path for a life that is great now and in the future.

Love, dad

The Hobo responds: 

Rx for an everyday Niederhoffer from a hobo

Your letter is good and v. valuable. but u don't want to hear that.

reactions and suggestions: surprised he's gregarious.

you take him to Washington square to play chess– what a treat if he likes it.

'have 20 computer chess games and related conversations and 15 scrabble games going on at the same time'– impressive not because he can do it, but because he wants to.

suggestions for sports: judo, aikido, wrestling, gymnastics. more individual sports since he's social enough.

no tap water, no fountain drinks…

he must learn at least one foreign language or will lose a majority of thoughts in the context of words.

don't make girls a curiosity. explain them or he will want to explore them, and it's a waste of time.

he must continue to travel outside the country for perspective in all things.

expose him to poverty & more slowly to the sordid and let him make up his own intelligent mind.

appeal to his logic on all matters and keep emotion secondary.

u are at fault for not supplying him to date w/ The Memory Book by Lucas & Lorraine.

home schooling is better exactly for him unless there's a school w/ peers, which is unlikely. he will naturally bond and develop below his mental giantness unless exposed to your usual diet of transient specialist geniuses. a public school will stunt his growth; the best private one will turn him into a state champion; home schooling into a national.

Important- 'I should mention that you are very fortunate to have two families that you love and love you very much.'

'expose him to monthly situations that demand 'hard work, and preference will win the day'. he will acclimate to the difficult. the gains can only be learned the hard way, as our sometimes good chairman Mao says, 'through a little bitterness in life'.

'you always ask questions'- indicates he has a big 'I am' to fill, and a drive to become what he may. your job is to provide the smorgasbord environment.

explain what 'thinking outside the box' is. he does it, but knowing it will expedite many thought processes.

he needs logic puzzles: how to get a fox, bag of grain, chicken across the river; bear walks by a house w/ four windows & you look out a window and the bear is white– where are u; found a coin dated 94 BC– it's fake.

he is old enough to take the big step: list the priorities in life. let him do it. review annually. it can be altered, any plan can.

he's a chip off the young block.

the most valuable sum up comes in the middle: this letter will 'help make sense of where you are'.


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