Fourth Birthday Letter

"You brighten our days, you light up our life".

Let's start at the beginning. You were born 4 years ago in May, with great vigor, after overcoming many challenges, to your loving parents Laurel and Victor and an extended doting family of 6 sisters, Galt, Katie, Rand, Toria, Artie, and Kira and your step mother Susan, your uncle Roy, and your god parents, Ming and Dan, and your caretakers Lorna and Tashi, and mentors Doc, John and Jeff. We got you fresh air outside the hospital on your first day born, (tripping the hospital alarm system in the process), and good food at the Four Seasons and tennis at the town club, and music from Mommy on the piano, on your first day outside the hospital, and you have been proactively enjoying good things like that every day since that time.

I wrote you a letter when you were born emphasizing the importance of choosing the right path and friends in life, listening and learning, giving others the benefit of the doubt, taking care of small things, choosing the right incentives, counting to make sure that you know where you are, reading and surrounding yourself with good books, the importance of music and games, knowing how to handle money, and the value of competition, modeling yourself after heroes.

You have encapped most of those things so far, and amazed me by saying recently "the mouse with one hole is quickly taken" and "the little things you do get the job done". You love good books, music, and sports, machines, races, pretty people. You also said about the importance of eating good food "that's what attracts us to it " and you told me your favorite book is about the 12 heroic deeds of Hercules.

Perhaps you will reread those letters and the comments from the many friends that we have who augmented them with tips and guidance for you in the future.

Artie, my father always said that the happiest day in his life would come when I started to beat him in racket sports (a necessity along with music and books in our family). That day came to me, but I am not sure that you will ever have that pleasure since life is short, and I am still pretty good but at least you will have these letters and the knowledge that is Mom's and my most fervent wish for you to excel us in all things to look back upon. The key attribute you have as you enter your fifth year is that you radiate joy in all about you from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep. Everyone you come in contact with loves you, from the doormen to the waiters, to the taxi drivers, to your teachers. You wake up singing songs like "those daring young men in their flying machines" and telling us that "the Large Hadron Collider at CERN has 27 kilometers of path", and you go to sleep saying that "you're thinking of silly things like all my friends have friends, and they have friends who have friends also". There's not one minute of the day, where you're not asking questions about how things work, what different words mean, why things are happening as they are, and why and what we're doing, along with your own explanations of the reason for each event you experience.

I am happy to say that somehow, you seem to already show interests and ability in all the things that are key to this family and that we have encouraged you to digest.

Your vocabulary is immense and you use word like "visible", "eventually", "finally", " theory", "familiar", "promising", "recommendation", "privacy" in everyday conversation. Here are some characteristic things you recently said "Let's not fly the kite. It might get lost. Let's just go for a scenic walk". "The three resistors make the fan go up in the air and that is how a street light works." "Practice is what makes you good at things". "I got hit by a rogue wave in S. Hampton but I don't have to worry about that on the Connecticut shore because the land is in the way". You said while we were swimming "You should board the board." Then you added, "that's a palindrome, isn't it?"

You are also good at languages and are beginning to master Chinese and you love to talk and hear Spanish.

You are a shrewd article, knowing how to solve problems and how to influence people. I was particularly impressed when you said to Susan, "do keep records of how much math I am doing now so you can tell Daddy so he'll let me watch the iron man video". Before going to sleep you recently said characteristically. "I'm thinking of something crazy. I was playing golf and then I started flying."

You are quite good at tennis, and can now hit a running backhand when you are incentivized by a banana split. You still have perfect pitch and love to sing all day, and now you have great rhythm also, and can play all the complicated rhythms of mommy's piano stuff on the drums. You've taken an interest in dancing, especially Irish dancing, and ice skating dancing, and love to imitate Michael Flatley and Apollo Ono.

You are good at the back stroke in swimming, and you can read most of the beginning Bob books. You love all machines including those used for building, cooking and sewing. You have incorporated the family's love of competition and are always ready to race anyone in anything and beat them at the finish. You also love to watch horse racing especially as the horses race to the finish. You amazed me recently when we went to the track by saying at the end as we met all the woebegones on the bus, "Daddy bet on the 4 horse in the second race, and it was in the lead but the 7 horse came up very fast at the end and we lost, but we won because daddy bet to place on second".

You love money and nothing gives you greater pleasure than selling lemonade. You dance up to all customers, give them a little kiss when they buy things, and then carefully count the revenues made in your cash register. You like to use credit card and understand what things cost and when you have to be careful about buying them. Sometimes you look at the screen of prices and say things like "oh no, what will make the prices stop going down."

You love going to concerts and have been to more live performances, ( and been escorted to the "front" ) than almost anyone. Your favorites are South Pacific which you've seen 5 times (I hope we can get you through the second act), The Music Man, My Fair Lady, and Annie. The little orchestra society has a few stars that you look for at their concert that make you love the music even more.

You are very good at counting and can add 9 to any number and know how to subtract. You recently gave a taxi driver 20 on a 17 fare and said "3 back" without prompting. You love to read maps, and can give a driver explicit instructions with all routes from West Street in Manhattan to Hillcrest in Weston.

Now that you know what's important in this family, and have already in your activities prepared the way, let's turn to some things for the future.

You will find that almost all the things you do in life come about because of the places and people that you visit and meet. Okay, you have to choose them wisely. Stay around good people who do good things that make you happy. But don't only think of short term happiness like Pinocchio did, but think about the things that will help you over the long run. The people you can always count on to lead you to good things, thinking only of your own welfare are your family and friends, the people mentioned above. You can always count on them, through thick and thin, and you must not expect to rely on others as the world spins on its axis and many a storm and uncertainty envelopes you. I had a friend once, a Palindrome.

Closely related to this is one of my most important things. Stay away from people that seem to have bad luck. People who always end up in trouble, or who seem to be in places where bad things happen to them and their companions, even if no fault of their own. I call these people hoodoos, and you will meet many of them among your friends and acquaintances who you should stay away from. As the dictionary says, "hoodoos are not confined to locomotives that are always involved in accidents through no fault of their own, but to boats, and planes also."

A good place to be is one where you can do the same thing over and over again without excessive danger. If you keep doing dangerous things, in life, play, romance or business, you'll find that eventually one of those dangerous things will cause disaster. I have made that mistake in my speculations, and life and I am afraid that you may be prone to this error also. Be careful. The best things are yet to come.

You have so many talents, so many good things ahead of you, and life is so beautiful that you should never take a chance, even if it's one in 10,000 that would cause you irreparable harm. I found this out too late in life to thoroughly incorporate and if I had, life would have been a lot easier for all of us. I know that your mother agrees with me on this, as we do on most things.

While you should stay away from Hoodoos, you should stay around heroes. I have come in contact with lots of heroes who do great things overcoming tremendous obstacles to do them in my day to day life as well as in books. Heroes I have known include Jack Barnaby, the greatest squash coach, Jim Lorie, the man who created the data base for all of finance, and most of all, your grandfather and my father Artie. He was like you. Everyone who knew him loved him and thought of him as a second father or second brother. He never did a bad thing in life and always tried to do good. He loved all of life, including not only the things above I said were so important, but writing, teaching, dancing, ice skating, games, checkers, sports of all kinds, parties, words, books, libraries, food, friends, music. His favorite expression was "this is living", which he was likely to say when eating a good tomato or watermelon. The picture of him we have showing his books, his violin, his tennis racket, football, checker board, type writer says it all. Most important of all was that he always knew and tried to do the right thing. He was a master of form and knew how to do anything just so.  His second favorite expression was "So what of it" which he liked to say whenever one of his kids was sad and depressed and worrying unduly about things. It's always good to let "the bygones be bygones" as no sense letting bad things hurt you in the past and future. And often what happens bad in past turns out to be good for the future. For example, a miserable boss helped to get Mommy fired from her job, even though she was excellent at it. But if she hadn't been fired, she and I wouldn't have met, and you wouldn't have been born.

Such an approach to life led Artie to often say "I'm the happiest man in the world". I believe Uncle Roy often says that, and I hope you can also. If there was one characteristic that marked Artie above others, and made him like a second father or older brother to almost everyone he met, it was that he was a "formist". He knew the right way of doing every thing.

Doing the right thing means doing things the proper way. Without wasting any motion, and effectively going from beginning to end. It means doing things properly regardless of whether you have to, but because it's part of your nature, and no one can take it or tell you what to do. It includes taking risk and overcoming obstacles to make your family better, protecting women, helping the weak, and being courageous when something important is at stake. It also means doing good things that will make you and others happy even when you don't have to do it. You are lucky these days in that you don't have to rely on heroes in your family and books only for guidance in doing the right thing. But you can look things up on the internet to see the right way of doing it. Thankfully you are already good at using google and wiki, and you should continue to look things up there as well as the dictionaries that you love when you want to know the right way.

I have two groups of people that have been very helpful in showing me the right things to do, the junta, and the spec list. Many of them are like family and you will be able to draw strength and nurturing from them in the future. They all agreed with me that it's important to surround yourself with good people and when I asked them for heroes besides Artie to model yourself after from books they came up with the following list. General Petraeus (smart, effective, loyal), Jack Aubrey (knew everything about his field, gusto, generous, well versed in deception, musician, big, competence), Cal Ripken (perseverance, expansive, excellence at game, sharing his love of game with others for profit), Thomas Jefferson (scholarly, omniscient, doing the right thing) Benjamin Franklin (practical, down to earth, self effacing, romantic, scientific), Morihei Ueshiba (self reliance, self defence, physical training, achieving your goals) coack K and Coach Wooden, and Coach Pete Newell, (dedication to teaching, completely knowledgeable) Bruce Lee (strategy, physical training), Richard Feynman (curiosity, ingenuity, happiness, loyalty), Michael Waltari (independence, resourceful, world as oyster), Ted Mack (not petty, serving as example, creative), Faraday (humble, able to popularize, neat, experimenting, dedicated), Thomas Edison (inventive, practical, seeing the big picture, diligent), Lord Rama (ideal son, husband, friend, and king), King Leonidas (for bravery, tenacity) Galton (ingenuity, generosity, diversity of interests, counting, visualization, diplomacy).

A boy, a man has many roles to play as he grows: to be a good son, a good husband, a good friend, a good brother, a good teacher, a good leader. Fortunately, the foundation, the qualities for dispatching those roles are rather simple. The heroes mentioned all seem to have that foundation. Strength, bigness, courage, diligence, organization, practical, knowledge, self awareness, sense of happiness, loyalty. You are fortunate to have been born with many abilities. If you try to weld the above qualities of success onto those abilities you are sure to lead a happy and productive life.

Some day you'll look back on these letters and realize that the lessons I tried to teach you come from the wisdom and good experiences of my parents and their parents before them, and that they can live forever in you, and yours.

Just one more thing. Tom Wiswell, the greatest American free style checker player, and my checker teacher for 20 years always said, "make sure you have a good foundation in Checkers and life." Try to fill in the holes before you start something. Have a strong base with checkers and resources supporting where you're coming from. Read the story of the three pigs and learn from it to use strong materials, for example strong people and products when starting a business. Dig deep and wide and strong at the beginning. Make sure there are strong posts of brick or concrete or metal all round to hold up what you're doing. And make sure there's lots of volume underneath to distribute your project over. The worst mistake you can make in business or life is to get in over your head. That mistake always starts with not building a proper foundation.

One more thing. Think big. Have great dreams. Try to make them come true. Don't worry about little things. As Galton says, "let the bygones be bygones". Or as Artie would say "so what of it" about little things that go wrong.

As the song goes, "the days grow short. I haven't time for a waiting game. These precious days dwindle down to a precious few, and these few precious days I'd spend with you." Hopefully the ideas, heroes, books, and love that make up this letter will help steer you on the path to a happy and productive life.

Love, dad

Kim Zussman comments:

I hope and believe you will live beyond the day when Aubrey beats you at tennis, and everything else. It is part of nature's plan.

Chris Tucker comments:

Spent the afternoon at the beach yesterday. There is something special about having your child run to you and reach for your hand, about holding your child's hands and helping them jump over the waves and squeal with delight, again and again. It makes all the other stuff just disappear.


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