So, this is it. You finally made it. Today, you’ll put on a cap and gown and you will be handed a diploma and when it’s over we’ll hug and I’ll congratulate you and we’ll both know what I mean is “Thank god that’s over.” The last four years or so were a bit of a struggle but you pulled it off in the end with flying colors, which is the way you kind of do everything. Sorry, it’s hereditary.
This is not going to be a letter full of career advice. If you want career advice, go see the career counselor at college. I’m 48 years old and don’t even know what I want to do with my life yet so I’m not going to tell you what to do with yours. Honestly, I don’t think an 18 year old should have it written in stone what they’re going to do forever and ever. I’m sure all you’re thinking about right now is what you’re going to do this summer and that’s fine. Enjoy your summer. Have fun. Hang out with your friends (you know, I’m really glad you seem to have found a group of close friends after two years of being anti-social but do I even want to know why they address you in your yearbook as my favorite Communist?). Do stupid, dangerous things that will become the basis of inside jokes you will share years later when you meet up with those any of those friends in Walgreens at 3am while buying NyQuil and a can of Spaghettio’s. Trust me. “Remember that time we almost died?” is great small talk filler in that space between “Hey, you’re that guy from high school” and “Ok, let’s do lunch some day.”
Anyway, I’m not here to tell you what to do with your life. That portion of my parenting years is over. I’ve spent the last 18 years guiding you, teaching you, making mistakes with you, rectifying those mistakes to a stupid degree, rectifying the rectifying of my mistakes and giving you what I hope is a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your life. I know some time in the last two years you got tired of hearing me say “It’s sink or swim,” but I’d like to believe that lesson is what made you pull it together enough not only to pass high school, but to end up with decent grades.
The point is, I tried your whole life to make you into a decent human being and I believe I succeeded in that. I can’t make you become anything other than that. I can’t turn you into a lawyer or doctor or scientist. I never thought that was my job. I let you find your own things. So I spent part of your life thinking you’d become a short stop for the New York Yankees or a guitar player for some famous band or the guy who answers all the questions in the “National Hockey League from 1993 to present” category on Jeopardy correctly. And then I learned that the more interest I took in your interests the more you backed off those interests. So ever since I realized you are obsessed with World History I have tried not to broach the subject with you in the hopes that you’ll decide to maybe be a history teacher or at least the guy who goes on some news show to offer his expert opinion on the battles of World War II if I don’t interfere.
Whatever it is you end up becoming, whether it be a teacher or a fireman or the guy who pushes the shopping carts around the Stop-n-Shop parking lot, I just want you to do the best job you can do. Really, all I want from you, all I’ve been trying to teach you your whole life is to a) be a good human being and b) always give it your best. I don’t have career advice. I just have life advice. I can only throw you out into the world (not sure if “throw you out into the world” is the best choice of words when you’ll be living at home for the near future and please let it just be the near future and not the far future) and hope that you land on your feet, career wise. I can just tell you to be good to other people, to help out those in need, to be polite and courteous and play well with others. I can just tell you to try to enjoy your life and enjoy every laugh and every smile because there are going to be plenty of days when you want to cry - maybe even weep - and plenty of days when you will want to bang your head against the wall in frustration or write angry letters to the editor or look at the guy standing in front of 7-11 at 8am on a Monday morning with a 40 oz of bum wine and a handful of losing lottery tickets and think “That looks like a better career choice than the one I made.”
Maybe it will be. Maybe you’ll make a horrible career choice and then you’ll have to go back to school or learn a new trade (I’m terribly sorry that being “The best in the world at NHL2K11” - according to your yearbook - isn’t a career, nor is “YouTube troll”). It happens. Life is full of twists and turns and the unexpected. I can only hope I did what I needed to do as a parent to help you deal with the unexpected.
Do enough with your life so you can be proud of yourself. Sure, you can make mistakes, but be man enough to own up to them and fix them. Yes, you can make bad decisions. But be man enough to learn from them instead of wallowing in them. Treat people right. Love, even if you are afraid it will break your heart to do so. Take chances, even if you are afraid those chances won’t work out the way you want them to. Give something back to the world. Give it the things I know you possess; kindness, empathy, heart. Take those things and make the world a better place with them. Take the work ethic you’ve developed and put it to use in every aspect of your life.
The best advice I can give you is this: Be the kind of person who can go to bed each night thinking “I gave it my all” and who can wake up each morning, look in the mirror and think “I like what I see.”
Congratulations, son. You’re a kid good. I have high hopes for you as a person. Whatever it is you choose to do as a career, I know that will only be a small part of who you are.
Now go forth and enjoy the hell out of your summer before the “Oh shit, I have to do something with my life” reality sets in.
P.S. If you take off the cap and gown today before I can get at least a dozen pictures of you, I will take away your X-box. I can still do that.