When you were little you didn’t like when we over explained things to you. You were an extremely curious kid. (You still are.) Like a detective you’d ask a lot of questions to get at the truth, or at least your understanding of it. But once your curiosity had been satisfied, you wanted us to stop talking. You had little patience for anything that sounded preachy. When you sensed a lecture or sermon coming on, you’d interrupt and say, “I don’t want to know. And I don’t want you to tell me.” So please forgive us for writing this letter of unsolicited advice.
What follows are things we have come to believe and value about life and the human experience. Much of it we learned from you, by being your dads. All of the sentiments expressed below have been said or written by others, and with more eloquence than us. And our thoughts are repetitive, disjointed, and scattered. One passage may contradict another—sometimes in the same sentence—but that’s life: a complicated, repetitive, disjointed, random, beautiful mess. The route is seldom a direct express.
The tone below veers into commencement speech territory, including generalizations and nauseating clichés commonly heard at graduations. But since neither of us are likely to ever deliver a graduation commencement speech, this is our attempt at passing on what we’d like to believe is wisdom, all of which you are free to ignore. (Skip past the dotted lines if “you don’t want us to tell you.”)
So from us to you, in no particular order, here goes.
Always be curious and thirsty for knowledge.
Question authority and challenge the status quo.
Trust first impressions. But give people a second and sometimes a third chance. Your or the other person’s circumstances in any given moment can negatively affect a first impression.
Be generous. And not just with money. There will be times when you won’t have it, but you can still be generous with kindness, time, energy, compassion, and affection. Volunteer, tip, compliment, and praise.
Refrain from being judgmental or critical, especially of yourself. Not everything has to be perfect. In fact, there is no such thing as perfect. The beauty of life is found in the imperfections.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You are allowed to say “I don’t know.” But be careful about saying this when you actually do know. Withholding may protect you, but deceit will always come back to bite you in the butt. Don’t be deceitful or insincere.
Fail. Make plenty of glorious mistakes. Learn from them and don’t harp on what could’ve been or might be. Failed attempts will make you more resilient, and resiliency is something you will need in abundance. You can only obtain resiliency from your experiences. So have them. Put yourself out there and experience all that life has to offer. Yes, you can certainly observe from the sidelines and learn from other people’s mistakes, as your Papa has often done, but you won’t necessarily get the same kind of deep-rooted resilience. True resilience is absent of callousness.
In addition to resilience, it is important to be elastic, disciplined, and discreet. Allow us to call it living in the REDD zone:
Resilience: when you get knocked down, get back up and keep moving forward
Elasticity: be flexible enough to bend but not break
Discipline: stay focused on the task at hand and steadfast in protecting your values and ethics
Discretion: make responsible choices, be trustworthy, don’t spread gossip, fake news, or conspiracy theories
Get involved! Volunteer Exercise. Nourish your hobbies and stay active in team sports.
The world will try to define, categorize, and suppress you in many subtle and overt ways. This is your life. Sculpt and mold yourself. Sometimes you’ll do this with a blunt chisel, sometimes with the brush of a feather. But never stop fine tuning. That said, sometimes you can tinker and tweak until you’re blue in the face. At some point the project, essay, experiment, formula, recipe, game plan, strategy, creation is done. Put it away and move on.
Be present. It’s the only place you ever truly are. You are almost always where you are meant to be, otherwise you’d be someplace else. So be in the here and now and be fully engaged. If you feel unbearably stuck or trapped in any situation, take one step at a time to change your situation. If even taking one small step feels impossible, then you must let go. This is not the same as giving up. Never give up. But trying to change what’s impossible in the present moment is futile and will only cause you immense anxiety and strengthen your inner critic. (Heed this guy, but then ignore his voice. The inner critic is just a bully that hates change.) Let go and tell the universe you need things to change and prepare yourself for when the universe, somewhat miraculously, presents you with the opportunity. It will, but only when you stop pressing for it to happen. Sometimes you must let go to go.
Take deep breaths. Be still. Stillness, like letting go, is not easy in our society. It requires active practice and prioritization.
Be patient. It’s true that patience is a virtue. Be ambitious. But know that ambition, in and of itself, is not a virtue. It’s good to have ambitions, but they don’t make you any more virtuous or better or worse than the anyone else.
Be a skeptic, not a cynic. Skeptics question and seek answers. Cynics criticize, whine, and complain.
Be grateful. Practice gratitude. Say “thank you” and “please.” Manners do matter. You are already so good at this. Keep it up. Life is so much easier when you are grateful and thankful instead of bitter and jealous. If envy takes hold of you, see what you can do to obtain or acquire that of which you are envious, whether it be a character trait, position, or recognition. Seek opportunities. Be hopeful. But remember in the end you only need to recognize yourself.
Apologize when you are wrong, and forgive when you have been wronged. Both are easier to do than building up resentments and regrets in order to protect your ego and pride.
Be gentle. Be flexible. But be firm in defending your values.
Pick your battles, especially the big ones that will mostly be with yourself. You will learn when and how to fight or flee. Surrender can sometimes lead to victory.
Be serious and diligent to get things done and light enough to let things go. Keep playfulness alive in your heart and relationships.
Practice the art of listening. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Observe and remember what people say and, more importantly, what they do. Listening actually makes your voice stronger.
You will hear things in life over and over that are presented like creeds, but are not always true. Things like “the early bird catches the worm”. You know what the early bird doesn’t catch? Enough sleep. You need your sleep more than you need the worm.
Or “money can’t buy happiness.” Something said only by people who have it. Okay, maybe it is true that money can’t buy pure inner joy or core contentment, but it can certainly help with providing comfort, ease worry, opportunity, and mobility. Have a healthy relationship with obtaining, saving, and spending money. Guard against greed, it is money’s ugly side effect.
Another saying, “all men [sic] are created equal,” sounds nice, but it isn’t true. We are not all born into places, situations, and families of privilege. Good for those who are. This doesn’t make them any more special or better than anyone else.
In many ways, you are privileged. Use your privilege for good. But because of your innate skin color, or the fact that you have two dads, you will encounter bias, prejudice, and vitriol. Other people’s prideful ignorance will shock you. And some will even demand that you respect and tolerate their bigotry. You do not need to tolerate bullies, brutes, liars, hypocrites, and other willfully intolerant haters. Educate and advocate when you can. We have much work to do when it comes to social justice, gender equality, and economic fairness. You know right from wrong. Use that as your guide.
Don’t waste your time being around people who suck the energy and life out of you. In time you will develop the ability to weed out the toxic forces in your life. Be wary of those who claim offense from trigger words. Yes, you should be sensitive and empathetic with others, but if you indulge everyone’s every trigger or perceived slight—real or imagined—you will end up walking around on eggshells all day long, exhausted and joyless. If you are triggered, don’t expect others to coddle you. Your safe space resides inside of you, or with trusted friends and family.
Don’t scroll down; that’s where the trolls reside.
One saying we’ve found holds up is “time heals all wounds.” It does. Mostly. Some pain lingers, but things always get better. Good friends and good music help shorten the healing time. So does walking in nature, jogging, uninhibited dancing, and singing at the top of your lungs in the shower. In other words, keep your heart active and engaged and it will ache less.
We fear your generation will be faced with existential challenges, crises, and chaos. Out of this tumult exists the opportunity for a new world to take shape. Just remember: climate change is real. The earth is round. Some people’s brains are flat. Con artists roam free. Don’t fall prey to their false promises. Opinions, no matter the passion or force behind them, are not facts. And facts can be manipulated. Think critically. Do your research. Keep an open mind. Put your faith in evidence and observable science. God may or may not exist. But the divine is not elusive. It is all around us. And so is love. Allow it to transform and transcend you.
Be gentle with others’ hearts. It’s so easy to be reckless and take for granted those we love and are loved by. Never take love for granted. Live by the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. So this means you must also treat yourself with the same kindness and respect you show others. Love yourself. Love your body. Every inch. Every pound. Every pore. Every hair. Every scar. Every mole. Every wrinkle.
Vote! In every election. It always matters. And it would matter a lot more if you didn’t have the right. Exercise it. Common perception is elections are always about choosing between the lesser of evils. The folks who believe this either haven’t done enough research or they’ve fallen prey to media reports that feed into and perpetuate this narrative. It’s a ploy to suppress voter turnout. Don’t get suppressed.
Work hard. But know that working hard doesn’t always lead to success, however you define it. And by working hard we really mean working efficiently and managing your time wisely. You will meet many people who appear to work hard, but actually do very little except work hard at keeping up the appearance of working hard. Then there are those who work harder than needed because they haven’t learned how to work or manage time efficiently. If you can do both, you will be an asset to yourself and your cohorts no matter what you do in life.
Strive for balance between work and life. Seek employers who value that balance and provide it to anyone you employ. Our culture has a distorted relationship with play and leisure. We exalt people who live to work instead of those who work to live. Never feel guilty for having and enjoying your well-earned leisure time. Don’t squander it. As much as you can, turn off the devices and read a book, newspaper, or magazine. Write, paint, sing, dance, hike, walk. Get outdoors. Soak up as much nature as you can; it is food for your soul.
You will almost always have people you work for. Some of these people might be called clients, patients, or customers. And you, too, will be a client, patient, or customer. Know this: the customer is almost always wrong. But no matter what side of the equation you’re on at any given moment, be respectful, even when you feel others aren’t worthy of your respect.
Live simply and small. The accumulation of unnecessary stuff weighs you down. And over time, it can suffocate you. Purge as if you have only a small studio apartment in which to store everything. Prune the excess.
Intimate relationships are like gardens. They need to be nurtured and cared for. If you water the soil, provide light, and pick out the weeds, the roots will get stronger and the leaves brighter. There will be rocky times and bumps in any relationship. But not every bump is a deal breaker. Communicate and try to work it out. Compromise. If/when you do work things out, your relationship will be more fulfilling and resilient. (There’s that word again.)
Most people are kind and trustworthy. But like we mentioned before, there are many deceitful scammers. If one of these dishonorable stains on humanity ever present you with what appears to be the deal of a lifetime, do not sign on the dotted line. Trust Papa on this one. No contract is better than a bad contract, especially one made with a dishonest and dishonorable actor.
Don’t let fear and insecurity become straight-jackets. Dance and sing and whistle until they become involuntary habits.
Be thoughtful of your choices. But don’t dwell on them. (Dad excels at this.) Life isn’t like diffusing a bomb. You’ll be fine and adjust to whatever path you choose or don’t choose. Sometimes it’s more about what you don’t choose. But mostly it’s all chance and curve balls. At times, you may doubt the path you’re on. We still have doubts. But fewer than we did 10 years ago, half as many as 20 years ago, and almost none compared to 30 years ago. Don’t allow doubt to paralyze you. Harping on the past is wasteful. Self-reflection and self-awareness are admirable traits that will serve you well no matter where the path takes you. Keep moving forward and doubt will diminish. It’s physics: kinetics over inertia.
Believe in yourself, even when it seems like no one else does. Be confident yet humble. Confidence without humility is narcissism. No one wants to be around a narcissist. Respect is earned, not demanded.
You may at times feel suffocated by hopelessness, loneliness, or despair. Sometimes all at once. A helpful technique that has worked for us is to get out. Reach out to friends and family. The people who love you will want to help in any way they can. And you are loved by more people than you know. Let them be there for you. And let them surprise you. Humans need to give and receive love to thrive.
Life can get lonely. You are the only one living with your thoughts 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You will need to rely on trustworthy friends in moments of despair and need. Allow them to lift you up. It’s a gift to them as well as yourself. True friends will rise to the occasion.
There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, it is more noble to seek assistance than it is to suffer in silence.
Express yourself. Don’t fear being vulnerable. Vulnerability is a strength. Underneath our veneers, we are all vulnerable. Our society sends then reinforces the message that you’re less of a man if you show tenderness, warmth, and affection. Society is wrong. Be tender, warm, and affectionate.
There will be highs when you feel like your heart will burst from an abundance of joy and love. But there will also be lows when you feel like your heart will burst from the sadness and pain. Both feelings mean you are human. Most of life happens somewhere in the in-between. It is how you handle the mundane, the boredom, the repetition, and the doldrums that will define who you are. Use the in-between to reflect and strengthen the core of your humanity.
And while we could go on and on, we will leave you with this final thought:
Take all unsolicited advice with a grain of salt. Unsolicited advice is usually more about the person giving it than the person receiving it.
Son, we don’t know if you’ve noticed, but lately we haven’t been able to take our eyes off of you. And that our hugs are tighter and longer than usual. We’re sorry for the staring and lingering physical awkwardness. But we are trying to take in as much of you while we still can.
Even though in recent years you’ve spent much of your time in your compost heap, aka bedroom, at least we always knew where you were. Near. Close. A few steps away. We could hear every “silent” tap on the piano keyboard, every cough, and every sneeze.
We hope you will look back on your childhood and smile. We did our best to give you an adventurous and carefree youth. One filled with waterfalls, oceans, glaciers, and geysers (coming soon). Together, we’ve explored mountains, valleys, caves, gardens, groves, and deserts. Playgrounds, pools, puzzles, and picnics (outdoor and indoor) will always remind us of you.
This life, this world, is a breathtakingly vibrant and beautiful mystery. Take in all of its wonders and miracles. Let every moment awe you.
Kevin, you entered our life, a sweet angel sent from the heavens, on August 28th, 2000. And so it seems only fitting that you will depart and begin college on the same day this August. That, we suppose, is the poetry of life.
These past 18 winters, springs, summers, and autumns have been the best seasons of our life because we got to experience them through your eyes. How lucky are we? Thank you so much sharing the view. Now your focus shifts to new adventures, as it should, but we will miss the scenery. It’s the little things and moments, like hearing your groggy “good mornings” and “have a good nights” that we will miss a ton. (Papa’s going to make dad say “Good morning, sugar plum” every day until it becomes a silly exercise.)
Our bittersweet “grief” will dissipate in time as a new normal sets in. Don’t be concerned about us. You must live your life for you. You must follow your bliss wherever it takes you. And if that means it eventually takes you halfway across the globe (or even into outer space), so be it. You will always have a home in our hearts.
Our unexpected and unplanned ride together has been, and still is, incredibly enchanting. Simply magical. The best trip we’ve ever taken. A new phase begins, but the journey continues. Just remember, no matter where you are or who you become, we love you. Unconditionally. You are and will always be our ultimate.
You already embody so many of the sentiments we expressed above. And you are ready for this. More than ready. That fact warms our hearts and brings smiles to our faces. We are so proud of and impressed by everything you are. And we can’t wait to see how you will impress, reshape, and make the world a better place.
Our hearts are bursting.
Love you forever,
Papa and Daddy
A look back on an amazing 18 years
Songs used in video:
Home — Phillip Phillips
Better Place — Rachel Platten
All You Need Is Love — Brandi Carlile