25 October 2006

I'm Proud Of You, Son

Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto
(shown here at age 20) hid behind the pen
name Pablo Neruda so that his
father wouldn't have to bear the shame
of having a son who was a poet.
He went on to win the Nobel Prize in
Literature and is regarded as the most
influential poet of the 20th century.
He is also the most widely read author
since Shakespeare.


I was digging around in the bowels of my computer looking for - hell, I can't even remember now - when I found a bunch of letters that I had written to Aaron years ago. Among them was one that I wrote to him about what it means to be proud of your son. I thought I'd reprint it here for your enjoyment.



8 September 2004

Dear Aaron:

I am proud of you. I mean that sincerely. Now let me explain what I mean by that auspicious opening line.

I always thought that I could do something or be something that would make my old man proud. I figured that if I could second–guess what he wanted me to achieve, I would have fulfilled my purpose in life: to make my dad proud. So I wound up doing all kinds of things that I thought my dad might approve of. Like going to an Episcopalian church, being a good student, being a writer, whatever. I don't know if any of that worked, even though I may have been the beneficiary of those actions in the long run. I really love being a writer, even if it was at first motivated by a need to make my dad proud of how literate and verbose I was. Then I grew up and had a son of my own and it changed my whole picture of what pride in one's progeny is and how it works.

I'm proud of you for who you are, not simply for what you do. There's a distinct difference. If you're only proud of someone for what they do, then your pride is poorly founded. Why? Because a single accomplishment will become meaningless over time, the merits of it may be offset by other accomplishments or failures, or it may not be relative at all to your current situation. For instance, if you're real proud of your kid for being able to make it to the toilet on time when he's two, what meaning does that have when he's five? Now it's expected. Now it means nothing. Now there's no reason to praise or be proud. So that makes pride fickle by nature, so what good is it? Why even make the effort to make someone proud of you?

What I'm talking about when I say that I'm proud of you is something far more firm and constant. Again, I'm proud of you for who you are, not for what you have done for me. I'm proud of you for what you have made of yourself, not because you have fulfilled some sort of expectation that I had of you. You have developed your character in ways that I could not have imagined on the day you were born. And all of the positive growth that you've done, although it may seem commonplace and unremarkable from your perspective, is truly stunning from my perspective as your dad. Examples? Your knack and natural enthusiasm for entrepreneurship is both amazing and authentic. Nobody could have taught you that. Your sense of humor is brilliant, sharp and original. And each time I see your artwork, your style becomes more and more distinct and unique. These are just a few, and they are also things that no one could teach you. Nor could anyone cause you to develop these talents by placing some sort of expectation on you and then hoping you'll fulfill it. You're an original, Aaron. That's you. And that will never change. And that's what makes me more proud of you than I can ever put into words.

So instead of placing an expectation on you and giving you the impression that if you fulfill it I'll be happy and if you don't I'll be mad or disappointed, here's what I really think. I do not have an expectation you'll accomplish this or that thing. Instead I have a wish, or prayer or blessing or whatever you want to call it. I wish you peace of mind. Whatever you do, wherever you go, however you make your life, I wish for you peace of mind as you go along your unique path. In my view, peace of mind is the only thing worth pursuing, and everything else in life is downstream from that. I know that any person's quality of life is only what they think and what they feel. It's not any particular thing that happened to them, it's not how much stuff they owned, it's not some job they had or where they went to school. It's how they thought and felt about it and that's it. So that's why I wish that no matter what you do or whatever happens to you in this life, that you always take with you a deep and meaningful peace of mind.

There's a little Dharma story that goes like this: A teacher asks a student, "What is the surface of the Earth like?" And the student says, "It's nice in some places, but it mostly rough and covered with rocks and it'll hurt your feet." So the teacher says, "Would the Earth be smoother and kinder to your feet if you covered it with soft leather?" And the student says, "Yeah, but that's crazy talk. You can't cover the Earth with leather. It's impossible." To which the teacher replies, "No, but you can wear shoes. That way, it's the same as the whole Earth being covered with soft leather wherever you go ." So that's what peace of mind is. It's shoe leather.

I love you and I'm proud of you, my son.



luke keen said...

wow, what a truly amazing letter! I woudl have ben blown away if my Dad had sent me something like that!

how did Aaron respond?



Thaddeus Gunn said...

I don't remember how he responded 'cuz that was a few years ago. However, I didn't write it expecting one - kind of along the lines of what I wrote in the letter about not having an expectation to be fulfilled or not - if that makes any sense. But if he did or he didn't, either way would've been okay by me.