When the final results are in for the Dad Of the Year contest, I'm expecting my fatherly flaws won't land me near the top of the heap. I'm divorced, which is never a good sign. When it came time to talk to my son about the birds and the bees, I did it during an Xbox game of Madden. I've been known to tell him he needs to exercise more, and then take him out for cheeseburgers.
And there's this... At age 33, I discovered that the guy I grew up thinking of as my dad was actually my stepdad. It turns out my real dad died before I was born, my mom remarried when I was still very young and nobody ever bothered to explain this series of events to me. I'd always sensed a pretty severe disconnect between my stepdad and me, and this news helped explain that. It also meant I was sorely lacking in fatherly role models as I grew up.
Which brings me to my 17-year-old son, who is just seven months shy of heading across the country to attend college and start his own life. I'm thrilled for him, but at the same time, completely paralyzed by the fear of letting my child loose in a dangerous world. I want to prepare him for what's ahead, to offer advice that I've gathered over the years in order to pass it along to him. It's what good dads do, right?
Still, the irony is that while he's at a point in life where he could really use fatherly advice, he's also at an age where he's convinced his dad knows nothing. That's why I wanted to share my advice for him online. First, given all teens' relationships with their phones, he's more likely to read something online than listen to me. And second, there's a permanence to the web that will keep this available to him years from now... when he'll actually pay attention to it.
1. Life is a movie, not a photo exhibit. As in, life is always moving. It's easy to get stuck dwelling on the bad stuff -- a break-up, a low grade, the Red Sox getting crushed -- but those are just film frames in your life. Realize that things continue to move on and you've got a long way till the closing credits (not to mention, if there's anything to this whole reincarnation thing, at least a couple of sequels).
2. Don't turn off the light and complain that it's dark. The only way to get the most out of life is to take responsibility for everything you do, whether the outcome is good or bad. Complaining is the easy way out. If you pitch poorly, work harder to get better instead of blaming a coach. If you get a D on a test, spend an extra hour studying instead of playing video games. If your friends all have girlfriends and you don't, keep asking people out until someone says yes rather than quitting after one rejection.
3. The best pitch you'll ever throw is your next one. I realize I've used this line with you before every baseball game you've pitched in. However, it's more than just a way of getting you to keep always trying hard on the mound. It's also a life skill -- if you believe that the next thing you do will be the best ever, you can enjoy the moment you're in, because the one to follow has even more potential for greatness.
4. Different is the new normal. Celebrate the differences in life, because that's what makes it fun. Too much of the same thing is like watching an episode of your favorite show for the fifth time instead of looking for a new show. Ethnicity. Religion. Sexuality. Every person you get to know with a life different from yours means your world just becomes that much bigger.
5. Finding friends is like falling off a boat. Let's say for the sake of argument that you fell off a boat and into the ocean. You'd learn quickly there are three types of friends in this world. The first type jumps right in the water to save you. The second type would look for a life preserver to throw to you. And the third... they'll try to sign you up for swimming lessons. Make sure you devote your time to the type that cares.
6. Wear pants with belt loops and shirts with buttons. I realize that wardrobe advice can get dated very quickly (I grew up in a world of Earth shoes and bell bottoms, so trust me). However, one thing will never change. A wardrobe of sports jerseys and gym shorts stops being cool by the time you're old enough to ask a girl to the prom. If you want people to take you seriously, don't look like you just showed up to clean their pool.
7. Here's a tip: Tip. Never be cheap. The world enjoys a generous person, and there's no better way to start practicing that than by being a 20 percent-er with every waiter and service person you encounter. It shows that generosity is more important than actual money, since you're so willing to share with people who helped you. And it demonstrates to whomever you're out with that if they'd just hang out with you more, the same generosity is heading their way.
8. There's nothing wrong with cat videos. Never be afraid to be sentimental. Cynicism certainly has its moments in our world. Without it, Fox News wouldn't exist. Still, feelings and emotions are no different from those new shoes you bought -- they aren't as cool if you don't share them with the world. Plus, seriously, what's more relaxing than watching two cats give each other a paw massage?
9. Send thank-you notes. Everyone has his or her own secret to a fulfilling life, from doing charity work to having Hot Pockets for breakfast. Mine is simply this: Gratitude. When someone does anything remotely nice for you, make sure you let them know. You can thank people because you selfishly want them to do more for you. You can thank them because you're flattered by the unsolicited expression of kindness. All that counts is that you took time to acknowledge someone else's selflessness.
10. You are not "you." This sounds like something meant to prepare you for your first Psych class in college, but it's far simpler than that. You are somebody's son. You are somebody's brother. You are somebody's friend. You are somebody's expert on Boston sports trivia. In short, you are the sum of all our parts. And there's never a moment when you won't be surrounded by people who care about you, even if you don't always see them.