Dear Huffington Post Readers,
I haven't written in a long time but recently a single mother in our congregation asked me to write a letter to her son as part of a project his school is doing. I was asked to share some thoughts about life with this young man. I wrote and I wrote -- below is the letter I sent off. It's Black History Month and it made me think about how many African American single mothers who are involved (or immersed) in cross-gender parenting and thought that maybe my words could be of service, if my sisters chose to share them with their sons. My heart's desire is that if you so decided to share this letter that it would help some young man who is going through the transition of growing up ...
Hey, I hope you are well. I wanted to share some things with you about life and all of the above. Forgive me if they seem scattered but I think what I have might help.
You should be awakening to new ideas of freedom, an expanded world and optimism about your future. The substratum or foundation of all of those things, though, is responsibility. Great responsibility is placed on your shoulders. Responsibility perhaps that you would rather not have and don't think it strange if you vacillate between your childish tendencies and being a young adult. It happens. I still wrestle with the kid in me, and it never leaves. You must master that little boy in you who says "this is too hard" or "I don't feel like this." Giving in to those voices will lead you to be fruitless in your life. You must hear those voices and push yourself pass them to be who you are -- the world is waiting. Being a man is a hard and thankless enterprise, being an African American man is harder.
Your mother loves you and did her absolute best to raise you. As you get older you will see her in a different light and humanize her in ways you couldn't when you were younger. That should make you appreciate her and love her all the more. You may have had to piece together the meaning of what a man is from your father and different male figures in your life. Some of us have failed you, some of us will fail you but use our lives always as a class. Learn from our failures; hear our wisdom and they will serve as the tapestry of the man you will become. But really it's not up to us anymore; it's all up to you. We are here for you but the training wheels of life are coming off now -- time for you to peddle and ride the bike yourself. We will be watching and be right there when you fall.
You will have unbelievable standards to live up to from the world at large and even from your own people. Our president is a black man -- who can live up to that? Your world and your very meaning in the world is ever changing at a seismic rate. Sometimes it will be hard to keep up.
You will look over your shoulder and know that there are peers who aren't smarter, haven't worked as hard as you, who will get all the breaks in life and you will wonder "why is this so hard for me?" But that question means that you are conscious of your growth, your progress and what you have achieved. Remember son, you are not in competition with anyone but that kid on the inside of you. If you can grow him up, without being weighed down by what someone else has achieved, you will be just fine. If you can understand that that little kid on the inside of you is there for counter balance, when things in life are stressful and sometimes way too serious for you. When you master the moments of knowing when it's time to play and when it's time to work, you will be just fine.
The world has expectations of you. Your mother has expectations of you. I have expectations of you but really, we don't matter -- it only matters what you expect from yourself. I hope you expect great things; you will achieve what you want when you master working smart and not hard.
I admonish you to stay in school, finish everything you start. You will be pressured to make money, for this reason and that reason. The reasons may be legitimate but stay in school anyway. Even if you're broke, have to sleep on the floor in a friend's apartment, finish the degree. Education is the key -- go to school and work part time if you have to. I wish I could tell you that getting an undergraduate degree is enough, but it's not. Don't take a break, stay in and go to graduate school. The economy will turn, more jobs will be available one day, and your education will prepare you for your future career, your future life. You don't want to work a job, you want to have a fulfilling career and there are no shortcuts to the life you want. If you want it go after it, stay after it. Don't quit, you will be sorry you did.
People are funny; you will observe all types of behaviors. Keep your eyes open and be watchful. They will make you angry, betray you, some will lie to you. Keep your integrity. Show up for yourself, say how you feel. Don't expect anyone to speak up for you -- speak up for yourself. Never let anyone define you -- you create your own narrative, you define who you are. You push against every stereotype, every racist and elitist innuendo and let the world know you are here. If you don't make us know you, we never will. Don't let people pressure you to make promises you are not sure you can keep. But KEEP YOUR WORD! It is everything. It will be your currency and credibility in this world. Never run from your mistakes -- you will make plenty of them. Own every one of them; they will be great teachers for you. Timidity gets you nowhere. If you never make mistakes you are most likely not doing anything that matters.
You are going to meet someone special and be in love one day. Don't be scared, loving someone is tricky and complicated but let it teach you about God; let it teach you something about people; let it teach you about yourself. See the best in that someone; hopefully you will only attach yourself to someone who sees the best in you. Even at your best efforts you may not be able to keep the love you want. Never beg or force someone to stay with you. If they want to leave, let them but never let their presence or absence define who you are. Be brave with love, be fearless with love and at the end always know that you have an unlimited supply of love left to love again.
One day, you will have sex ... You will not look at life the same way after that. My hope for you is that you will wait till you are married. My reasons aren't terribly religious; they are more practical. Wait till you are married because:
- You can have all the sex you want then (that gets tricky too but we will cross that bridge when we get to it).
- Women get pregnant (on purpose and by accident). You want to be able to have the freedom to be a responsible and fully present parent. You don't want to be that guy who gets your kids every other weekend -- that's just not a good look if you can help it.
- Because marriage allows you to not just give your body but to open your heart. In marriage there is a safety there that transcends a physical encounter, it will touch you and grow you at the deepest part of yourself.
- Marriage offers you a safe place. In life you will learn how to protect yourself, you will become more guarded. Hopefully when you marry you won't have to do that. Marry a woman that you can completely trust. Don't be hypnotized by lust or love. If you can't trust her, don't marry her. If you can't trust her with all you have, your money, your secrets, your dreams do not marry her. Joy, contentment, happiness will only be in your home if you can trust her, when you trust her, you will notice that you will sacrifice everything you have to keep her and your children safe. You want a happy home life; never let anyone tell you you can't have it.
- It seems that every other week the CDC (Center for Disease Control) comes up with a new disease that is transmitted sexually and none of them have a cure. You only get one body in this life and your job is to protect it. Don't trust any women to care about your health on any level more than you do. You are chief steward of your health -- please, I beg you to be wise.
Manage your loneliness. Always know you may feel alone but God is real and God sees you and God knows you. You live in a world that is full of different faith traditions. Never disrespect someone's faith because it is not your own, by listening and not being scared to engage someone else, you will become a stronger Christian. A Christian that can go anywhere in the world, talk with anybody about what they believe, and add something to you.
Stay away from drugs, they are a distraction. Don't love liquor, it's just empty calories. Don't smoke, it will kill you. Cut back on fast food, it will kill you too after it makes you fat first.
Life is hard, not because God and the world are against you; life is hard because life is what it is. It will take turns, bring unique challenges, but you have what it takes to go the distance. The goal in one's life is not live-forever but to die old, to die empty. Empty because you gave all you had to make the world a better place. Your heart empty because you gave all your love away, your mind empty because you gave away every idea to somebody so they can finish what you started. So the goal is to die old and the only thing you have left is your breath, that's the only thing death is allowed to take because you gave everything else away.
I don't have any children but if I did I would want them to be like you. You have everything you need to change the world. Be it! Do it! Don't hold back, I'm watching you. If you need me I am here for you, I love you very much...
Patrick D. Shaffer, Pastor