Last year, sometime before Christmas I think it was, after an especially bad argument with your mother I was sitting alone at the dinner table listening to the radio and staring despondently into my coffee. You sat down, and looked at me, and in all seriousness said “I don’t want to be like you when I grow up. I don’t want my life to turn out like yours.” And then you went away.
I answered with silence, which is the way I almost always respond when people hurt me with words. And why? Because I don’t want to fight. Don’t want to compound the problem. Want to let things settle back into the normal grooves. That’s how I’ve gotten this far living with difficult people.
But if I had answered you back, I would have said you’re right. I don’t want you to turn out like me either, not in a million years. But you won’t, you’re safe from that anyway. Your life will turn out like your life, not mine. You’ll make mistakes, maybe some colossal misjudgments like your old man that will haunt you all your life, but they’ll be along different lines. Maybe by the time you read this you’ll have made a few already.
I came into this world with great energy and potential. You should know that much at least. I was born with the soul of a great lover, a natural mystic and a story teller. I’ve ended up as a frightened civil servant who never makes enough money to go around. Don't let this happen to you.
I think people who come into this world quietly and with low expectations do better in the long run. They don’t expect as much of themselves. Their potential for disappointment is duller. I longed to experience a great and passionate love with another person. I could have been that man. I lusted for knowledge, insatiably devouring every book that caught my attention. I wanted to go to college and study the language arts and make my mark in the world as a writer, maybe a poet too. Most of all, utmost of all, I wanted to find God. This last was my undoing, worshipping with devotion a false God, an all devouring illusion. Now at the end of middle age, I have never fallen in love, I can only imagine the experience, never been to college for more than a few months and no son, I don’t want you to grow up like me either, if you’re reading this someday.
You may ask at this point, Dad, what is a Man?
A man is responsible for those who love him. As much as possible, he is responsible for their well being. Not their happiness. You’ll find, as I have, you can’t make another person happy. You can only make it possible for them to be happy. You can’t make them grateful either, not if it isn’t in them. If you have a wife and a child someday, and in this age of crazy pussy, there is so much less of any reason for a man to get married, what you’ll find is that you’ll belong to them to the extent of your decency. Not your happiness. You’ll have to confront this notion sooner or later that life is not about being happy. In my experience happiness is a nice thing when you can get it, like a hot dinner. But it will never define who you are.
I send your mother’s family a third of my small paycheck every month. If I kept that money we’d have cable TV and a nice vacation every year. But what is that in the bigger picture? That money keeps them alive. They’re used to getting it, no one says thank you anymore, they only get upset when it’s late. But where would they be without it? You can’t let people down, not when it’s your blood. When you have cause someday to remember me as I was, remember that too and be generous in your thoughts to somebody. There is no reward in Heaven for so called goodness. That’s bullshit. Your blood, your own, they know you’re looking out for them. That’s your reward. That’s what it means to be a man.
Very few men are gifted with a great and passionate love, not even once in their life. Most of us are lucky to just have somebody.
Very few men ever find wisdom. Most of us don’t even begin to have the mental tools to recognize wisdom, much less God
And while we’re at it, kid, God does exist. I’m still sure of that. But - very few men ever find God, not the real God. Most men will settle for much less than the real God. Most men will chase after the false god of false promises and settle for mere religion and fuck up their lives and cause terrible suffering to others as a result. Instead – struggle to see yourself plainly, as you really are, neither better or worse and with no illusions. And see others and realize their suffering is just like yours and that they’re just as important as you. Be a man for them. That is the real religion. I never found God. But I stuck with it long enough to know he’s somewhere off in that direction. For sure.
Go to college, not just to get a job, but to let your curiosity burst and flourish. Discover how collossaly ignorant you are in the face of all there is to know, and then boldly shove your ignorance in people's faces and let them beat on you until you become sharp. Be a real scholar, not a book whore. Keep your curiosity alive and it will keep your heart young. Find a thing to do that fires your heart and nourishes your soul and earn a living with it if you can. But be willing to set aside your dreams if there are good people who need you to help them accomplish their dreams. Don’t sacrifice others for yourself. Maybe you’ll get your dreams back someday, maybe not. Dreams are much cheaper than you think.
But what you need to know is there is more to the picture. The failures I’ve made are the most common and universal failures of all men. You will fail at these things too if you have the courage to aspire to them. Failure in itself is not a shameful thing. Mediocrity is shameful, if you’re a man of potential. Are you a man of potential, boy? You do seem so to me. If you fall in love with a woman, give her all your soul and all your poetry. Do it for me. And if she breaks your heart – go out and do it all over again. Go down in flames, but go down fighting. If you fall, fall bad and break every bone and don’t skip any. Bleed a while and then get your ass the fuck up and start over. Don't ever let the bastards keep you down.
And if you must fail, fail by falling off a goddamn mountain. Like your old man.