Trust me, that’s really hard work. We just had a president who couldn’t do that, chasing his father’s shadow while having hired his father’s henchmen — er, friends! I myself took until my twenties to let go of many of my mother’s ideas about people and God. Others, obviously, never do. After two stints of teaching high-potential high school students at Princeton each of my last two Junes and Julys — not to mention those kinds of students when I was with Presidential Classroom — it’s easy for me to think that none of us ever learn how to think for ourselves. And yet, some of us do. What’s wrong with us independent thinkers? Didn’t we get the memo?
Back in my darkest days, I hardly dreamed that I would become a father, much less get married before doing so. Even sex seemed (and sometimes still does seem) like a messy proposition. I certainly didn’t see myself as some role model that through experience and through heightened insight, forethought and foresight could pass kernels of wisdom and knowledge to my son. And somehow, despite the daunting challenge of fatherhood, marriage, career, and fulfilling my calling, I’ve managed to do a little bit of that so far, but just a little. I’ve even managed to get Noah to sharpen his reading skills in the past week!
But there are other things that he’ll need to learn, and soon. Especially given the cultural climate of our country and the global climate these weird days. Below is the list of things that I may have to teach him — although I hold out hope that I won’t have to spend too much time on these — by the time Noah reaches adulthood:
1. Be wary of police and related authority figures. Know your rights, speak your piece, but recognize that in our country — and in some settings outside of the US — the police aren’t always citizens who protect and serve. They make mistakes, sometimes bigoted one, even with all their years of experience and training. Sometimes they act entitled and privileged, even though taxpayers pay their salaries. So please, please, know your rights, know how to read other people, and learn how to read situations.
2. Understand that ours is a world of privilege. And even if I or we end up as big players in this world, remember that there is no privilege without responsibility. While I sincerely hope that my generation and the people from the generations in between yours and mine learn this lesson, I’m concerned that this won’t be the case for your growing up years. You’ll need to overcome some of your shyness enough to meet and greet, to network, to form friendships. Just remember to stay true to yourself, to be in this world, but not completely of it.
3. Take risks, take chances. Don’t allow yourself the luxury of “Oh well!” when it comes to something you want to see happen in your life. If you fall head over heels for someone at twelve or twenty-two, let them know. It won’t matter if they turn you down or break your heart. What matters is that you keep an open heart, and an open mind. If you want to be in a play, go for it! If you want to play quarterback or be the captain of the chess club, go for it! You can’t live life well without taking risks, including risks that lead to loss or failure.
4. Find balance in yourself and in the things you do or say. At the same time you’re taking risks, you’re also realizing that not everything and everyone is worth fighting for. People who consistently put you down or use your talents for their own purposes aren’t your friends, and are definitely not worth dating. If your friends are geeks, nerds, or musicians, or goths, jocks or dramats, it doesn’t matter what other folks say. As long as you like them and they treat you as the friend I know you are and the person I hope you become, forget the fools who do nothing but clown on them and you.
5. Don’t be afraid to challenge me or your mother. Just because we’re your parents doesn’t mean we’re always going to be right. Okay, okay. We’ll probably be right about 99 percent of the time, at least until you turn ten or eleven. After that, our emotional IQ will drop enough so that you may be right as much as half of the time! Still, I ask that you do it with respect — unless of course we truly disrespect you, which I’ll know in your response — and that you’ll have a flexible and forgiving heart with us.
6. Enjoy the moment, enjoy your youth, but learn what it takes to be successful in life. Of course, you won’t learn everything you’ll ever need to know by the time you reach adulthood. You may be a fully-functioning Christian, or you may have serious doubts about God or the existence of The One. But if you’re always of the mind and spirit of one who seeks wisdom, who stands on faith, who walks through life with love, and who’s quick to forgive — especially yourself — I promise you that your youth will be filled with enjoyable moments, even in the worst of times.
I know it’ll be years before you read this, but you’ll have years to hear me say these things over and over again. Happy Birthday, Mr. Noah!