A Letter I Will Never Send to My Son in College

When you called me from college to ask me how to address an envelope, I figured I had somehow failed. How could I have not equipped you with letter writing skills? I made sure you had enough underwear and warned you about drinking, drugs and sex, but you wrote your return address in the wrong place and didn’t know where to put the stamp. Your letter-writing experience, being limited to a few terse lines of text messaging, explains it all.

Ever since you reached 15 and were suddenly taller than me, it became impossible for me to compete with your shoot-to-kill computer games and ROFL. Only that which was short, snappy and gut-busting funny made it onto your RSS feed.

But as you struggle through your first year in college, how do I compress what I need to tell you into a few bytes? How can I paint life’s wisdom for you in single Facebook image?

You tell me that my many words don’t make you feel better, that I can’t relate, that we are different in too many ways, that what I have to say just can’t be true anymore. But the mellowed and worn image you now see is the result of decades of change, both voluntary and involuntary. We once were more alike than you think.

I want you to know my college story, blow-by-blow, what I’ve learned in the valleys and on the peaks, which mistakes can’t be undone, and the golden truths that shouldn’t be forgotten — experiences that I want to pass on to you, so you can start where I left off and not waste precious time in the rubble.

Why can’t I distill it all down to a few choice words? It would really be easier to tear my heart out and give it to you as a pulsing beacon, forcing you to stop and reflect.

Life is not about pointing and clicking. You can’t just delete the parts you don’t like and fast forward to the highlights. Real life requires a patient tolerance for boredom and loneliness, hard work and failure, hurt and disappointment, character traits the virtual world cannot sustain. As you come around each bend, you learn why people in the “cold, cruel world” still make plans, fall in love, work till it’s done, and look forward to waking up in the morning.

I hope one day you’ll understand why I am willing to sacrifice everything for you to be in college even though you are so aimless and unhappy right now. I believe in you and in your future because I have been through the turbulence of youth and know that a life worth living is imperfect, unpredictable, and sweetens with time.

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