A SHORT ESSAY TO MY SON
[NOTE: The following short essay was written for my son at the time of his recent graduation from high school. It is very personal to him and to me, but he has allowed me to publish it. I have chosen to do so in the hope that the message will resonate with others. Like all following generations, his generation will have to confront the great challenges of its day. Many of those challenges result from the failed promise of previous generations.]
My son and only child is graduating from high school. I wish he were doing so in a world free of poverty and free of war, and I wish the planet he and his generation are inheriting was being much better protected by its present stewards. Then reality intrudes – poverty is deeply entrenched at home and abroad, killing fields abound for humans and wildlife with the weapons of choice made in America, negative climate change is happening while most want others to sacrifice as a solution or hide behind religious doctrine and neo-conservative dogma to deny the science.
Meanwhile, as my son heads to college, I recall the fervor of many in my college generation in the 1960’s who thought we were going to change the world for the better. We failed and missed a great opportunity, succumbing to the material temptations of capitalism run wild, fueled by a morality that equated financial gain with undefined success. Many of the “best and brightest” of that generation have now retreated to gated communities, country clubs, and corporate boardrooms that separate them from the crippled society for which they are at least partially responsible. My generation forced an end to the war in Vietnam and then, sadly, forgot its lessons and fueled the machine that has encouraged, financed and armed this nation for future fruitless wars. We marched for civil rights, but then subtly built corporate shrines to stockholders at the expense of workers, keeping wages low and profits high, and undermining the natural consequences of the equal society we said we wanted. Many continue to this day to oppose the dedication of required resources to a public education system that could truly elevate, even after watching their own children graduate from exclusive private schools.
Now it is my son’s turn. I think that his mother and I, his teachers, his coaches, his extended family and friends, and countless others who have influenced his development have prepared him well to achieve in the world as it is. I have tried to do my part, to expose him to a real world with real people, a real planet with majestic mountains and breathtaking wildlife, and the real and threatening problems that urgently need solutions. I have been lucky to have shared travels, the wilderness, and countless campfires with him. He has equally benefitted from the dedication of his mother as a consistent and steadying influence. He seems to know how lucky he has been. I believe that, in college and after, he will continue to develop into a man who is impatient with poverty and confronts it, is openly disdainful of killing as a solution to anything, and fights hard to protect the planet and preserve the wild places left on its surface.
But he will need to stay strong and learn a lot more to be the force that I think he can be. He will have to remember that material wealth can kill the soul and spiritual wealth is rarely found in a church, synagogue or mosque. He will need to understand that excuses for inaction and inaction itself are the same thing. He will need to truly embrace cultural diversity as a positive force to be unleashed on the retrograde conservatives in our midst who long for the days when good Christian white folks made the rules and enforced the law. He will need to understand enough economics to reject the unregulated capitalism that is the tool of the rich that ensures their continued wealth and feeds their continued resistance to a just distribution of the fruits of honest labor. He will have to be ready to fight for what he believes in, since change will not come without a fight.
When his time to fight comes, I believe that he will fight honestly and ethically for a sense of community - that we can only be our best individually when we are healthy collectively. I believe he will fight for a world in which each living thing has value and in which each person has some measure of responsibility for a better whole. I believe he will promote a justice that is fair and work for a world in which revenge is never mistaken for justice. And, I believe he will fight to preserve the wonder of the majestic mountains and breathtaking wildlife.
I know this is a lot to ask of my son, but I know better than anyone how strong he truly is. I am confident that he will find a place where his intellect, his commitment, and his courage will make some piece of the world a better place. I am so proud to be his father.