Every once in a while, I come across a writer who can combine the right words in the right order with wisdom, maturity and empathy. Obviously this is highly subjective. What I think are the right words in the right order may grate on your sensibilities like fingernails on a chalkboard. That’s totally fine. I think no matter how your literary tastes run, you will find the points Fred McCoy makes in this Letter to My Son compelling. Not only has Fred done a beautiful job of articulating the lessons he himself has learned, he conveys them with a depth and honesty I find quite admirable.
Reading this letter from a father to a son, I was struck by how much the same lessons might apply to a mother and her daughters. Imagine the world if we taught all our children these 25 lessons? Personally, I think women have a lot more work to do than men, and I for one am very happy to have the words of Fred McCoy to guide me.
Did I mention that Fred is yet in his 20s?
A wise man knows no age.
Here is Fred’s original article. I have adapted it for my daughters, and included links to posts I have written that say all the same things, albeit with a lot more profanity. It’s remarkable how the meaning changes and becomes more powerful depending on whether you imagine a father addressing his son, or a mother addressing her daughter. There’s a lesson here. One we desperately need to get out into the culture.
Equality: this is how you do it.
- Criticism Isn’t a Personal Attack (not always at least)
Anything you make is up for criticism. That lego castle you built last week? Guess what? I have a checklist of all the different engineering problems with your terrible lego monstrosity (just kidding). The thing is, everyone will always have something to say about anything you create. They may not have the best way of saying it and I want you to be able to cut through their bullshit and find out what it really is that they’re saying. If you can cut through the crap you can find out their real criticism and you can mull it over. There is no reason to constantly act on criticism laid onto you by peers, but do your best to not take it personally. Even when someone attacks your work there is an opportunity to learn from it. Remove your ego from the situation and just sift through their feedback. Sometimes you’ll find gold, and other times you’’’ find anything at all.
- Know how to listen and how to get others to listen to you
You need to know when to shut up and listen to the people around you, and you must know when to speak up and make yourself heard. This is a delicate balancing act and it will take a good amount of your life to master. The younger you start, the better off you will be later in life. You need to be flexible while interacting with people; know when to lead and when to follow. You don’t know everything — it’s okay to defer to people with better skills in a particular area in order to get something done.
3. Read all the things
Read food labels. Read the newspaper. Read antique books. Read the bible(s). Read over my shoulder. Read the subtitles of French/Korean/Nigerean cinema. Read the terms of service on any and all documents. Read the dictionary from front to back. Whatever you do make sure that you read something. If you don’t have time to read, then listen to a story being read. How well you write is predicated on not only how much you read, but also how varied the content is. I had no idea why my parents forced me to take Latin for six years but at the end of the day I am grateful for it. I was able to read amazing epics and documents in their original language which still impacts how I write (and think) to this day.
- Tip Well
People in the service industry put up with a lot of bullshit — whiny patrons, drunk bros, drunk girl-bros, all sorts of crazy crap. Assuming that you’re not a total bitch, I expect you to tip well 90% of the time. I’d say all the time but sometimes the service just sucks, and not just because your waiter/waitress is having a bad day, it sucks because your server is also an asshole.
Pro Tip (get it?): If you can’t afford to tip well then you can’t afford to go out. You want to have great food with your friends? Grab a cookbook and get to work. Every woman should know how to plan and execute a dinner party. Bonus points if you have a signature cocktail.
- Anger. Fear. Sadness. They’re all perfectly natural emotions
Whatever feelings you have are perfectly valid and I want you to know that at every turn, people will attempt to invalidate how you feel by telling you what you should feel. These messages about what you should and should not feel will come in the form of tv shows, advertisements, conversations with your peers and even teachers. What’s most important is that when you feel a strong emotion you take a moment and ask yourself why? What are the underlying causes that make you feel the way you feel? Let yourself feel the emotion and learn how to handle it in your own way. Keep in mind that feeling an emotion does not automatically justify your behavior. Being angry is not a good reason to strike someone. There will be times that you will have to apologize for your actions caused by your feelings and that’s okay.
- Find a best woman friend
I’m not talking about just a woman who you can go out to the bar with. I’m talking about a woman that you can be emotionally vulnerable with. Someone you can trust with your everything; a person that you know will be there for you no matter what the cost. Likewise you should be there for that person with the same intensity. Find a friend that will eventually become a sister and I will gladly welcome her into our family. The bond that you form with this woman will help determine your ability to form relationships with other people. Without my best friend I would be lost. She’s saved me from countless terrible decisions and never judged me during any of my emotionally trying times. She took care of my family during my father’s heart attack while another friend of mine who called herself my best friend said she “couldn’t be there” because she was on a date with a guy. Up till then I had considered her one of my closest friends, but in my time of need I realized who she really was deep down: an asshole.
- No one cares if you’re a nice girl
You’re not entitled to anything in this world. Your life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness are a product of the blood, sweat, and tears of many before you. The world only cares what you have to offer it. Do you want people to like you? Love you? Cherish you? You have to have something of value to offer to the people around you if your aim is affection and fame. The same applies when you are old enough to start dating. You have to have something to offer the opposite party besides just being a nice girl or a decent human being. You have to have something that sparks their interest. This is different from person to person so don’t waste your time changing to be someone people will like. Explore your interests and learn as much as you can. Acquire skills and knowledge that make you an excellent human being and do it for yourself, not because you wanted to impress someone.
- Unconditional love is most commonly found in a dog
This may or may not be true, but as I’ve had lots of dogs and plenty of relationships, I feel pretty confident in noting that a dog will always have your back. Dogs make excellent friends, travel companions and hunting partners. A dog will look to you for guidance in stressful situations and will provide unrivaled support when things go bad in life. Your dog won’t judge you based on your job, income, dating history, or mistakes you’ve made. Never forget that it’s a two way street. Unlike you who has family and friends, your dog only has you. She will spend her entire day waiting for you to come home to just say hi to you. Never disrespect your dog or treat it with neglect. Take care of her and remember your love for your dog should be equal to her love for you.
- Few things are black and white
Human beings are dynamic and fascinating; they are capable of complex emotions and thoughts that on occasion conflict with each other. One thread we share as a species is the urge to create false dichotomies when we are presented with information that does not click with our perception of reality. Here’s a few samples of what I’m talking about:
Joe is a Christian? He clearly must hate the science taught in schools.
Jane is into traditional gender roles? She’s not a ‘real woman’.
Ibrahim isn’t an extrovert? He must be an introvert.
Sometimes, people create these internal dialogues because it’s easier than talking to a person and understanding them. Occasionally we choose mental isolation and stagnation over growth through communication and social interaction. If you limit your understanding of the world to it ‘it must be this or that’ you are going to miss out on a lot of awesome things and you’ll end up as some shitty, divisive talk show host on MSNBC or FOX News.
10. Every woman needs a code
A ‘code’ which is a series of black and white guidelines that you hold yourself to. These are standards you would rather commit seppuku than break. What these are is entirely up to you and I can’t help you decide what your code should consist of. Our codes may end up as similar things, but I expect them to be different.
11. If you can throw a punch you can take a punch
Throwing a punch is easy. It’s easy to hit someone and hurt them. I’ll teach you how to fight but I want you to remember that with that power comes responsibility. You damn well better be sure if you raise your fists against another human being that you’re willing to take the hits that come along with it. If you’re afraid of being hit then you have no right to antagonize someone or raise your hands against them. Even in situations where you are standing up for yourself, clench your jaw, tuck your chin and be prepared to take the hits.
As a side note — no one hits harder than life, but you can’t hit life back.
12. I want you to know the weight of a gun
Not only that, but I want you to know the weight of a life. When you come hunting with me I want you to observe the beauty of nature in its entirety. I want you to watch a herd of deer and track them through the forest. I want you to watch tiny fawns prance around their mothers while their fathers stand watch. When you lift your bow and draw that string you are silently committing to taking the life of a living creature. A creature that just like you eats, breathes, sleeps, and pushes forward. Pulling that string is a commitment that you will aim at the part of an animal which will cause the least amount of pain and the most merciful of deaths. You are to never point the tip of an arrow or muzzle of a gun in the direction of another human being unless you understand what it truly means to do so. In the blink of an eye there will be one less creature alive on this planet thanks to you and I will do my best to help you understand what that means.
13. Basic skills will always be useful.
I will only be able to teach you basic skills that I have learned, but for anything I haven’t, I expect you to take the initiative and teach yourself. I’ve made it a point in my life recently to master as many basic skills as possible, including ones my mother never had the time to pass onto me. You should know your way around a toolbox, how to change a tire and perform basic car maintenance, and how to troubleshoot common plumbing problems. I want you to be learn how to mend your own shirts, cook a proper meal, and how to set up a tent from scratch in the woods. Not only will these skills serve you well at one point or another, they’ll increase your ability to be self-sufficient. You’ll save money on things you may have otherwise paid someone else to do. Don’t be useless and always be prepared.
14. Yes Means Maybe. Maybe Means No. No Means no.
If I tell you ‘no’, I mean no. If a guy at the bar tells you no, he means no. If anyone on this planet tells you no, chances are they mean no. As a general rule of thumb I assume that maybe means no because a lot of people say ‘maybe’ when they want to say ‘no’ in order to not have a situation turn into a socially awkward one. You can usually pick up on body language cues to determine the nature of a maybe…but just assume it’s a no and move on with your life. In my case — I will probably tell you ‘maybe’ when I’m busy with something and can’t be bothered to justify a ‘no’.
No especially means No in the dating world. Always and without question.
15. Mother. Fucking. Consequences.
You may not remember your choices, but you will sure as shit remember the consequences that resulted from them. People will remember what your choices made them feel and likely won’t remember the context around whatever you did that made them feel a certain way. Your actions will always speak louder than your words and before you make a decision I want you to consider what might happen afterwards. Take a deep breath and keep your cool. It’ll be hard as a kid. I was a fiery bitch and it was rare that I made a decision that considered any consequences. This of course led to getting me in trouble and I expect the same will happen to you.
Whatever you say online and across social media networks is something you need to consider. As you type words into a comment box or craft a tweet just keep in mind that other human beings are going to read what you write. I expect you to carry yourself online the same way you carry yourself in person. The veil of anonymity does not absolve you of responsibility or the consequences of your words. Kids kill themselves over online bullying. Kids take to heart how people they’ve never met treat them. People will say that it’s not your responsibility to care about another’s feelings — I however disagree. I believe that’s a cop-out. The world is a terrible fucking place and honestly we don’t need another person making it worse. To that end, inaction is and will always be an action. If you choose to let the people around you be terrible, then you are allowing it to happen. “Terrible” is subjective and it’s your responsibility to figure out what is worth standing up for to you. I’ll trust your better judgement.
16. You’re going to fail
You can’t always win but do not let the fear of failure stop you from making decisions. Make the call when you have to. Sink or swim, no one can take from you the fact that you had the courage to make the call. It’s not important that you fail, it’s important that you don’t quit. I don’t want you to give up unless you tried your best. If you can look me in the eye and say “Mom, I really tried my best” — then it’s okay. The lessons you learn while failing will sometimes be greater than the lessons you might learn had you succeeded. If you are just starting to learn something new, you will probably be terrible about it, but just remember that at that point you are not good enough to feel bad about yourself.
All that motivational poster jazz aside, realize that I’m not saying to put your effort into something glaringly futile; it’s really important to recognize when it’s time to give up and move onto something worth your time and effort.
17. The only truth about women is that all women die
All women, no matter how great, die. You can choose to either face death like a rabbit fleeing a wolf, or you can greet death with dignity and acceptance. Though it shouldn’t have to be said, you only live once so you must take care of your body, mind, and soul. Keep yourself healthy and keep yourself happy. Great women die. Poor women die. Women you will never meet die. Death is a lottery you are born into so live life to the fullest and when your number is up there will be no regrets.
18. Learn how and when to let go
Whether you like it or not, as you get older things are going to get taken from you. Your parents will succumb to death, your friends will move to far away places, and even your sight will start to fade with time. You can push these off as long as possible but one way or another you will lose them. Learning how to let go at an earlier age in life will help you cope with this reality. There are things worth fighting for and there are things that are better left alone. Don’t fret over the man that breaks your heart or the money that went missing under your bed. What you choose to let go is of course up to your better judgement — I am not you, I can only provide a very incomplete guide but I’m confident that you’ll figure out what’s best for you.
19. Take as much time as you need figuring how to be happy
It’s okay to figure out what makes you happy. School will not provide you with enough avenues to explore what makes you happy. You like digging? Let’s go visit a mine. Are you the class clown? Let’s check out some stand-up in the city sometime. The only way to figure out what you really enjoy in life is by doing a boatload of different things. So bear with me growing up because I’m going to be dragging you along to a whole lot of different shit so you can get a taste of what’s out there. As you get older you’ll be free to explore the world on your own.
Always speak up. If you don’t like playing piano then say so — we’ll try guitar next week. Granted there are things that I will have you taught that are non-negotiable — things such as math, science, english, and history. That said, if there is anything you especially like, I will do my best to incorporate that into your learning process or at the very least figure out how it relates to subjects you dislike or are struggling in.
20. A stiff jab beats a sloppy right hook
Most of the time it does at least. When you’re a kid, most of the other girls will probably be hooked on shows and movies where the favourite and most common attack used is either a tackle or a right hook. Luckily, most kids are neither expert boxers nor awesome MMA fighters so a stiff and quick jab is the answer to a majority of schoolyard fights. Always aim for the chin — kids and teens don’t usually do any sort of training that preps them for having their brain rattled from a jab to that area of the head. Unless someone has a weapon in their hand, I expect you to not back down. I don’t give a damn if you’re smaller or there are more people than you. You stand your damn ground and fight. Fight hard enough so that no matter what the outcome, you’ll never be disappointed in yourself because you tried your hardest.
Fight and win. Fight and Lose. It’s all irrelevant to me. Just fight and move forward.
21. Your sexuality and gender identification are irrelevant to me
Frankly my dear, I just don’t give a damn. What matters to me is that you’re an emotionally stable and mentally healthy person. Part of that means being comfortable in your own skin and not hiding who you are. I have zero experience when it comes to having LGBT relatives so I will probably make mistakes if you’re not straight, but I’ll try. Luckily I’ve got some pretty awesome friends that are more aware about issues they face and I’ll probably introduce you to them if anything in this area comes up.
*Please see above — this is deferring to people more knowledgeable in a specific area than you.
22. Look beyond yourself
There is something to be said about people who devote themselves to something bigger than their ego. If you are not making someone’s life better, be it your sister, neighbor, teacher, or community — you are wasting your time. People will spew pointless phrases about how “only the strong survive” but that’s total bullshit. You know who survives? Those that had the courage to stand together, work together, and build something bigger than themselves for future generations. Bear in mind that if you devote yourself to anything, you will always bear the burden of responsibility in actions made by other people devoting themselves to a similar cause. Be prepared to be criticized and torn down over your devotion. You must also be prepared to stand up to those who are similar to you that have lost their way. Speak out against them and hold them accountable for their actions.
23. People will judge you no matter what you do
They will judge the color of your skin, the amount of money you make, your job title, your parents, your writing, and even the clothes you wear. The only judgement you should ever be concerned of however, is the judgement of your character. No one can stop anyone from judging you. With that said, depending on the strength of your character you can either exacerbate, or mitigate the presumptions and stereotypes a person may regard you with.
24. Rewards aren’t success
Success isn’t the amount of money in your bank account, the fancy clothes you wear, or the luxury car you drive. Success is whatever you leave behind after you’ve gone and died — your legacy. Success is having done something that has shaped the world in your vision. It could be starting a school, participating in the military, kickstarting a company or having children. Money is like air — you need it to breath. You need it to enable you to do the things that allow you to achieve success. I cannot stress how important money is, but I can also not stress how important it is to remember that money does not equal success nor is it the sole requirement. Money gives you a jump start though so start hustling people with watered down lemonade and mowing lawns when you’re like 10 okay.
25. Grit beats talent
I’ve learned that talent is not required to be good, or even great at something. The individuals who have consistently succeeded at multiple walks of life are the ones with grit, dedication, and creativity. It’s not an easy climb to where you want to get in life. The price required of those without talent is steep. You have to want success more than you want to party with friends, more than you want to eat, more than you want to sleep. You need to be able to surrender your pride, your ego, and your comfort in order to gain complete mastery over a skill. Are you willing to give up your social media statuses? Your Likes? Your Favourites? Are you willing to surrender your 140 characters of cleverness and instead dedicate that energy towards achieving something you want? I want you to ask yourself these questions when you start to falter on your path towards a goal. What you use your grit for is up to you, but don’t let not having talent be some sort of immediate barrier.
There you go, my girl. That is how you do life. The most important thing in all of this is that you hold these two thoughts at once: you are so very special, and you’re not special at all.
Snowflakes are pretty. So pretty. And there’s a shitload of them.
Lots of love,
Your Mother JB