Father to Son: Failure is an Event, Not a Person

A birth in the family makes our columnist ponder: What does my son need to know when I'm gone?

Sitting in the waiting room.

That’s where my day started, waiting for my niece to make her grand entrance into this world. So we sat there and waited. And then we waited some more.

And waited.

And waited.

Then the doors to the room burst open and there was my brother, looking very tired but shining as only the father of a newborn can, announcing the arrival of the latest addition to the Smith clan. He took his oldest daughter back with him so that they could all have a few moments alone before the rest of the family came in.

Once we got back to the room, all eyes locked on the little, tiny human over on the far side of the room. She lay there wide eyed, with a look that asked “Who are you people?”

She is very cute. All ten fingers and all ten toes perfectly placed. Her little eyes scanned our faces looking/listening for her mommy and daddy. When daddy walked over she turned to the sound of his voice. It was a heartbreaking Hallmark moment if there ever was one.

Watching my brother with his baby girl took me back to those first moments of my children’s lives; the awe of this child, the overwhelming love that hits like a tsunami and the weariness of little to no sleep. Then my thoughts strolled to all those moments in between then and now.

I looked at my youngest and started to think about my legacy. What is it that I want my children to know long after I’m gone? Who do I want them to be?  What do they need to know right now?

So son, one day I may not be here and there are some things you need to know.

I love you

I love you like only a father can love his son. You will carry my name years after I’ve left this earth. You are my progeny.

I love you unconditionally, endlessly with a deep abiding love that I hope can be an anchor for you when life gets rough. Know that my love for you does not depend on your behavior or what you do with your life. My prayer is that my love for you is a small glimpse into how much your Creator loves you.

I will do many things in your life that you won’t understand. Please know that it was done out of love. I cannot allow you to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it. That’s not love. My love is expressed through me telling you “No”. I care what happens to you and won’t be a part of teaching you that the world owes you anything.

Never doubt who you are. 

You are my son.

And I love you.

Respect your Mother and Sister

I hope that you see in my behavior the respect that your mother and sister deserve. Oh sure, you’ll see us argue or fight from time to time but it’s never mean spirited. Your mother and sister will shape your view of women for the rest of your life. You will pursue women that have their characteristics and demeanor.

How you treat them now will go a long way to how you treat women later. Please watch me so that I can show you that they deserve your respect and love.

Your mother carried and nursed you. She has spent many long hours of the night watching over you as you slept. She has and will lose chunks of her life worrying about you and she devotes much of who she is to being your mom. She carries with her of piece of you that I will never fully understand. It comes from living as one for so long and then being torn apart. The scars she bears are a testament to her love for you.

Your sister will teach you things that we can’t (or won’t). She’s going to bug you and pick on you but she’ll also have your back. Come hell or high water your sister will stand beside you. She will be your teacher and protector on life’s playgrounds. She will show you how to climb trees and how to run. She will help you with your homework and pick you up when we’re not there.

She will introduce you to her friends who will “Oooooh and aaawwww” over you. She will roll her eyes when you turn on the charm but will laugh all the same when you try your pick-up lines on those friends. She will be your role model for what it means to be a responsible young adult.

Treat them with respect.

Always Root for the Underdog

Never underestimate anyone.

Everyone has the capacity for greatness. Not everyone will achieve that but it’s there. Inside each person rests the potential to be a part of something grand, something bigger than themselves. You have no right to try and take that away.

Stand up for the little guy. Don’t back down from the bully. Sure, you might walk away with a black eye or a bruised ego but never leave the little guy to fend for himself.

Make sure that you meet injustice with grace, intolerance with love and hatred with kindness. You were made to do good works, so do them.

You are good, son. Your words and actions will speak to that goodness. Use it to defend those that can’t defend themselves.

Failure is an Event

Many of your peers growing up will have everything handed to them. You’ll see more than your fair share of shiny new cars in the school parking lot when you and your friends hit 16. Your car will be one that you worked and paid for.

While other students will get this trinket and that trophy for mediocrity you will not. When you graduate you will know that you earned everything you have. The thrill of victory and accomplishment will be from the sweat of your brow.

But so will the agony of defeat.

You will fail, son. We will not be there to pick you up every time you fall. And even if we are there, sometimes we will not step in to save you. You must learn to get up, you must learn to keep fighting. You need to understand that just because you fail at something that does not mean you are the failure.

Failure is an event, not a person.

Life won’t be handed to you so don’t sit around waiting for it. Don’t buy into the lie that “You can be whatever you want to, if you just believe in yourself”. If that were true I would be the starting QB for the Dallas Cowboys. You must work for whatever it is you want in life. Work hard, work smart!

And when that moment comes that you fail, and it will come at some point, get up and keep working. Most of what you will learn in life comes from those failures and the successes that follow. Use them wisely.

Be you

When you were born we could tell right away that you were uniquely you. Your personality is yours and like no one else’s in the family. You are your own person.

Know that.  

Don’t change just to please people. Be who you are. 

Grow, yes. Evolve, yes. But don’t try on other personalities just to get people to like you.

You were made for a purpose. You are an image bearer of your God and as such you will reflect His love for humanity and creation. You will live with integrity and honor regardless of what others are doing around you. You will act towards your fellow brothers and sisters with excellence. You will treat others like you yourself would want to be treated.

You will carry our family name with the dignity it deserves and with the lifeblood of your heritage.You come from a long, proud history. Your family tree includes people that fought for religious liberties, for civil rights and for the betterment of those around them. You will carry on that tradition of service. 

You are you. No one else. Don’t ever forget that.

And son, to the very day you take your last breath remember:

We are proud of you

Your mother and I could not have asked or imagined having a son like you. You make every day an adventure. You show us what living to full truly means. 

We are proud of you. We are proud to be your parents. We are proud because of who you are and who you are becoming. I can’t wait to see the man you will be one day.

We cannot/could not imagine life without you in our lives. The moment you came into this world screaming was the moment that we realized how incomplete we were before you.

No matter where you go, no matter what you do please know: We are proud of you.

I hope that you read this letter and know how I felt about you. I pray that it instills some of the same things that my father passed on to me. I desire that you take these to heart and that you live them out in your life. And know that no matter what your life becomes you Mom and Dad are right here for you—





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