A Father’s Advice

SPECIAL TO THE CALDWELL JOURNAL (By Dan B. Rundquist)…This month I have the new experience of sending my oldest son away to college. With the high school graduations and parties past, it is all but certain that in the long term much of these things will fade in memory. And while graduation gifts, too, will be spent and forgotten my goal as a father was to give my son something of value that could not be spent, broken, used up, or lost. This would be the fatherly advice which only parents can provide. So I sat down to write such advice in a letter to my own son. With many other parents similarly situated, it occurred to me that this piece might also be useful if shared. While the original document spans some four pages, I have edited here for the sake of brevity and space.

You are my son, and I have of course loved you since the first moment we met. As your father, I want you understand the truth, and that is not always the thing we want or expect to hear. As parents, the joy, pride, and satisfaction we both have in your advancement is unfortunately for me balanced against—checked by—some degree of sorrow and regret as I arrive at the realization that your entire childhood has passed. In such circumstances I resort to the only thing I seem to do well anymore, and that is put pen to paper.

I tell you that your life will change now. You are an adult and will meet many new people and go places you have never been. You will have the chance to achieve things only you can do. It is a time to grow, learn, and do. While it is easy to get distracted in this new freedom you have, it is important to focus now on what you must do to reach your own goals in life. I thought it better to provide you with some fatherly advice that might have been shared around that campfire or on the fishing trip we never seemed to get to:

1. President Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.” Plan to work at college like a regular job. This will require personal discipline on your part. Your actual course schedule may be erratic, with gaps and odd times. The gaps between classes is not “free time.” You should get up every morning early and start your “class day” promptly at 8:00am whether you have an 8:00am class or not. Take time for lunch, no more than an hour—and “work” to 5:30pm regardless as to when your last class ended. You establish this pattern on day one and stay with it—you will thank me later. This is a major key to success in school. Weekends, make sure you get done whatever coursework remains for the week, projects, etc, but do take time on the weekends to do your fun stuff. Remember that Monday morning comes early.

2. Jefferson also wrote: “Friendship is but another name for an alliance with the follies and the misfortunes of others. Our own share of miseries is sufficient: why enter then as volunteers into those of another?” Be careful and selective on whom you associate with as friends.

3. Jefferson writes again, “Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it.” Don’t complicate your life with alcohol, drugs or women. You will be presented withopportunities to partake in all three of these things but know that some are expensive and all have consequences. This will also require personal discipline on your part.

4. Be helpful and professional with your class peers, but don’t allow people to steal your time. You are working 8am to 5:30 pm weekdays on your college “job” and can’t have folks taking much time away from you. After work, ok. Weekends ok, but not while you are working each day.

5. Get rest. Don’t be one of these guys that stays up all night every night socializing with your buddies. That is what Friday nights and Saturday nights are for. Get your rest—body and mind. Don’t overdo any part or you can burn yourself out.

6. Consider attending a local church. There are several within walking distance of the campus. You don’t have to join the church or lead the choir there, just hearing a message now and then can help. Make time for the quiet things in life.

7. Again we read Jefferson: “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” Do everything in moderation—no huge swings in excesses of one thing and paltry absence of another. Moderate. Do your hard work when you are supposed to and get it done. Then use your “after hours” spare time to do the things you like. Under-doing things can cheat yourself and others.

8. Learn from your mistakes, don’t obsess on them. All that does is waste time and energy and create a mental obstacle for you later. If you screwed up, admit it, own it, and understand how not to do it again. Then move forward.

9. Use the campus. While you are a full-time student make full use of the campus and its services and facilities. Get your student tickets for athletic events and attend. Maybe do an extramural sport with other students. Take time to periodically visit the art museum there, the planetarium, and so on. Get the most from your time there.

10. Finish what you begin. Be careful not to become distracted away from your goals by a temporary setback, a failure, a change in course direction, or some other thing.

When making these points it is often helpful to provide a few physical somatic markers or reminders. Therefore I have enclosed with this letter the following items for you as gifts, please find:

• One sterling silver cross. School is a long way from home both in miles and ideology. It’s a big place there where they create a world where you may be expected to change, to conform to the local norms and values. It is all too easy to be swept into the comfort of hedonism and falsehoods promoted at universities today. This cross is to help remind you who you are and what Christ did for you.

• One World War I U.S. Victory medal. This medal was issued by the U.S. government to all servicemen participating in that war. They faced challenges and hardship with important consequences in the balance if they failed in their objective. While they engaged their missions, the outcome was yet uncertain. They dug in, worked hard, and got the job done, and at their successful completion was victory over a common enemy. You are somewhat similarly situated in your stage of life today. You also have a daunting mission to complete on your own. But keep this medal to remind you that your goal is front of you—graduation is to be your victory.

• One pair binoculars, so that you may remember to look far ahead and develop clear plans for your life along the way. Don’t allow the years (now and after you graduate) to creep up on you without your having a plan for them. The worst tragedy (and most widespread I am afraid) is that of people who can never achieve their full potential in life. They are either ignorant of what it means to achieve that or sadly lack the ability or means to do so. Look ahead in your life and make certain that you are taking the correct path to fulfill your potential.

• One compass, so that no matter where you go, you may never be lost; and that you can always find your way back home. You are missed by your father and your family each and every day. Please make time to come home on occasion because we love you very much.

Good luck, and Godspeed, dear son.