Letter to my son: As you enter high school…

Father and son spending some time together in the pool. Last summer break before high school begins.

Dear Son,

Yesterday, we brought you home from the hospital as a newborn.  Tomorrow you begin your high school career. Where did the time go?  From my viewpoint, it is going faster than I like.  From your seat, it is probably not fast enough.  We all have a different perspective on time.

Tomorrow you will enter a new world, a very different world than the one you know. It is a very exciting world and, at times, a very cruel world.  It is both a fun world and a world that can ruin you, if you are not careful.  I have some great memories from high school largely because I did not make too many foolish decisions back then.

What I am writing to you may feel like a letter.  Consider it a gift.  I wish I had been given an opportunity to read what you are about to read when I was your age. What I am about to share with you comes from a deep well of love and wisdom.  These instructions will serve you well, not just over the next four years of your life – but beyond.

What you will find below are some life lessons that can be applied the moment you walk through those high school doors tomorrow morning.  Hopefully they will still be with you when you move the tassel on your hat on graduation day.

First impressions:  It has been said that you “do not get a second chance to make a first impression.”  It is extremely difficult to change your reputation, especially in high school.   So, decide today – what do you want YOUR reputation to be when you graduate?  A great student?  A good friend?  A nice person?  (All of that sounds good to me!)  Decide who you want to be and then make the daily decision to become that person.  Surround yourself with like-minded people as that will make it even easier for you to stay consistent.  Having said that…

Friendships:  The high school experience is largely about friendships.  From this point forward, you will have the ability to meet and make new friends.  Make lots of them but choose them wisely.  Some of the friends you make now will be with you the rest of your life.  If you allow the wrong people to get close to you, it can take you down a path that can ruin your life, literally.  “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” – I Corinthians 15:33   You have a good character.  Your Mom and I will do everything in our power to keep bad influences away from you.  Help us with goal.

Friends are important but family is “forever.”  The teenage years are notorious for young men like you to want to spend more time with your friends and less time with your family.  Though I understand this, be careful that you remember that family is your anchor.  You won’t be spending the next 30 Thanksgiving meals with the kid next to you in home room.   Friendships are important but they should never trump your family.  This includes your siblings.   You are the oldest and therefore they both look up to you.  Remember to spend time with them, even initiating time together.  I made it a point to spend time with my younger siblings as often as I could.  Uncle Matt and I talked every week.  As a 14-year-old, I didn’t have a lot in common with your Aunts – who were 4.  But, as the oldest sibling, I knew I had to work to be close to them and I had to initiate it.  Those tiny investments, made weekly, is the only reason why I am so close to my siblings today, some 28 years later.

High school is still about SCHOOL.  Make your studies a priority.  Your overall Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) is one of the things that colleges look at when they decide whether to accept you or not.  It is better to be in a position where you can go anywhere you want versus going to the only place that will accept you.  A college education is almost a pre-requisite for any job you apply for beyond your college years.  Even if you were flipping burgers for a living, they will hire a college graduate over a non-college graduate any day.  The better your grades, the better your choices.  Make your studies a priority in high school and you will find that college is much easier for you.  You are extremely intelligent and you have a great track record so far academically.  Keep that pace.  You will not regret it.

Never stop learning.  Never stop asking questions.  Right now, you are forced to go to school.  There will be a time in the near future when no one will tell you what to read or study.  Be a lifetime learner, not one trying to get through the next test.  Never stop studying.  Read everything you can.  As Pastor Howard Hendricks once said, “Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.”  You were meant to be a leader.  Keep reading and learning!

Talking / Listening / Laughing:  You have been blessed with the gift of communication.  I wonder where that came from?  🙂  With any strength, there is always an accompanying weakness and the potential for the gift to be abused.  It is great that you are a good communicator but use that gift in moderation.  In other words, don’t talk too much.  “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Proverbs 25:11)  You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Learn how to listen.  As James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).   You have also been given a great sense of humor.  It has been fun to watch that develop over the years.  You are truly funny.  Having said that, be careful with that gift as humor (like the tongue) can both build up and tear down.  Never be funny at someone else’s expense.  Self deprecating humor is the best and most endearing.   Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor so use it rarely and carefully.

The Golden Rule: One of the very first things I taught you as a small child was Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”   High school is a place where people can do and say some very mean things.  Unfortunately, you have little control over how others behave.  Many kids were not raised like you were, with the same high standards.  Regardless, you can control how YOU behave.  Act like the nice young man you are and that you were taught to be.  Speak respectfully to all people at all times, especially your elders.  Open doors for everyone.  Be kind to females.  Look after those that are younger or weaker.  Maintain your manners.  Always be a gentleman.

Temptations:  High school is full of them:  Drinking.  Smoking.  Drugs.  Sex.  Porn.  The list goes on and on.   Avoid them.  Avoid them all.  Like the game Modern Warfare, where the goal is to navigate a city while avoiding the snipers and landmines, view high school in the same manner.  Pay attention.  Have fun but recognize that not everyone or every place is safe.  Use your gaming skills in life.  The following temptations are worse than being shot:

  • Drinking: If your friends are drinking, get new friends.  I mean it.  Drinking before your 21st birthday, though it may seem cool, is still illegal.  You will go to jail for underage drinking.  After seeing three friends of mine from high school die from drunk driving, I never found it worth the risk.  Besides, alcohol is not as great as teenagers make it seem.  A milkshake is more delicious than a beer.  No one ever died for driving under the influence of a milkshake.
  • Smoking/Drugs: If a friend encourages you to smoke or do drugs, he is not your friend. I have never put a cigarette to my lips or drugs in my veins – I am living proof that it is possible to say “No!”  Both are EXTREMELY addictive.  And both can kill you.  After watching my Dad die from smoking, trust me, it isn’t worth the risk.  Don’t throw away your future.
  • Sex:  Sex before marriage is extremely risky, particularly in today’s immoral climate.  The few minutes of pleasure is not worth the risk.  A sexually transmitted disease (or getting someone pregnant) can ruin your future before it ever begins.  In spite of what our culture tells you or what your friends think, your body is not ready for this. You run the risk of acquiring so many more diseases at your tender age – diseases that can stay with you the rest of your life.  Your heart is also not ready for this emotional and spiritual bond.  It is a beautiful thing meant for the context of marriage.  Save yourself for that special woman.  “Flee immorality… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price, therefore honor God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:18-20)
  • Porn: When I was a kid, the only way you had access to pornographic material was in magazine form, or a VHS cassette.  Today, it’s a lot more accessible.  Google, YouTube, Netflix, your cell phone – you have more access to it than I ever did.   PLEASE, for your sake, DO NOT look.  I have personally seen porn ruin more men’s lives than all other vices combined.  You may be viewed as a prude.  Some may accuse you of being gay but I promise you – if you look and it becomes a habit, it will take you years to overcome and you WILL regret it.  It will also pervert how you view women and your future relationships with them.   “How can a young man keep his way pure?  But keeping it according to God’s word.” (Psalm 119:9)   Like Job, make a covenant with your eyes. (Job 31:1)

Peer pressure: Peers put pressure on you because they want you to be like them.  They want you to approve of what they are doing.  Often times, the greater the pressure, the worse the activity.  Decide NOW how you will handle it.  If you wait until it is upon you, you have already given in to it.  Blame me every time if you need to (“My Dad won’t let me.”) but do not cave to it.  We all want to be popular but some popularity has a price that is not worth paying.  Be your own person.  We all live before an Audience of One.  God sees everything we do.  “For His eyes are on the ways of a man, and He sees all his steps.” (Job 34:21)   Try to remember this.  Every time I have forgotten this truth, it has cost me dearly.

Grow your own faith in Christ. My high school years were some very turbulent years for me.  The ONLY reason I made it through unscathed was because I read my Bible and attended a good church.  You have been raised in the church all your life, under great Bible teaching, surrounded by strong believers and guided by Christian parents.  This foundation is a blessing.  But you now have to decide to have on your own relationship with God.  Read His Word daily.  It will serve as a “lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.” (Psalm 119:105)   I know I have not been the best Christian example at times – and the times that I have fallen have been the times that I walked away from God and His Word.  Learn from my example, both good and bad.  “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Lastly, no matter what happens, I will always love you.  No matter what you have done, you can always call me or talk to me – at any hour.  There may be consequences to face, but I will always be your Dad and I will always love you more than anyone at that school.  You may not agree with every decision I make, but I promise you, every decision has your best interests in mind – whether you recognize it or not.  Remember, I walked this path before you.  I know the pitfalls.  I am here to help you through them.

Love,    Dad