Okay, Pal. Here’s the deal. In exchange for the items listed below, I promise not to tell Mommy the following three things, okay?
1. That we pee in the yard every chance we get. We usually keep the micturation to the back corners where no one can see us, but everybody likes a little variety, right?
3. That we sometimes sneak out for night walks. I won’t tell her how we run through the graveyard pretending Voldemort‘s chasing us or how we spend too much money at the local open-till-all-hours cookie shop an-hour-and-a-half after your bedtime.
So in exchange for keeping the above three items secret, I’m going to ask the following three things of you. An exchange, if you will. I’ll love you no matter what, and I don’t expect you to be perfect, but if you can do the following three things I’ll be extra, extra happy. Okay? So here they go…
1. Know how loved you are. I could type ten thousand words every day for the rest of my life on the subject, but I’d never even scratch the surface of what I feel for you. You’re my son, of course, but you’re also a dear friend, someone to laugh with, someone I trust, and someone who makes me smile every time I think of you. You don’t have to be perfect, and I’ll never expect you to be. We weren’t made perfectly, and the fact is, your imperfections are part of why I love you. So do your best, but when you fail or make a mistake, know that I’ll always be there with a smile on my face and my arms open wide. I love you more than you’ll ever know.
2. Show people how strong you are by how much love you show. You’re a tall kid for your age with bigger muscles than I had when I was thirteen. You’re also really, really smart. You don’t have to right all the world’s problems, and like I said above, I don’t expect you to be perfect. But when you can…
—Show kindness to the kid no one talks to. There are few things more painful than being left out. Your friends might not want to, but if you include someone that no one else does, you’ll feel good about yourself and have very good reason to feel that way.
—Stand up for those who are being bullied. If a boy or girl is being picked on, do what you can to protect that kid and to make that kid feel better about himself or herself. You might not think it matters now, but I promise you that kid will remember your kindness someday.
—Be nice to old people. Remember how happy your great-grandma and great-grandpa were last night when you helped them clean out their old garage? That’s the kind of strength I’m talking about. Do nice things for old people that others can’t be bothered to do.
3. Treat girls (and women) with respect. Remember that girls are not perfect either, and sometimes they’ll make you mad. If a girl is mean to you, you don’t have to break your back trying to make friends with her. But when you can, remember that every girl is someone’s daughter. Remember that every girl has a heart, a mind, dreams, and fears. You know, sort of like you do.
I know I’ve already asked more of you in this exchange than I’ve offered, but here are a few more of my wishes…
Keep reading. And while I’m at it, know that there’s nothing wrong with being silly, with dancing, with laughing, with singing, with playing a musical instrument, with drawing, with writing, with appreciating nature, with loving animals—with generally enjoying life. You are a joyful person right now, but there will be people who will hurt you. That might tempt you to hide some of your joy, but the problem is, when you hide it for too long, you stop feeling joyful. You have brought more joy to my life than you’ll ever know, and you’ve only just turned eight! So remember to be joyful and to be silly. And to read, read, read. Your life will be immeasurably better.
I’ll stop now. Because the truth is, this isn’t an exchange at all. You don’t need to give me anything. I will love you forever and will always be proud of you because you’re an amazing, loving, caring person. Because you’re you. And to me, you are perfect. Thank you for being my son. You are a blessing and a source of neverending joy to me. God bless you, my little man. I’m so thankful I get to be your daddy!