When my daughter Elizabeth and I get within two blocks of her high school, her demeanor changes. Gone is the witty, funny, charming girl I knew from the first five blocks of that same drive. In her place I now have a child who acts as though we are trying to smuggle a 10 ounces of hair gel through TSA. Elizabeth, who turns fifteen in a few weeks, isn’t nervous about school—she is pretty, popular, and smart.
She is nervous about other people discovering that she actually has parents.
Our kids, all three of them (we also have a 9 year old son and a 6 year old daughter), are growing up. None of them are babies anymore, and my wife Megan and I can see a time where they will become independent human beings, with gifts and limitations of their own.
But until that time comes—and even after it—they must endure our advice, and there are many, many things I want them to know, but here are just a few:
When I was a kid, just a year older than my youngest daughter is now, I stole a copy of Stephen King’s IT from my mom. I was drawn by the magnetic pull of a cover that had a green claw coming up through a sewer grate to reach for a paper boat floating down the gutter. I had no idea what I was reading, but it didn’t frighten me—in fact, I love that clown.
IT and Batman comics sparked a love of reading that I still have to this day. I want my kids to read, and read often—and I don’t really care what it is that they read. A love of reading opened the world to me.
It can do the same for them.
Someone has to be the President or CEO.
Someone has to be a leader and make hard decisions, whether that is for a company, community, or society. Becoming a person who gets to make those decisions will be hard work, but someone has to do it.
I want my kids to know that it might as well be them.
Getting to be someone people count on to make hard decisions means getting educated, being thoughtful, working hard, being patient, and not doing stupid things that place limitations on potential. No one is entitled to a life of impact, but you can earn it if you work hard enough—and don’t blow it doing something stupid.
Avoid car loans.
This might seem small in the scope of life lessons, but I learned the hard way when I was 20 and decided to quit my job and go to college, a couple of weeks after getting a car loan, that the bank doesn’t do “givesy-backsies”. But they definitely do “takesy-backsies” if you don’t pay your payment.
Despite my best efforts to not park my Ford Ranger at my apartment, it was eventually taken to the Repo Depot.
My wife taught me how to iron a crease and who Hiram Bingham was—and also fixed my credit. As a result, all of these years later, I am now in the 4th year of a 5-year loan on a Smart Car. Driving a Smart Car hundreds of miles across the pot-holed section of I-70 between St. Louis and Indianapolis (which I do at least once a month) feels like being in a can someone else is kicking down the road.
Car payments: kids, avoid them if you can.
Appreciate what you have and do your best.
For all of the:
- Big journeys, like the ones Megan’s great-grandparents took through the mountains of Northern Mexico to get to Arizona during the Mexican Revolution (true story), and my great-grandparents took pulling handcarts over a different set of mountains to get to Utah (also a true story);
- Small journeys, like the one we used to take when my son was 1 and we would walk three blocks to Little Caesars in our semi-ghetto neighborhood in Phoenix to spend our sole weekly discretionary income on a $5 pizza to go with our Monday night viewing of Heroes;
- Quarters my mom saved to buy me Batman comics while earning the minimum wage at McDonalds, and the quarters Megan saved to buy Elizabeth a treat at Circle K before their family of two became our family of three, then four, then five;
- Nights my dad spent alone in hotels twenty years ago missing his family, and the nights I spend alone in hotels now, missing mine.
For all of this, and more, I want my kids to appreciate what they have, and to show that appreciation by doing their best.