The following is a letter I wrote to my son two years ago, shortly before he was born. I thought I’d share the story this Father’s Day in the hope others might also gain something from what was one of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn. For a number a reasons I also wanted to remind myself of the importance being honest has in holding all of us accountable. To remind myself to be honest, not only with myself, but my family too. The major reason is my most gorgeous wife is pregnant with our second child. This letter is for both of them. Before I continue I’d also like to acknowledge my own father whose love and forgiveness has helped save me from the brink on more than one occasion, including this example. To him and everybody else, have a very Happy Father’s Day! I hope you all enjoy reading. This one is truly from the heart…
I am writing this letter with the purest joy in my heart as we anticipate your arrival into the world. Your mother and I can’t wait. We love you and will continue to do so indefinitely…
I’ve decided to write this letter in an attempt to work out exactly what kind of role model I want to be for you going forward. Of course much of I what I’m saying won’t make any sense for a long time. And in truth I’ve written this for my own benefit as much as yours, so that I may better become the father I want to be for you. The father I need to be. That said I hope that one day you’ll find some strength in these words – that by defining some clear values to follow they can serve as a moral compass for when life becomes more difficult. If nothing else when you do come to read this perhaps you’ll understand that your mother and I have only ever wanted the very best for you.
I should say much of what I’ve written is a critical analysis of my life. A reflection on the mistakes I’ve made in the hope that by highlighting some of them, you may avoid the same pitfalls. Of course struggle is a necessary part of life. We often have to make the mistakes in order to learn from them and my hope is not that you avoid the same ones. That is unrealistic. I only wish that you work things out a little quicker than I did and that you never allow your problems to consume you as I have. Hopefully these words will help.
Given the colossal number of mistakes your father has made, I have a great deal I want to share. For that reason I’m going to split this into a series of letters covering twelve values that I hold close to my heart. Twelve values that I wish to honour you by and help raise you with.
For this first letter I felt it appropriate to start with my feelings about honesty and why I believe it’s so important. Honesty, like all the values I plan to cover, is still very much a work in progress for me because the truth is, I still have a great deal to work through. For now, at least, I hope by opening up, it will help hold myself accountable to the very values I say I believe in. The values I wish to teach you. I have shirked responsibility for far too long during my privileged lifetime. It’s no longer good enough for me to simply say the right things. I have to act on them as well. I have to be the best father I can be. It’s my responsibility to you. To honour you through my values. That starts with being honest. Here I go.
(I might add that I’m not sure exactly how my words are going to be taken and to my family and friends who read these letters, I’m sorry if what I say offends you. I only mean to be honest but that means saying the things I haven’t. It means being honest with you as well. I’m only trying confront my own demons here but if they help you too then great. That’s all I mean to do. I’ve refrained from using names in my stories but I think a number of people will be able to work out who I’m talking about. A number of family members including my mum and dad I have referenced directly as such.)
BE HONEST WITH THOSE YOU CARE ABOUT
I believe that honesty forms the basis of any meaningful relationship. It’s what builds trust. Without trust relationships break down and lose their meaning. I’m sure you’ll have heard of a story called the boy who cried wolf. It’s a classic example about how a boy’s deceitfulness cost him the trust of the very people he depended on. What I want to stress to you is to the importance of being open and honest with those you care about. Especially to your family. We’re here to help but It’s difficult for us to do so if you’re not honest.
Allow me to tell you a little story about four adolescent boys.
Once upon a time four adolescent boys were caught smoking at boarding school late one evening before their bedtime. The teacher who found them confiscated their possessions including a small tin that one of the boys had used to store his tobacco for rolling cigarettes. Unfortunately for that particular boy, he also used this tin to store cannabis where he still had left a tiny amount.
The next day the four boys were called to the principal’s office where they were confronted about what the teacher had found. “I’m going to give you a chance to be honest with me”, the principal said calmly. “In this box belonging to you we found some cannabis. Now we can’t prove the rest of you have also been smoking but if you have, I want you to tell me now. If you have, I will respect your honesty and try my best to help you. I promise you your punishment will be far less severe if you’re honest with me. If you really haven’t been smoking drugs, you will be free to leave. I’ll give you a moment to have a think.”
After a while the principal turned to each boy and asked them one by one if they had ever smoked drugs. Of course the first boy who owned the tin had no choice but admit. He had been caught red handed. The second boy however was conflicted. He felt guilty for he had helped pay for the drugs in his friend’s tin. He also wanted help. Help he hadn’t known how to ask for but that was now being offered. The problem was he was sacred. He was scared of the repercussions. More than that though he was scared of what his parents would think. The thought that he would be a disappointment to them broke his heart. He looked up at the principal while struggling to fight back the tears and admitted the truth.
A little later on the second boy was left to sit in front of the the principal while he called his parents to inform them what had happened. Afterward the principal handed him the phone. The boy was petrified. He had expected his father to yell. To be angry and tell him what a disappoint he was. He trembled as he answered the phone. What followed however took the boy by surprise. His dad wasn’t angry or disappointed. He didn’t shout and tell him he was a disappointment. Instead his father simply expressed concern. Concern for the well being of his son who he loved so dearly. His message to the boy was one of love and understanding. He had even expressed pride about the boy’s courageous decision to be honest. What the boys father gave him was reassurance and love when he needed it most. It took everything in that moment for the boy not to break down in front of the principal. I remember it well. You see I was that boy.
My honesty in that moment got me out a hole I’m not sure I would have escaped. My father’s love in that moment was the hand that helped pull me out. A helping hand that couldn’t have existed without my being honest. It took the extremely difficult decision to be honest to get the help I so desperately needed. It was one of the most courageous decisions I ever made. I also believe it was one of the most important.
I often look back at that moment in my life and wonder how different it would have been had I lied. What the repercussions would have been. I’ve no doubt I would have been caught eventually and expelled. In fact that’s exactly what happened to one of the other boys in the story who had denied taking drugs. He was later caught purchasing them in full view of another teacher outside the front of the school and then expelled. As for the rest of us we were suspended. The principal made sure there was no permanent record after we left. He rewarded our honesty by protecting out future. By giving us a second chance.
Of course my problems didn’t go away overnight. They’ve taken much longer to overcome. However I believe it was that moment that ultimately set me on the right course. It was that moment that taught me the importance of being honest with those you love as a means to help yourself, even if I didn’t see it right away. Of course that’s not to say I wouldn’t have figured this out eventually but I can assure you I wouldn’t be where I am now had I lied in that moment. The courage to be honest, especially when you need help, is one of the most important lessons I could ever teach you.
HONESTY HELPS YOURSELF AND THOSE YOU LOVE
One of biggest obstacles to being honest is that it often requires having difficult, uncomfortable conversations. Whether being honest with ourselves, our loved ones or someone we just met. It is for this reason we often shy away from it. Most of us politely agree with someone we disagree with, or deny our own problems or wrongdoings out of fear of the social ramifications. We’re often afraid of upsetting someone or confronting a difficult truth about ourselves and then having to deal with our own emotions. However you’ll help no one, least of all yourself, by being dishonest with those you love. We might not like to hear what you have to say, but your honesty is ultimately the kinder thing to do, whether you’re opening up about your own mistakes or wrongdoings, or whether you’re confronting someone about theirs.
When you’re honest with someone you let them know why you believe they were wrong (or you were). Whether you’re right or wrong, what follows is an honest conversation where both of you are forced to think about something differently. Right or wrong, you will learn something and, if nothing else, you will have gained further trust from the person you’re confiding. If, for example, you avoid being honest for fear of upsetting another person or worse, for fear of being wrong, one of two things will happen. Either you won’t learn what you need to, or the person you’re talking to won’t learn something he or she needs to. You, or they, will continue to think you, or they, are right, potentially reinforcing damaging beliefs whereby neither of you learn anything. I’ve seen this so many times during my life (in fact I’ve been guilty of this on countless occasions while I’m being honest…), where avoiding difficult conversations because ‘it’s easier’ has only led to the reinforcement of negative behaviour over the years. By avoiding that difficult conversation it becomes increasingly difficult to have that often necessary conversation the later you leave it. Believe me!
I was dishonest with my family about my own problems for years. I was afraid of what they would think, so instead of turning to them I shut down and turned inward (and if you’re reading this Mum and Dad, I’m truly sorry). I think in some stupid way I thought I was protecting them by not burdening them with my problems. Ultimately it hurt them more. I made things worse for myself too.
I hope as a family, we will always be able to say what needs to be said to one another so that together we can grow. I promise that we will aim to be as open and as honest with you as we possibly can be. We will always be here to help you no matter what. But the hard truth is we can only do so, so long as you remain honest and open with us. It is the pain of honest confrontation that generates trust and respect in those you love. It’s also what’s needed for those you love to help you. It’s what’s needed for you to help them.