My friend, Patrick Shaffer wrote this letter to a young man when his mother and member of Patrick’s church asked him to participate in her son’s school assignment. Patrick’s response is an essay of proverbs, written from a place of compassion and wisdom. His letter reaches to distill everything you’d want a young man to know.
I’ve been turning over Too Short’s instructions to young boys in the last week; if you are unaware of it, don’t worry over it because it isn’t worth worry. I started writing a post in response. I haven’t finished. Then, yesterday, I saw my comrade’s Advice at the Huffington Post. Pastor Patrick’s words are a kind corrective to that musical nonsense that had so many people alarmed.
Of course, I don’t agree with everything Patrick says here; I never agree with everything Patrick says, so I shouldn’t start now, right? Nonetheless, he’s got some powerful stuff in this lovely letter to a single mother’s son.
Hey, I hope you are well. I wanted to share some things with you about life and all of the above. Forgive me if they seem scattered but I think what I have might help.
You should be awakening to new ideas of freedom, an expanded world and optimism about your future. The substratum or foundation of all of those things, though, is responsibility. Great responsibility is placed on your shoulders. Responsibility perhaps that you would rather not have and don’t think it strange if you vacillate between your childish tendencies and being a young adult. It happens. I still wrestle with the kid in me, and it never leaves. You must master that little boy in you who says “this is too hard” or “I don’t feel like this.” Giving in to those voices will lead you to be fruitless in your life. You must hear those voices and push yourself pass them to be who you are — the world is waiting. Being a man is a hard and thankless enterprise, being an African American man is harder.
Your mother loves you and did her absolute best to raise you. As you get older you will see her in a different light and humanize her in ways you couldn’t when you were younger. That should make you appreciate her and love her all the more. You may have had to piece together the meaning of what a man is from your father and different male figures in your life. Some of us have failed you, some of us will fail you but use our lives always as a class. Learn from our failures; hear our wisdom and they will serve as the tapestry of the man you will become. But really it’s not up to us anymore; it’s all up to you. We are here for you but the training wheels of life are coming off now — time for you to peddle and ride the bike yourself. We will be watching and be right there when you fall.
You will have unbelievable standards to live up to from the world at large and even from your own people. Our president is a black man — who can live up to that? Your world and your very meaning in the world is ever changing at a seismic rate. Sometimes it will be hard to keep up.
You will look over your shoulder and know that there are peers who aren’t smarter, haven’t worked as hard as you, who will get all the breaks in life and you will wonder “why is this so hard for me?” But that question means that you are conscious of your growth, your progress and what you have achieved. Remember son, you are not in competition with anyone but that kid on the inside of you. If you can grow him up, without being weighed down by what someone else has achieved, you will be just fine. If you can understand that that little kid on the inside of you is there for counter balance, when things in life are stressful and sometimes way too serious for you. When you master the moments of knowing when it’s time to play and when it’s time to work, you will be just fine.
The world has expectations of you. Your mother has expectations of you. I have expectations of you but really, we don’t matter — it only matters what you expect from yourself. I hope you expect great things; you will achieve what you want when you master working smart and not hard.
I admonish you to stay in school, finish everything you start. You will be pressured to make money, for this reason and that reason. The reasons may be legitimate but stay in school anyway. Even if you’re broke, have to sleep on the floor in a friend’s apartment, finish the degree. Education is the key — go to school and work part time if you have to. I wish I could tell you that getting an undergraduate degree is enough, but it’s not. Don’t take a break, stay in and go to graduate school. The economy will turn, more jobs will be available one day, and your education will prepare you for your future career, your future life. You don’t want to work a job, you want to have a fulfilling career and there are no shortcuts to the life you want. If you want it go after it, stay after it. Don’t quit, you will be sorry you did.
To finish reading pastor Patrick’s letter, click here.