In January of 1969 my father had joined the Air Force. My grandfather sent him a letter that my dad still has to this day. I’ve transcribed it below. Happy Father’s Day.
20 January 69
My Dear Son,
As you know, I’m probably one of the world’s worst correspondents, and I think the reason is that I have such a miserable time getting into the thing. There’s something about a blank sheet of paper that apparently causes a mental blank. However, I’ve determined to write a letter for you that may communicate some of the things that I, as a father, should try to communicate to you, my son; and believe me, this comes from the heart.
I think the best way may be to simply write down for you some of the thoughts that, over the years, I have found helpful when I need them. You know, none of us lives long enough to develop all his own thoughts and philosophy. About all any of us can do is to listen and read and observe, balancing one bit with another and with our own experience. This is a continuing thing throughout a man’s lifetime.
All of us are faced with tough propositions at one time or another. There is never a ready-made answer. But, if you’ve been aware and listening and thinking, often you may apply the accumulated experiences of the people you have known, or read about, or observed, and thus at least have a solid basis for developing your solution. I’m not suggesting that you adopt my philosophy (actually I haven’t the art to put an integrated philosophy together.) or, for that matter, anyone else’s philosophy. I’m only offering these thoughts for your serious consideration, to use or discard. I will try to tell you why I feel the way I do about some of these simple statements.
You Learn Best Through Embarrassment.
I first heard this from a man I truly respected, but it took a long time (and many embarrassments) before I could accept it. I believe you will find, as I have, that the lessons learned from the embarrassing mistakes will be the ones that stay with you.
Two And Two Are Four.
To me this means that, when everything appears to be going wrong, my world is falling apart, and the chaos prevails, there are after all some things that are stable; that if I keep my head there is hope.
You Can Never Take Out More Than You Put In.
I think this (in, no doubt more elegant words) is a law of physics. However, I have also found it to be a law of life, and any time I have persisted in extracting from a situation more than I have contributed I have inevitably been forced to pay elsewhere.
You Don’t Have To Like It.
A crudely worded thought I learned from a rough and crude man. I think the idea is that, when necessary, I can wholeheartedly perform a distasteful task and still retain my personal integrity.
Never Poke Bears With Sticks.
This does not mean that one should timidly bypass sticky situations. It does mean that I estimate, as best I can, the likely results of an action, then arm myself with sufficient weapons, or perhaps wait until a more appropriate time when I may have a better chance of success.
Well, if I haven’t bored you too stiff to wiggle, let me know how you make out with these, and I may have some more for you. You may take that as threat or promise.
I hope they help.