Twenty Things I Want My Kids to Know

twentyby Stuart Whitman12/12/16
Now that it’s official, it’s time I finish this up and pass it along.  The official part being Will’s acceptance to school. For each of you this has meant a unique opportunity to step out into the world. A beginning. For me it means the time I have had to influence and shape each of your lives is closing faster than expected.  As children your biggest responsibility is to explore and find your place as productive and happy citizens of the world. As a father, my biggest responsibility is to prepare you for that.

Life is full of surprises.  Not many follow a plan. And for those that do, plans have a way of changing. As a family we have gone down unexpected roads which have at times varied from exciting, to challenging, to worrisome, and enlightening. The point here being that we were short changed on the time and focus this task deserves on the front end as well.  But it doesn’t show much. You are all outstanding young men who have rolled with the punches, accepted responsibility for yourselves, and made me very proud.  Perhaps adversity is the best teacher.  A mother as wonderful as yours doesn’t hurt either.

Attached is something I’ve been working on for some time. I’m not planning on going anywhere soon. But time does have a way of slipping by and often it’s hard to find the right time and place to share what you have to say. I’m not going to let that happen.

I may not be the most successful person around. Or the most charming or best looking. I’m not even funny. But what I am is principled. And disciplined and hard working. And have the courage of my convictions.  That may be your only inheritance. I wish I had a special knowledge or a career or a company to help you on your way. I wish I had more resources to help you explore and learn with or to get a jump on the competition.  I wish I had a wealth of friends and family that could open up doors for you.

I’ve got a little of each which I will gladly share with you. But what I have an abundance of is wisdom. Mostly learned from trial and error. Mostly error.  Some conventional. Some unique and mine alone. I’ve written it down and attached it here.  Keep it for future reference. It’s written in the hope that it helps you avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, confirms your instincts and intuition, or guides you in times of uncertainty. Or all three. And helps you understand who I am and what I value most.  I hope it helps.


1) Put First Things First.

It’s not always clear what the top priority is. But it’s usually not the quick fix, shortcut, or path of least resistance. Lasting achievement is built on a foundation built for the future.

2) Attitude is the ONLY Thing You Can Control.

There are many things in life we work on and try to influence. And an equal number of things that work on and influence us. Control is often an illusion. However, the person you show the world every day is your choice alone.

3) You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression.

People make judgments. It’s a part of being human and keeps us alive. They are often wrong and not easily changed. Yours included. Remember that.

4) Treat Others as You Wish to Be Treated.

People won’t always remember what you said. But they will remember how you made them feel. And actions speak louder than words. Hypocrisy is an epidemic.

5) Check all Assumptions.

When you’ve thought everything through and examined all angles, don’t forget the possibility that you’re wrong.

6) Always Do your Best.

That’s all anyone can ask or you can offer. You’re not as good or as bad as you think you are. And nobody is perfect. In fact, you may find that your best effort gets you a lot further than you thought.

7) Don’t take yourself too seriously.

No one else does. Life is meant to be enjoyed.

8) Everybody is a Critic. Offer Solutions.

Observation and constructive criticism are good. Creative problem solving is better.

9) Finish What you Start.

Getting started is often hard. Keeping at it harder. But don’t leave things undone.

10) Trust Few. Believe in Yourself.

Confidence is key. To everything.

11) Value is a Function of Scarcity.

Courage is one of the rarest. Intellectual honesty another. And good advice.

12) It’s not what you make. It’s what you save.

Without a surplus you’ve got nothing. Be it time, money, or goodwill.

13) Talk is Cheap.

When all is said and done, more is said than is done. And if you want to be heard, whisper.

14) Sex is Over-Rated.

Sure it’s fun. And natural. But it will lead you to do foolish things. Ignore the hype.

15) Intimacy Takes Time and Lasts Longer.

Think of it as quality over quantity. That’s how women see it. Don’t let them down.

16) Women Like a Project.

Behind every successful man is a good woman. But don’t give up your own will. Ever.

17) Voluntary Cooperation and Teamwork are the Highest Calling.

Dependence. Independence. Interdependence. In that order.

18) America is the Best Idea Ever Developed.

More than a place. It’s the vanguard of individual rights and community. Defend it.

19) Balance is the Meaning of Life.

Seek balance in all things. Referred to as The Universal Dynamic Interplay of Polar Opposites. Truth.

20) Random Nature is Intelligent Design.

Science or art? Rational or emotional? Personal or impersonal? Yes.

21) Just One More.

Music is what separates us from the animals. And books are good. Read them. And timing is everything.

Unconditional Love Forever.

Dad • (811 views)

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14 Responses to Twenty Things I Want My Kids to Know

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I like that you noted that this is what you’ve learned from experience. I was watching Sunday Night Football last night, and one the Cowboys was talking about a rule Jimmy Johnson had: It’s not the good plays you make that win a game. It’s the bad plays you don’t make.

    Well, the Cowboys lost the game and made more than their share of bad plays (but not nearly as bad as the Seahawks whose quarterback threw five interceptions).

    When we are young, our heads tend to be full of idealism and a pleasing doctrine that anything is possible. And it’s not really the job of the more experienced to throw cold water on those dreams. After all, who knows what is possible unless one has tried?

    But the tables have been turned. Now it is considered a “social injustice,” if not white privilege, to warn yutes that the visions of sugarplums dancing in their precious snowflake heads might have a severe downside when reality comes a-callin’.

    I’m sure I’ve not followed every single item on that list, especially when I was young and particularly stupid. Let me take a walk down memory lane and tell you what I briefly think about each item:

    1) Put First Things First. This is a lot like “Fight the important battles but let the other stuff slide.” Also, it’s indeed important to have some kind of plan…a particular failure of mine where willy-nilly was often the rule.

    2) Attitude is the Only Thing You Can Control. Seeing how most people react, I doubt this is technically true, at least from the get-go. One has to train oneself not to be a reflexive monkey. Only now am I getting better at letting the pathologies of human culture slide off me like water off a duck’s back. But it is a discipline. It doesn’t come natural. Offense, drama, and making mountains out of molehills come natural.

    3) Not applicable. I’ve made plenty of bad impressions and, frankly, am tired of sucking up. But if you want to climb the greasy pole of Big Success, making a good first impression is quite useful. But I find that there are a number of people who are not so hair-trigger or superficial and are willing to judge on the preponderance of the evidence. Do a good job overall and your mistakes (which are inevitable) may be seen in context.

    4) Do unto other. Yes, the Golden Rule, no matter how it is formulated, is part of bedrock conservative morality.

    5) As a budding writer, I’m constantly surprised at how easy it is to assume that you’re writing (or saying) something that the other will understand. The key to good communication (I’m talking “communication,” not “propaganda”) is being able to get outside of one’s own head and look at what one is saying or writing as if reading it for the first time, a point I have made here often.

    6) I almost never do my best. But I do save my best (or my best try…yes, I know the Yoda saying) for those times when it matters most. I think, more or less, this is a good rule because perfectionism is a bitch.

    7) I don’t take myself seriously enough, a character flaw.

    8) I read something over at NRO the other day. It was that old anecdote about George Will trying to become a regular columnist and he asked Bill Buckley, Jr. how he would ever be able to write two columns a week. Buckley told him to write about things that annoyed him for surely there would offer plenty of material. And I realize this is what much of right-wing media has become (let alone left-wing). It’s the daily drama about what annoys us. And this, I believe, is not only useless but a cancer to doing anything positive, thus regarding politics I have tried to create a “safe space” for people who have more to say than just being annoyed.

    9) It’s probably a good idea to finish what you start . . . unless it was a really bad idea to begin with.

    10) It’s not a good thing to be riddled with too much doubt. One does need, to some extent, a good self-image. But given that today’s yute have come to think of themselves as Precious Snowflakes, and self-esteem is administered intravenously, I wonder if “believing in yourself” ought not be replaced with “Give others encouragement and support, where needed or deserved, and you’ll find a pleasant reciprocity in this regard.”

    11) Okay.

    12) Saving is a very good idea. The story of the Ant and the Grasshopper ought to be read to all children.

    13) Talk may be cheap, but vapid rhetoric is the currency of our culture. We elected Obama (possibly Trump) on not much more than words. Teaching anyone that there is value beyond mere impressions (first impressions or otherwise) is an uphill battle.

    14) It is taught to today’s yutes that sex is inherently good, safe, and fulfilling, that it’s turned into something bad only by old-fashioned “reactionaries,” religious scolds, and other Neanderthals. The reality is that sex is like a loaded gun. It’s dangerously powerful and useful. The battle of considering sex as anything other than a calisthenic has basically been lost.

    15) I fear that “intimacy” now means that men must cater to any and all female wants and needs with little in return. I guess this is something couples have to work out for themselves in the present climate. But beware that masculine values have generally been successfully labeled as “misogynist.”

    16) Don’t be feminized or dominated, men. I think this is good advice. But the battle of the sexes rages on. I’ve grown cynical. No one talks anymore about “the way to a man’s heart.” It’s now all about catering to the woman. It’s a changed world. For a man not to have his balls cut off and hung on his own front door is a challenge every man faces today.

    17) Sometimes teamwork. Sometimes you have to be the Edison or Steve Jobs. “Consensus” is often what you get when you take a bunch of otherwise tasty ingredients and put them in a blender and create something unpalatable, if not poisonous. You need chiefs and you need Indians. Today’s Precious Snowflake meme is to flatter all the little Indians and make them feel like chiefs.

    18) Ditto.

    19) Variety is the spice of life, eh?

    20) This subject needs more elaboration.

    21) As long as some Sinatra is included, I’m good with this one.

    • Stuart Whitman Stuart Whitman says:

      Seventeen thru twenty ….

      I’m not talking about collective action or social justice. I’m talking about coercion verses voluntary cooperation. If you put interdependence before independence you have a top down command and control model which will never succeed, let alone lead to independence. Liberty is independence and voluntary exchange and choice is how and why we continue to raise the bar.

      I could have titled it the Meaning of Life, but I’m not that presumptuous. But if there is any consistent pattern we see in our universe it is balance. Not equality or unyielding reason. But a natural system always seeking balance. It would be safe to assume our lives are subject to the same laws.

      Indeed. More elaboration needed. But the answer is probably both.

      And it doesn’t get any better than Rocky Mountain High.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Your clarifications noted, although I thought it was a pretty good list indeed. I was just adding my thoughts to the mix. If I could condense life down to three rules it would be:

        1) Observe the Golden Rule
        2) Work hard, keep hopeful, and persevere (that’s kind of a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” one-rule rule)
        3) Don’t act like you’re the center of the universe (and conceits can hide very easily, such as trying to “save the planet,” etc.)

        The Meaning of Life is upstream of any list of “ought-to’s.” Those meanings can be articulated, perhaps on another day. And a Christian/conservative list is going to be miles apart from the social-justice/Marxist/materialist list.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I hope at point to be able to think about the article enough to respond in similar detail, but it’s been an interesting morning (the light in my nook went out, and when I finally replaced the bulb — which was extremely difficult to manage — it stayed out, and all this delayed my getting started and made it more difficult) so far. But I do have a couple of observations.

      This version of the Golden Rule is interesting because it says one should assume good faith initially, but not that bad faith shouldn’t be repaid in kind. My own version is “Do unto others as they do unto you.”

      “The Ant and the Grasshopper” was something I certainly learned very young. It apparently comes from the French fable-writer La Fontaine; my French I class had the poem (in French, of course). I still remember bits and pieces. My mother liked the way it ended, with the ant telling the grasshopper, “Eh bien! Dansez maintenant!”

      Speaking of Sinatra, one update I get on my e-mails indicated that today was his birthday. I knew I had to get that in here somewhere. They had some quotes from him, including one that he hoped the last thing “you” heard was his voice (presumably singing, of course).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        (the light in my nook went out, and when I finally replaced the bulb — which was extremely difficult to manage — it stayed out, and all this delayed my getting started and made it more difficult) so far. But I do have a couple of observations.

        I didn’t know or remember that you had a Nook. It sounds like it’s one that is backlighted, right? What a bee-eye-tee-sea-aych it must be to try to replace one of those things.

        I think we can add one more to the list above: 22) Screaming and pounding on gadgets, although it might make you feel better, doesn’t actually help…unless you have an old Apple II whereby the technique to fix it (often a loose chip on the circuit board) was to drop the unit from a few inches onto a hard surface to reseat the chips.

        Happy Birthday, Frank. Thanks for the reminder.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Of course, by my nook I meant the little area in the family room where I sit and read and work puzzles and blog during the day — and for that matter, sleep at night.

          It was also my birthday today, too, as it happens, and it went better in the end than it started — but at my age, birthdays aren’t really much to celebrate. But I did get calls from my friends and an e-mail from my sister wishing me a happy birthday. It was about as happy as most days in the end.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            Happy Birthday Tim! Cheer up. No matter how bad things are, they could always be a damn site worse!!! After all, you can still blog with us.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Holy smokes. What a grand day to have a birthday on. Well, in the future it will be easy to remember your birthday…if I can also remember that of The Chairman of the Board. Happy (belated, now) Birthday.

          • Rosalys says:

            Happy Birthday, Tim! (a day late)

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    We could look at this list (or any list) as a method to implement, usually assumed or unstated, morals. A concise (downright Fairmanian) Christian world view might be: The world is a training ground for the soul. Material things, although useful and inherent to the process, are not the point. Accumulating wisdom and sharing in the love of God, rather than dying with the most possessions, is the point of life.

    And then one could build a “What I Want Kids to Know” list from there. It wouldn’t be very popular because most of the conventional wisdom we pass onto kids these days is ultimately how to be materially prosperous. This is the reigning cultural commandment. We don’t want kids to be nice, per se. We want them to be successful (materially and socially). But a Fairmanian list would likely concentrate on how to make people good, not just socially “nice” or materially successful.

    A secular (read: materialist, functional atheist) type would have a different world view and different list. “Matter is all there is and ever was and ever will be” is the often unstated message. Life is inherently pointless so the point is to “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we will die.” No human likes to think of himself as vacuous, so “social justice,” “diversity,” and “saving the planet” become conceits to take the spotlight off of the purely hedonistic pursuits. Therefore, inevitably their list (a “Progressive” list) is going to tick off a few points showing how one should be “nice” while probably disguising one’s naked pursuit of ego and “stuff.”

    A more hard-line “Progressive” list will actually delve more into meaning as traditionally understood. Utopia might be a warped and dangerous meaning, but the hard-line “Progressive” will be intent on “saving the planet,” in eating “natural things,” in being nice to animals, in an ill-defined “social justice,” for “nice” is still the conceit and the watchword. But the core ego-based, materialist center will still be seen in support for things such as abortion. Be “nice” to baby seals and owls, for they do not share in the Original Sin of environmental destruction. Humans, on the other hand, are a “plague” on the planet. The ego — whether elevating humans to a god-like status or worthy of death for just being — are the two inevitable outcomes of materialism with Utopian aspirations, for there is nothing to hang real love onto but faddish nostrums ungrounded in anything more substantial. A “What I Want Kids to Know” list will likely look Orwellian or seem like a parody when viewed by non-kooks.

    But we do live in the world, so any list is going to intersect on material pursuits to some degree. But it ought to be tempered by, if not guided by, a notion to be good, and not just a politically correct (and wafer thin) form of “nice.” And it will ask of us more than just self-congratulations and satisfaction, thus I had narrowed my own list to three things:

    1) Observe the Golden Rule
    2) Work hard, keep hopeful, and persevere (that’s kind of a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” one-rule rule)
    3) Don’t act like you’re the center of the universe (and conceits can hide very easily, such as trying to “save the planet,” etc.)

    Or, to put it another way

    1) Be good
    2) Provide for yourself and learn the lessons of working through disappointment and hardship (dealing with the world as the world but also an eye toward the development of something greater).
    3) Don’t be a snowflake.

    • Stuart Whitman Stuart Whitman says:

      Not easy is it. I made mine so when I’m gone they have some reference to compare to the materialist, objectivist, secular, progressive … list. The goal being to simply be “productive and happy citizens of the world.” It could have been titled “What I want My Kids To Know … About Me.” And they’ll know I cared. My dad died young. Thanks for your comments.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I have often heard it expressed by writers that the stories and essays they write have as a backdrop “What I Want My Kids to Know About Me.”

        I have “Leave it to Beaver” on in the background right now. And even in this somewhat idyllic view of the family (and one that I think provides a good example), father-son communication is, at best, a trial.

        My father passed on in 2003. Communication with him was very difficult. You can only be beaten down (figuratively speaking) so many times before you quit trying and regress to the minimal grunts and mumbled-minimalism of anything but intimacy. My younger brother and I (now with a better understanding of him) wish we could have actually talked with him. But it just wasn’t possible.

        That may not be your case or the cases of people I know. But I do think writing is one way to “leave a legacy and record.” In the midst of the regular push-and-pull between parents and children, the idyllic often gives way to the minimal grunts. And given that children are no longer really their parent’s children anymore (they gain most of their cues from the culture), you almost have to write a letter to a son or daughter which, one hopes, they will read and understand one day when the roller-coaster of Progressive-materialist Utopia perhaps loses some of its appeal and they long for a deeper meaning.

  3. Lucia says:

    Even in my early 20s before I became a Christian I recognized there were certain principals in life that, like gravity, had consequences when violated. I had just emerged from a Terrible Time in my life and wanted my kids to grow up with the kind of resilience that would help them survive and overcome whatever life would throw at them. Both of my daughters may be liberals in their 40s, but they are no snowflakes.

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