“Sean, hi. I just want to ask you if you have any advice on how to show my 14-year-old daughter that I am proud of her. She doesn’t have her father anymore, and she is actually pregnant. I don’t judge her. I know more than anything that she would like to know someone is proud of her, and even though I say it all the time, I don’t know if she knows that. No matter what mistakes she’s made, I am actually very proud of her.”
Don’t ever change. You’re doing it right.
“Dear Sean, my father physically abused me. I had to tell someone. I am 39 years old. He is dead now.”
Hi, friend. I was smacked around by my father sometimes. First time he ever hit me happened almost against his will. It was almost a reflex on his part. It was the way he’d been raised. He reared back and slapped me. I fell off my feet.
Later I found him crying in the back room, and he told me the story of the first time his father ever smacked him. You should have heard his trembling voice. In that moment, my father had become a little boy just like me.
My father was not a bad man. Neither was yours. They were beautiful men who did dumb things. They did the best they could with the crummy cards they were dealt. You and I are doing the same. Let us hope and pray, friend, that nobody holds our worst mistakes against us.
Otherwise, I am totally screwed.
“Hello, Sean, my wife and I both like the name Shawn. But my problem is, I want to name my newborn boy ‘Shawn’ with a W, and my wife wants to name him ‘Shaun’ with a U. What do you think?”
I think you’re both wrong.
“I am 32 and I still haven’t completed high school. I was going to go back to get my GED, but it was a lot harder than I ever thought. I gave up. What should I do?”
You should avoid algebra at all costs.
Seriously, my only suggestion is to enjoy your life. Whatever that means for you.
On a side note: I used to attend GED graduations at the local community college, just for fun. I watched older men and women dressed in jeans and boots walk the aisle to receive paper diplomas. Judging by the recipients’ tearful reactions you would have thought they were receiving doctorates. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
I happen to be one of those recipients.
“Hi Sean, I am 19, female, and there is a guy I am engaged to who my parents can’t stand. They told me that if I marry him then they will never talk to me again. What do I do? I don’t want to lose my family, but I love him so much.”
The simple answer is: Do whatever the heck you want.
The long answer is: You’re 19 freaking years old.
Moreover, you don’t have to worry about losing your family. You’ve already lost them. Because any parent who threatens you in any manner is not acting like a parent but behaving like a dictator.
So I can’t tell you what to do because you’re a grownup. But think of it like this: At some point in life, you’re going to be paying your own car insurance, buying your own Charmin and making your own decisions. Why not start now?
“Dear Sean, please give me some advice. My mother is dead and I’m afraid I’m the one who killed her because I accidentally told her what the hospice nurse said about how she probably didn’t have much time left… I hate myself… I know in my heart she would still be alive if it weren’t for me.”
I know from my own experience with grief that perhaps the most common emotion after death is guilt. Ironically, the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) never mention guilt. But I think guilt falls somewhere between bargaining and anger.
I’m no expert—we can all tell—but I’d wager you probably feel guilt because your brain craves order among chaos. Simply put, you need a reason why all this crapola happened to you. You need a scapegoat.
My suggestion is quit fighting the guilt. Quit resisting it. Let it happen. You think you caused your mother’s death? Fine. So be it. Let it run its course.
When you’re finished feeling guilty, you might consider asking your late mother what she thinks about it.
“Hi Sean, my son told me something about his lifestyle that I wish wasn’t true. As his father, I know it’s my duty to tell him that he is going to hell if he doesn’t follow the right path, but I don’t know what to do here.”
I want you to think back on your own teenagehood. Think about the people who impacted your life the most.
Think of the selfless persons who reached out and helped you become you. Who shouldered you through the most difficult periods of your existence. Who understood you, or at least tried to. Who cried with you. Who motivated you. Fed you. Loved you. Hugged you. Supported you. Held your hand. Someone who, against all odds, was insane enough to actually believe in you.
Got it? Good. Now, how many of those people said you were going to hell?
“Hi. I am looking to buy a new SUV, but I can’t figure out which make and model to go with. I am leaning toward a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, but it’s surprisingly expensive, so I’m wondering if I should buy a good old Ford Explorer?”
I think you have the wrong address.
“I don’t know if I believe in God. I want to, but inside I think it’s all all just a crutch.”
Thank heaven for crutches. I couldn’t walk without them.
“My kids don’t ever come to see me and they never call or text me, either, not even to ask how I’m doing. I don’t call them because I don’t want to bother them, they have their own lives, but what about me? Why are today’s kids not paying attention to their elders!?”
Call your kids. Bother your kids. Pester your kids. Please.
The truth is, we kids are stupid. You taught us how to use the toilet and how to drive a stick-shift. But after all these years, we really haven’t grown up that much. We’re still selfish. We still talk with food in our mouths. We still interrupt others. We have not learned how to share. At this age, we are merely middle-aged people who are potty trained. We still make lots of mistakes.
So teach us. Teach us to be thoughtful. Refuse to give up on us. Text us. Call us. Tell us you love us even when we don’t deserve it. Don’t ever stop showing us to be considerate. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Maybe one day we’ll even make you proud.