DEAR SON I NEVER HAD:
You’re going to think this is dumb, but my advice to you is:
Eat sunflower seeds.
You come from a long line of sunflower-seed spitters. And this is an ancient rural skill you must learn early in life, or you will be hopeless.
Crack open the tiny husks using your teeth, work out the seeds using your tongue, then spit the empty shells. It sounds easy, but it takes years of practice. Get started early.
Learn this one skill, and your whole life will work itself out on its own.
Also: I pray you grow up to be ordinary. I can’t think of any better gift than being ordinary.
A lot of people are scared of being average, but don’t be afraid. Average things are great. Take your old man, for instance. I had a 2.3 grade point average—which is actually BELOW average.
Listen, I’m not saying I don’t want you to be unique. Certainly. You ARE unique—but so is everyone else. And since EVERYONE is unique, this makes “uniqueness” pretty ordinary.
Ordinariness makes you human. It means that you are fully one of us. Meaning: soon, you will give half of everything you own to the IRS.
Eat fiber. Seriously. Society would be better off if we all ate more fiber. If you look at television celebrities, news anchors, politicians, and daytime talk-show hosts, the message is clear. They need Metamucil.
Don’t worry about money. Not ever. Not even when you are broke. To help prepare you for adulthood, I’ve devised a financial training method for coping with how fast money can disappear once you’re an adult. Thus, on your eighteenth birthday follow these steps:
1. Place all your dollars into a shoebox.
2. Close the shoebox.
3. Pour gasoline on the shoebox and light it on fire.
See? No more money. Welcome to adulthood, kid.
The thing is, when you’re an adult, you’ll worry about having enough cash, food, and clothes. And this worry will keep you awake at night if you let it. And it will subtract years from your life.
Your old man spent his childhood worrying about money. Your granny (my mother) worked her tail off to make sure we had enough. We struggled. But somehow, we were taken care of, son.
And that “somehow” is where the magic is.
Take a drive on Highway 4, near Baker, Florida. Ride the old roads until you cross the Alabama line. Take Route 41, toward Brewton. It will weave you past acres and acres of soft, snow white cotton. Stop and take it all in.
You will never see anything as magnificent as cotton fields. Not even movie stars on red carpet are dressed as fine as cotton.
Just think: those cotton crops don’t worry about money. Not one red cent. They don’t work ten-hour shifts, pay health insurance, cellphone bills, or file for tax extensions. And look at them.
Nutrients from the soil feed them. Rain gives them drink. If all the cotton in the South is taken care of by the heavens, what makes you any different? Aren’t you worth more than cotton?
Memorize jokes. Lots of them. Jokes for children. Jokes for church people. And keep plenty of jokes in your back pocket for surly old men. You come from a long line of joke tellers.
Jokes are miniature stories. And as it happens, the most important thing anyone has is their story.
You might be beautiful—but it will fade. You might be brilliant—but not forever. You might be a marvelous athlete—but not for long.
But your story. That will last even after you’re dead.
So start making your story. Make it funny. Make it pretty. A woman to love. Beautiful children. Good dogs. Food worth living for.
Travel. Rest. Sleep late. Work hard. Take walks. Live. Be funny. Be a big tipper. Be understanding. Be nice. Be so meek it’s almost embarrassing. And be kind when people are hateful toward you.
Make your tale a beautiful one.
I’d better go now. I’m busy. And after all, you’re not even real. But I believe you would’ve been an exceptional son, with a lot of jokes that would’ve made your old man smile.
Sorry it didn’t work out that way. I can only imagine what you might’ve been like.
Anyway, right now I am on Highway 41. I wish you could see the crop of cotton I’m looking at. It’s majestic, white, and wide. And it made me think about you. So I thought I’d write you a letter.
Don’t forget what I said about the sunflower seeds.