I’ve been asked by a close friend and mentor to help his son understand more about becoming a man by writing him a letter. I’ve decided to publish part of this letter on this blog in the hopes that I will be more honest in my words and that someday my daughter might be influenced by what I’m about to write.
Becoming a man in this age and culture is hard. If you are anything like your father, you are incredibly curious and inquisitive. And guess what? So am I. That has led me down a path that no one could have predicted, full of twists and turns that aren’t in the usual plans of teenagers as they peer into their future. But this isn’t about me, it’s about you. You are in the process of becoming a man. A man that can be proud of his journey in life, proud of the way he has handled himself in situations that scream for conformity, proud of the wake he has left as he passes through the difficult and tortuous passages of life.
So what can I pass on to you to help you? Only a few things, all connected in a nautical theme:
- No one can tell you what to do. You have your own tiller and while you may have navigators, investors, crew and passengers, only you can command your life. No one can make you do something that you don’t think is right or consistent with the way God made you (see #3).
- Navigation takes practice and you’ll never master it. Expertise rarely develops without repetition and practice. So don’t sidestep, procrastinate, or otherwise avoid making navigational decisions. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone wishing they had made less decisions in life. A therapist once told me to “make more messes” with the thought that cleaning up messes is better in the end than not making any.
- You are unique. God made you like no one else in history or in the future. And so your journey through life will be unique. Learn how to use that uniqueness to find your own path to fulfillment, to happiness, to communion with God. Your path won’t look like anyone else’s. I followed other peoples’ paths until I was 33 years old. I wish I had jumped ship earlier.
- Pursue True North. True north is how all other paths are defined. Without an intimate familiarity with and passion for the Maker and how he created you and the rest of creation around you, none of the paths you take will make a difference in the long reach of eternity. In your journeys, you’ll be faced with trials that confound your reason and emotions. Part of becoming a man is knowing when to stop, pause, reflect, and rely on your relationships with your parents, trusted friends, and God to find true north and figure out your next step.
You’ll find my gift for your passage to manhood, a compass, to be a symbolic metaphor for your journey and a reflection of who God made me: an adventurer of truth and life. If I was to ever have something tattooed on my body, it would be a compass rose. A compass represents all the incredible points of opportunity in life and at the same time always points to North, representing the ever-present Maker of this world that you are entering. In a little quirk of symbolism, the manufacturer also shares my last name, Stanley. If you ever need a perspective on life from a wandering adventurer, do not hesitate to call. I still remember a fraternity brother telling me the day I met him, that if I ever needed to talk, just knock on the door. Three years later, I recalled that conversation and did just that. He immediately dropped everything he was doing and we proceeded to talk for almost five hours straight. Since that day, I’ve made similar promises to a few other people in my life. You are now one of them. Anytime, anywhere.
And remember, if anyone asks why you have a brass compass, just tell them you captain huge sailboats. It impresses the women as that’s how I talked my wife in to a second date.