This Friday I’m going on vacation back to the farmland where I grew up, outside Toledo OH. I go back there every year to hang out with my buddies and their families, drink beer, play cornhole and grill lots and lots of meat. I (heavily) documented last year’s trip, starting here, and spanning the next 3 posts.
My one buddy, Rik, has 2 daughters, about whom I’ve written before. I don’t get to see them very often; only the one time a year I come to visit. I often have advice I’d like to give them, but so often when I’m there, I’m caught up in a whirlwind of music, drinking and carrying on. And who wants to listen to a lot of drunken philosophical bullshit from their goofy “uncle” when they could be running around with their own friends?
Anyway, I’ve had this idea in my head for the last year or so, about a conversation I’d like to have with the youngest of the two, who turned 16 last December. She was an adorable child…
…who’s grown into a drop-dead gorgeous young lady and has never lost the ability to pose.
But given the circus-like atmosphere when I come out, it’s highly doubtful I’d be able to get the message across in a concise and eloquent manner.
That brings me to this post, in which I deliver that conversation in the form of a letter. This is a far superior method of delivery, if only because you can’t revise heartfelt drunkenese.
You’ve known me pretty much your whole life. We met when you were a toddler at your Uncle Mark’s wedding. I know you don’t remember that, but you do remember when I first came out to visit your house when you were about two and a half, and again every summer thereafter. You were such a beautiful child, I knew that one day you would grow up to be a knockout. And here you are.
If the high school me ever knew the high school you, he’d have been too nervous to even talk to you. You’d have been so far out of his league, he’d have needed a forklift just to raise his game to your level.
I can remember clearly what life was like back then. Yes, I know there were no computers or cell phones or Facebook, but the social issues are still the same. There are still the cool and uncool, haves and have-nots, mean and sweet. With the perspective of one who has been through it all, I’d like to give you these ideas and guidelines to help you stay as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside. I hope you’ll take them to heart as advice from an older, wiser friend and not as just one more person trying to tell you what to do. You know I only want the best for you. With that…
* So many beautiful girls become snippy, snotty little princesses that think everyone else is there to serve them. Please don’t become one of those. These are the people that others enjoy watching fall from grace. While it may not seem like it at the time, all the people that get overlooked, belittled or bossed around will build up resentment. Then when you encounter tough times of your own, they will enjoy watching you fail. You want to be the kind of person that others want to help, not hurt.
With that in mind, be nice to the nerds. It costs you nothing to be nice. Yes, I do believe that being nice is your nature; heck, you even have the shirt.
Keep it up. A kind word from you can make some geek’s entire month. And someday, you may need your taxes done and that geek could be a CPA. Or you could need legal help and some other high school dweeb could be a high-powered attorney or a judge. There’s an old saying that one should be careful because the butts you kick on the way up are often the butts you’ll need to kiss on the way back down. It pays to be nice to everyone, not just the other cool kids.
* What seems so important to you right now, in high school, will fade away the second you’re done with it. Cliques and gossip lose their importance once you step out of the hallways and begin your actual life. (At least, they will if you don’t actively surround yourself with them.) I can tell you right now that it matters to me not a lick what some girl said to another girl, or who talked to whose boyfriend, back in high school. It stopped mattering the second I got that diploma and began preparing to go to college, let alone 30-years down the road.
I once heard a great philosopher, David Lee Roth, say that he had 2 main principles in life:
1) Don’t sweat the small stuff.
2) It’s all small stuff.
Especially all the he said/she said bullshit from high school. It’s best to stay out of it.
* Have the strength to say, “I’m not going to do that,” when other people are about to do something dumb, destructive or hurtful. Think of the person that might get hurt and put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if it was happening to you? Never let peer pressure overcome your better judgment. If people don’t like you for that, then they were never very good friends in the first place.
* Friends come and go… mostly go. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a small handful of quality friends. Never let quantity substitute for quality. There’s a reason me and your dad and your Uncle John are still friends. We all knew lots of people in high school, but we’re the three (four, counting Uncle Mark) that stuck together. A few good friends are far better than dozens of friendly acquaintances. Acquaintances will buy you a drink once in a while. Good friends will bail you out of jail. (Or bury the body of someone that messes with you.)
* Never let anyone tell you what you’re not capable of. You can do anything you want if you work hard enough. The world does not owe you a living, but it will not prevent you from being all you can be, either. There is nothing that can’t be overcome; but it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would have whatever they wanted. What you will obtain in your life is directly in relation with how hard you’re willing to work for it. Those aren’t my rules, that’s life.
And the thing is, you know that. Look at how well you’re doing in school (last time I heard). People may tease you about being a ditzy blonde, but we both know that there’s more going on with you inside, than others expect. Delight in proving people wrong when they underestimate you!
* Learn to rely on yourself. Learning how to be independent is the best gift you can give yourself. Learn how to cook, shop, pay bills, manage your money and balance a checkbook. Be smart with your first credit card.
I can’t stress that enough. So many young people set themselves up for a lifetime of money problems because they couldn’t keep from buying shit they don’t NEED, on credit, whether it’s pizza every night, or a big screen TV for their dorm. Credit cards are not magic money… you WILL have to pay the bill. This is something we can talk about sometime… I don’t want to waste your time and attention on the details right now because there’s still more to cover.
But the major issue with this point is that there is value in not having to depend on others. It’s great to have a safety net, but at some point, one needs to be responsible for one’s own life. No, at 16, you’re not going to be independent. But likewise, there’s no big switch that flips on once you turn 18. You need to acquire the knowledge as you go, so that by 18 (or whenever…) you’re ready. You can move into that dorm or first apartment and know how to function without getting yourself into trouble, financial or otherwise.
* Similarly, never expect to maintain the same standard of living that your parents have, when you’re just starting out. We grownups all started out with pretty much nothing, living in small apartments with 2nd hand furniture, eating Ramen noodles. It took us years to accumulate all the nice TVs, games and furniture that we have now. It will for you too. But also know that there’s nothing like looking around that first apartment and knowing that it is ALL YOURS.
* Lastly, let’s talk about that one subject that makes your Daddy twitch… boys.
I can see by your Facebook postings that you’re not new to having boyfriends. And that’s fine. But please, never let your self worth be dependent on having a boyfriend. (Or who your boyfriend is.) This is one area where I may seem hypocritical, given my earlier paragraphs about not appearing ‘better’ than other kids.
What I’m saying is that any boy out there is lucky to have YOU. You should have very high standards in this area. Speaking as an actual guy, I know about other guys. (This is why fathers freak out about their little girl’s boyfriends… they know what they used to be like at that age.)
Your guy should treat you kindly and with respect at all times. He shouldn’t make fun of you in front of others. He should pick up the tab. He should not phone-stalk you or make you check in with him whenever you’re not together. He should not be controlling or try to cut you off from your friends. He should never EVER call you derogatory names or heaven forbid, hit you. To me, that’s the One Strike Rule… He strikes you one time and he’s out. It doesn’t matter if he apologizes profusely afterwards and begs for forgiveness… they all do. If it is in a person to hit his girlfriend once, it’s in him to do it again. So if it happens once, GO. Or be prepared for a very painful future.
A guy should earn the right to be with you. He should be exactly what you want in a guy. You should be choosy… never “settle.” And be prepared at all times to be able to go it alone. You don’t NEED to even have a boyfriend. Sure they’re convenient for lifting things and killing spiders and stuff, but you still have your Daddy for that. (Sorry Rik.)
Now, I’m not saying that it’s all a one-way street. You need to treat your guy well too. No going schitzo-jealous if he talks to another girl. (Kissing her… that’s another story, and worth a clonk in the head with a frying pan.) Please try not to talk his ears off about chick stuff… that’s what your girlfriends are for. Guys like quiet, if not exactly at 16, then soon after. Try not to use him for all your heavy chores, without doing something in return. If he helps you paint your room, wash his car for him, or make him some cookies. (I’m not trying to be sexist… fill in whatever job you want… maybe you wash his car and HE makes the cookies.)
OK, that’s it for now… I’ve gone on long enough. Please take these words to heart. They’re as applicable now as they will be in the years to come. Know that this is all coming straight from my heart. You know your Uncle Bluz loves you and wants nothing for you but the best. You make me very, very proud.
Now, to the panel: Please tell me in Comments if you concur, or even better, if you have some other pieces of advice. It takes a village, after all…