Jackson,

You’ve come a long way since you were a crying, vomiting premature baby.  If your growth continues on its recent trajectory, you will be at least 8 feet tall and weigh 500 pounds, at which point I will no longer be able to pick you up.  Before that happens, I guess I should teach you how to be a Man. I don’t have much to give you in that regard, only one simple rule that will guide you on whatever path you take: however large you get, never grow up.  Oh, eventually you’ll have to potty train and go to school and get a job and find a wife and have your own kids—don’t worry, it happens to almost everyone—but don’t lose what you are right now. Remain the boy who finds comfort in my arms on a rough night.  Keep needing your mama even when you can get your own snacks. Always be little to your big sister. Remember that we loved you at your weakest.

The world you were born into is a special kind of crazy right now, and I don’t just mean our family.  Every day brings a new crisis, a new danger, a outrage—with so many people packed into so small a world, how could it not?  You might find yourself in the middle of one, witness or party to a scandal, but don’t think you can avoid it by staying in your room.  Wherever you are, you will be asked to take a side, to pick up a pen (metaphorically, of course) and do battle for this cause or that, defend this indefensible person or that, march on this or that corrupt institution, all of which you can do without leaving the house.  Because you will live so much of your life online, you will always be close to your antagonists. You might be tempted to assume, in such circumstances, that you should gird yourself with strength to withstand attacks and fight injustice, avoid pitfalls and solve crises, but you’d be wrong.  All you really need is humility.

Acknowledge your weakness and listen to your enemies.  You might, after all, be wrong. You might have something to learn.  It will help you forestall a thousand arguments and avoid being either outraged or outrageous.  It will not make you, I admit, popular or famous, but quiet respect is worth far more anyways. If you have, by the grace of who you are or where you came from or what you’ve done, any privilege or power over anyone, do not wield it to your advantage but use it only to serve those within your care.  Many men have fallen into disgrace because they thought they deserved what they had, in fact, been given and even more besides. Those are the men you read about. Neither become one of those men nor judge them with a harshness that denies you ever could. With humility, whether reading or writing or speaking, treat everyone as better than yourself.

Now might be a good time to tell you that everything you do is being recorded.  Your mother and I started it early, and there are already thousands of pictures and videos of you online, some of them naked.  It’s your fault, really, for being so cute. You’ll do it, too, as soon as you figure out how. You’ll take selfies and make cute youtube videos and, even if no one other than us ever watch them, they will be saved somewhere forever, right next to every site you’ve ever visited and link you’ve ever clicked and video you’ve ever watched.  That’s the price we pay for being able to share your photos with the grandparents so they can like them. Sometimes I worry that we are teaching you to perform, to smile and do cute things and pose for the camera, and then to repeat it if we didn’t get the shot. It comes from a good place, I swear, but please don’t get the impression that we expect you to always be photogenic and do memorable things and that we only care about the times we record.  The more time you spend online the worse it will get, the more it will seem like there is an expectation to always be the funniest or prettiest or best you can be, and by the time you get there the mindset will probably have fully migrated offline as well. You might think, in this environment, that you need to put on a good face, to act like you know what you are doing, to project strength, lest you leave yourself vulnerable to comparison and derision and humiliation, but you’d be wrong.  All you really need is humility.

Comparison only hurts when you are trying to be better than others.  The best standard is the one you know you can’t meet. Set yourself on a higher good and you will be guarded against the stressful contest we’ve made of life.  When you can laugh at yourself, take joy in the success of others, and show mercy to those who fail, as you will, changing your mind but never your purpose, then nothing anyone says or writes or does or achieves will be any threat to you.  Of course, that’s hard. If you open up yourself then you’ll take some hits that hurt, barbs that sting, words that stick longer than they should. You may face disappointment, feeling at times as though you are shouting to the wind or lost forever among the shadows, poor and alone and weak, and you may be, but that is how you will know you are changing course, heading for a greater wealth with a greater community in a greater place than this.  

And your mother and I, if you ever need a reminder, will always be here too.  Remember, we loved you when you were weakest.

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