Raising a good man certainly has its challenges — especially with societal pressures and stigmas that weigh our little boys down. Life can be rough, and so we want to prepare our kids for being out on their own. (As much as we really want to put a protective force field around them at all times.)
It’s something that I think about quite often, as I’m sure all parents do. What lessons do we hope to teach? What values do we stand for? What do they need to know before venturing into the real world?
While the list feels endless, here are 25 basic lessons for my son before he turns 18 years old (and beyond):
Lessons to Teach My Son Before Manhood 1 of 26
In an effort to raise a good man, here are some basic life lessons I hope he learns before venturing out on his own.
Lead with the truth. 2 of 26
If you lead with the truth, you'll never have to back-peddle and get caught up in little lies. Being honest and trust-worthy are strong character traits of a respected man. They'll be invaluable in every relationship in your life — whether it's a romantic, professional, or friendly relationship.
That being said, be careful not to disregard someone's feelings in the name of being honest. Lead with the truth, but recognize when your honesty could be unproductive and hurtful. While there are certainly absolute truths in this world, remember that sometimes your truth (your opinions and preferences) isn't the same for everyone. Be honest about that, as well.
The importance of taking responsibility. 3 of 26
You'll gradually have more responsibility as you get older, whether you agree to it or not. Some responsibility is more tangible than others — meaning you'll be responsible for cleaning your dishes and paying your bills, but also for maintaining friendships and taking care of our environment.
Responsibility isn't a punishment, it's a reminder that you have tremendous influence and control in life. So don't begrudgingly accept responsibility with an exasperated sigh; recognize the power behind it. Your choices and your actions matter, so don't take your responsibilities lightly.
Always be kind. 4 of 26
This is one lesson I can't stress enough: Always be kind. Be kind to people, animals, nature, and to yourself. It's not only better for others, but also for yourself.
Be able to make yourself a meal (and other basic skills). 5 of 26
By the time you leave this house, you should be able to manage money, correctly clean your clothes, change a tire, follow a recipe, and create a balanced meal. My goal as a parent is to know that you're prepared for more than just standardized tests and trivia nights. The goal is self-sufficiency.
Offer your seat. 6 of 26
Helping others — whether it's an elderly woman on the train, a younger kid struggling with math, or a struggling man playing his guitar on the street corner — is invaluable.
Hold open the door when you're leaving a store. Pull out her chair. Offer your time, offer your skills, and offer your seat. It's these small acts of chivalry and generosity that speak volumes about your character.
It’s not what you think or feel, it’s what you DO that’s important. 7 of 26
While your thoughts and feelings are certainly valuable, it's your actions that ultimately matter — what you say, do, and contribute to the world.
When someone says "no," especially about their bodies, you LISTEN. 8 of 26
And expect the same in return. Never let someone put their hands on you or violate your space in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable. "NO" is not a bad word; it's an important word to say and to hear.
Mistakes are important. Failure is necessary. 9 of 26
So many of us are programmed for perfection — in getting the best grades, being the best on the team, and always succeeding. But our mistakes and failures teach us lessons that we sometimes need to live in order to learn.
I hope that you fail from time to time. I hope that you struggle a little in the beginning. And then I hope that you pick yourself right back up and learn from your mistakes with the kind of self-awareness that only grows from failure. Why? Because no one lived an easy-breezy life and ended up an interesting person.
Think for yourself. Do what you know is right. 10 of 26
I trust in you enough to know that you're fully capable of thinking for yourself — beyond what your friends, your role models, and the surrounding culture is telling you. Never quiet your inner voice. Do what you know is right, even when it isn't the popular opinion. I know it can be scary, but it makes all the difference.
Smell good. Clean yourself. 11 of 26
Soap! Deodorant! Toothpaste! Hygiene and cleanliness are so important. No one wants to hang around with a smelly dude.
You’re not defined by gender roles or cultural expectations. 12 of 26
Here's something they won't teach you in school: Society likes to put people in neat little boxes. It makes things easier — simpler — when, in reality, life doesn't have such clear boundaries. Don't fall for the hype.
You know who you are and what you like; you always have. Don't let anyone — not a friend, not a teacher, not a societal stereotype — tell you who you are and what you can be. You are not defined by situations, statistics, or cultural expectations.
You’re in charge of your own happiness. Don’t wait around for it to arrive. 13 of 26
This is a lesson that some people never learn, and yet it can make all of the difference. You are in control of your own happiness, my love. Happiness is a choice — a choice to be positive, to look for the good, and to make the best of your current situation. Happiness isn't an end result, nor is it the right friends, the right girl, or the right job. You can always find a reason to be unhappy and want more — always. Practice cultivating happiness.
Live in the present. Be in the moment. 14 of 26
And here's one of the biggest keys to creating your own happiness. Regret and guilt live in the past; anxiety and stress live in the future. And happiness? Happiness, contentment, and life lives in the present. As often as you can, recognize the present moment and embrace what's happening right NOW — not what could have happened in the past or what might happen in the future. All you have at any given moment is right now.
The more you do anything, the better you’ll get. Good AND bad. 15 of 26
A bad habit is just as easy to create as a good habit. Remember: The more you do anything, the easier it'll get and the better you'll get doing it.
Finish what you start. Make a commitment and stick to your word. 16 of 26
Be a man of your word.
You are part of a bigger whole. Respect that. 17 of 26
Understand your connectedness to people, nature, and the cosmos. Know that you are one part of a greater whole with a bigger purpose in this giant organic ecosystem.
Be careful with whom you surround yourself. They’re a reflection of who you are. 18 of 26
This is something that doesn't end with high school. Friendships will continue to change and evolve as you get older, and it gets increasingly important to surround yourself with people you admire and respect. Surround yourself with the kinds of people you want to be like. As much as your dad and I can instill core values and lessons, friends are highly influential. Be aware of how they're influencing you.
Root for others. 19 of 26
Don't be that guy who obsessively needs to win and believes in a finite amount of success in the world. There's enough to go around — and the best way to get to the top is by accepting and offering help. Reach out your hand to someone underneath you, because you never know when you'll need their hand to give you a boost. Root for others and they'll root for you.
Find reasons to be grateful. 20 of 26
Here's another key component of cultivating your own happiness. Even in what seems like the worst situation, you can find reasons to be grateful — down to the air you're breathing. Regularly find reasons to be grateful and to smile. You'll be a healthier person because of it.
There isn’t a path or formula to follow. 21 of 26
Here's another myth perpetuated by the general public: There isn't a set formula for a successful and happy life. What works for someone else might not work for you, and there isn't an obstacle that you can't find a way around or over or under. Sometimes the most beautiful and important life turns start out as unexpected obstacles. So while it's certainly important to plan and dream, it's also important to be flexible and resilient.
The secret to getting the girl (or boy): Confidence. 22 of 26
Confidence is the great secret of life, my boy. (And being funny doesn't hurt, either). One of my favorite life quotes comes from Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Take risks. Bet on yourself. 23 of 26
I'll never be one of those parents who insists that you simply find a "good paying job" to get by. I never want you to settle — especially not at such a young age. Your college years should be about exploration, not settling in for a mundane and monotonous existence. Find your passion and have the guts to see it through. Take calculated risks. Bet on yourself or no one else will.
Be silly. Be vulnerable. Be open. 24 of 26
There's nothing scarier than being vulnerable — especially for a man weighed down by cultural stigmas — but it's the only way to really experience life. As scary as it is, open yourself up to hurt, failure, and uncertainty because you'll do so with courage and bravery. It's the only way to fully and openly love, or to take big risks, or to engage your humanity. It's the only way to live.
You’re a "Good Guy." 25 of 26
Even if you do bad things from time to time, you're still a good person. I know your heart and your spirit — I've known it from before you can remember. You have goodness inside of you, so don't ever forget which team you're playing on.
No matter what you do or say, you’ll always have my love. 26 of 26
That's one thing that you'll never have to question.