“It’s funny; in this era of email and voice mail and all those things that even I did not grow up with, a plain old paper letter takes on amazing intimacy.” – Elizabeth Kostova
Years ago, on one of those crazy, busy mornings, and just before heading out the door, I checked my email and in popped this request:
Dear Donald: My son Nathaniel is turning 13 years of age. I cannot find a coming-of-age book that would offer him practical, solid, encouraging advice. There are no books available, while there are TONS of books for young girls. So I asked male colleagues to write letters to Nathaniel that offer some pearls of wisdom, anecdotes from their youth, the ‘if I’d only known’ or whatever they are inspired to write. The response is phenomenal with personal, beautiful, hilarious, poignant letters that I am compiling and will give him for his 13th birthday. Would you consider adding your voice?
Thank you so much for considering this.
I quickly printed the email and took it with me. I stopped at a coffee shop, sat drinking my coffee, and reread the email.
Nathaniel had just played me as a 12-year-old in a short film his mother created based on the first chapter of my memoir, Father’s Touch. It meant so much to me that young Nate took on the challenge of portraying an abused boy. The film was picked top 50 out of 1300 entries on (admittedly ironic now) Kevin Spacey’s Triggerstreet web site and was chosen for their festival.
Writing Nate a letter would be a gift, not only a way of expressing personal thanks, but I imagined this as an opportunity to write a letter to both Nate and a younger version of myself. What would I want both of us to know from my perspective as a happy male adult?
I asked the waitress if I could have a napkin and borrow a pen.
The older I get the more I realize I know nothing. Okay, I know something but compared to what there is to know, well you can imagine…
I write that at the age of forty-two.
When I was thirteen, I’d listen, take in, ask questions but I believed what I was told. I recommend you do the former but believe? I wish I had the resources you have. You can Google anything and find out an approximate truth. Advantage, you!
And you have other advantages.
You know that your body, soul, and mind are yours. If you don’t – I’m giving you the 411! You are not just a kid who’s arrived at the doors of teenagedom; you’re a person with thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams – all of which are invisible but very real, very important, and yours alone. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.
Respect for others never means disrespecting yourself.
Funny thing is: it’s easier to respect others if you respect yourself. Easier to understand others if you understand yourself.
Awareness of self translates into understanding your place in the world around you.
So enjoy, play, study, volunteer, work hard but never, ever discount your moments alone.
Being there means being here.
Oh, and remember, I know nothing, so don’t listen to me.
Louise responded, “FABULOUS! It made me teary. It offers great, lovely, important advice in the most joyous/fun tone.”
Yet in all these years I never had the opportunity to ask Nate how he felt about my letter, until now.
Nate, now happily married and thirty years of age [see feature phoeo], recalls a great experience:
I was very emotional when I read your letter. It was soon after acting in and then watching the short film. It was amazing too. The story itself was intense and even though I was young, it was impactful. Both have stayed with me. So thankful I had the experience and these wonderful memories.
If you were asked to write a coming of age letter, what would you say? Why wait for a request? Consider writing one to your younger self. It just might be the most important gift you could give to and/or yourself.
Photos courtesy of Nathaniel Wise
Feature Photo: Nate At 30 with his wife, Jill: “Another day, another mountain. I love our life together.”