I hate school.
I hope you won’t but I fear you will.
Let me be clear. I don’t fear you will fail at school. You are INSANELY smart and I suspect you will soar at school. My fear is that school will fail you, that it will turn your attention from satisfying and stirring curiosity to simple and attainable achievement—that a fire you carry will dim in order that the oxygen it would have taken to be stoked from a flame to an inferno will be otherwise deployed to satisfy the wishes of others.
It’s hard to stay away from that.
You’ll spend lots of energy pursuing that which you may be unsure of to pursue the expectations you are handed. A little of that is okay, good even. But only enough to learn that you aren’t here alone and you are accountable to others. Beyond that my only wish is that you find that which excites you and you pursue it without fear, embracing the failures that come from trying new things. Staying true to yourself will make most failures tolerable and some downright necessary. Just remember that failures are not endpoints. They are merely spots on the journey.
School made me horribly self-critical.
I don’t know why but it did. As you prepare to head out for your first day you are so much more prepared than I was. Still I find myself regressing. I sat with your mother last night and it all came out. I’m horrified and angry that you are heading to school. I had a miserable first few years at school and as a result I learned how to be liked regardless of whether or not I was remaining true to myself. I lacked confidence and swam in conformity. As much as I could.
My heart and mind were free, but under wraps. All that time and energy spent hiding me made me wonder if I was worth anything.
If anyone ever laughs at you or says something critical about who you are ignore them. Seriously. Hold on to your kind heart, smart head, unique tastes and your loving and weird family.
If you do you’ll see these clowns for who they are. Okay, there was a tad more anger in this sentiment than intended. Truth is most of them are scared and excited and wanting to hide in a corner unnoticed while also wishing to have all the attention possible. Growing up is confusing sometimes. The only power anyone has over your opinion of yourself is the power you grant them. Don’t give it. Hold firm.
You are weird and wonderful and unique and perfectly flawed and loved. Find the people that are engaged in the things you want to be doing, regardless of what anyone else thinks about them, and sit with them. If it takes weeks or months or years, I don’t care. Stay where you want to be, don’t go where you’re ‘supposed’ to be.
I love you so much and for one of the few times since meeting you I’m shaken. It caught me off guard. I’ve been spouting the “I hate school” gospel for over 35 years now. But I didn’t realize how much I feared it until I was seeing it through your eyes, seeing it from a perspective of a protective dad.
Seeing it as someone who is certain that school worked in reverse, at least for me. It killed enthusiasm, stoked self-consciousness, raised fear and followed through on it. I know this won’t happen to you, so why am I now thinking thoughts I haven’t thought since I was your age. Feeling scared that kids might make fun of your stuff. Hoping to god you aren’t picked on. Feeling a visceral concern that you have the wrong hair or wrong shirt or wrong glue sticks and you’ll react like I did.
This is your journey and I have to check out of it. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but this part of me, I have to protect you from it. Maybe when you are older we can talk about it. When we are two adults. Not now.
You really are going to do amazing things. You’re going to LOVE school! YOU are going to make friends today that will be your friends for the next 13 years and probably for the rest of your life.
YOUR LIFE. I’m sorry if I forget that at times.
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This essay originally appeared on Developing Dad.