A while back I received a selection of letters written by high school students as a response to their reading of Letters to My Son. I thought you all might find them interesting and valuable. They are followed by the response I wrote to them as a group.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
As part of a creative writing class, I have had the opportunity to read some of the selections from your book, “Letters to my Son.” My instructor, Tim Herbst, has asked me to forward a piece or writing in response to what I read.
I think the selection I read from was extraordinary. I read it and took in a lot. I read the section about bad things happening in life. I even talked about it at the dinner table that night. I took in a lot and it gave me a new way of looking at the way you can make the best of a bad situation occurring in your life. For the course, I was recently asked to write a letter to a parent, which is similar to the ones you wrote to your son.
Mom and Dad,
I am asked to teach you guys a little something about how to be more laid back in your parenting. I really think you two are way to strict with me. It obviously doesn’t teach me anything. I don’t have the guts to stand up and say it, but I suppose I will do it now.
I really think the way you guys discipline me is really wrong. I think its too harsh, and it doesn’t make any sense. I can see Dad, that maybe this is the way you were brought up, to have the utmost respect for your parents, and that discipline was really hard in your time, but this isn’t the way things work now. I don’t want to be brought up the way you were.
Just because things were that way, back then, doesn’t mean this is what I have to live with right now. I am old enough to start making my own decisions. I don’t need you guys watching me and spying on me and crossing my boundaries every second of the day. It’s wrong and everyone I talk to about it says the same thing as me. I don’t want your life. There are many ways you can do better of this subject. You can let me have more opportunities to have a life.
Let me see the world beyond the inside of the house. I want to get old, and have something good to dwell on, although its too late now. You don’t have to be so tough on me. If you aren’t, I would probably work better with you. I would be able to handle you better and get along with you more.
I also don’t appreciate you doing room searches on me. I would respect you more if you respect me, and ruining my privacy isn’t doing that.
Just as long as we’re on the subject, I wanted to tell you that I can’t wait until I am eighteen to get out of your life, and the way you want it to be. Because I don’t want to be who you are now, or once were. Thank you for your time, or what you have left of it for me.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I thought the letters were well written, in the simplest of forms and easy to understand. You tackled some tougher issues in society, and you did it with grace and poetic style. The letters were true to life, as well, hitting on some otherwise missed opportunities in life.
I was asked by my teacher to write a letter to my parents, much like you wrote letters to your son. The letter follows. I thank you for taking the time to read this.
I am but a child and I feel silly giving advice to you of all people, for it seems you should be giving it to me. Maybe you have forgotten some things concerning life. Maybe you need to be reminded of the simple things which I feel I am awakened to in my teenage years. I am being awakened to the world and marvel in all that I notice and see.
I want to tell you to not to be wrapped up in the business of the world. For I know that it is a hectic ball of threads winding through each other and around, especially for you. I know that no one has the time anymore to smell the flowers and if you do you’ll be trampled down by others. I know that we get up so early that it certainly isn’t ‘bright and early.’ I also know you need to stop and smell the flowers, and sleep in once in awhile so it is bright out. You need to enjoy the pleasures of dwelling in someone else’s life through written stories. You need to stare up at the stars and know how insignificant you are and how significant you are at the same time. You need to feel like rippling waves upon an ocean when music taps upon your ear drum.
These are the native sides of our lives and we need them just as much as we need food and water. Often they can be confused with other joys of life which certainly are, but are not quite the same (joys such as shopping, watching your favorite television show, watching cheesy movies, and and chowing down a bowl of chocolate-chip cookie dough ice cream). These are joys that are but do not give us that same sense of fullness.
Our society has become a raging river which pulses forward faster and faster with every second. Soon we will be an ocean, consuming a once dry land. Your life is wound up in work, daycare, laundry, cleaning, fixing, driving, and stress. Sometimes no matter how blessed and rich we are in this great country we are not as in tune with ourselves and our lives as someone with not one penny who lives simply in Africa. We need to continue to use our sense of wonder, which, as Einstien said, “is my sense of God.” I know you go to church and think and ponder on the sermons. And they do count, but there is more to be enjoyed in life. More to ponder, more to stare at, and more to be moved by.
I wish you would not forget the flowers. And sometimes I know it is very hard to remember and even more to make a detour, but I also know that it is worth it and you feel more revived afterwards.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I thought your writing was really good. I thought there were lots of good insights and I found it enjoyable to read. I pointed out new ways of looking at things which I hadn’t thought of before. It was basically telling me things I thought I already knew, but it presented all of these in a totally new way, which made so much sense to me.
As part of this assignment, I was asked to write a letter to one of my parents which would follow a similar outline to the letters you wrote in your book.
It would be the same idea as your book, only in reverse. Here is a copy of my letter.
Essay to my Parents: Time
We are all busy. That is no secret. We are the modern, twenty-first century family which means we all have a lot of things to do and most of the time it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. I barely get to see you guys anymore, and when I do get to spend time with you we are both so tired from running around that we just want to sit there and not talk.
Some people claim high school is one of the easiest and most fun times of your life, and you will always remember how much fun you had. I agree with them, mostly. I disagree when they say high school is so easy. High school has changed a lot since you spent time in one. Most high school students wake up and then have to go to school for seven hours a day. After that, some have to go to work, while others have sports’ practices or art activities such as drama or band practice. Add to that having to do homework and most of us enjoy going out and being with friends and most high schoolers I know are busier than their parental counter-parts. I mean, when was the last time you had a fifteen hour day for three days in a row?
I have some friends who demonstrate my point perfectly. One of my friends is really smart and works really hard in school. She is also on the diving team and doesn’t get home from school until seven o’clock. After that she has four classes of homework that she has to do. She told me each class takes her about an hour to finish. When all is said and done, most days she has things to do for seventeen hours.
This isn’t meant to be disrespectful to parents. I realize that you work very hard and, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. But parents have to realize that most teenagers have schedules so packed with stuff to do, they barely have time to do anything we would do for fun. Most students usually enjoy doing what we do, but sometimes it just becomes too much and we need to take a break from things. If sometimes, I come home and appear angry or if I seem frustrated, it is probably just the fact that I’ve have had a long day and I want to just relax. If you keep asking me what is wrong, that will only frustrate me even more, especially if all I want is to be left alone for a while. That isn’t to say all I want to do when I get home is be by myself, but it’s nice to have some down time when I can just talk to my friends, watch T.V., or listen to music. You can be assured I will finish my homework, do chores, and finish whatever I need to do, but it’s always nice to have a break, and I’m sure you, of all people, realize that.
We all have things to do, and most days are good days, but if there is one thing I can tell you, it is to relax. I will finish my homework and do all the things required of me. Remember though, everyone needs some time to just have fun. You may think what I do is really easy, and maybe it was for you, but it takes a lot of energy for me when I work hard, so try to give me a hand.
Thank you very much for your time.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I thought that your book was very well done. It analyzed and answered all of the questions any rational being would have about life. Although I never got around to reading the whole book, from what I read (about half the book), I did learn some important lessons that I had never thought about before.
I have been asked to write (and have written) a letter of advice to my parents, not unlike the ones to your son. Here is what I wrote to my PU’s (Parental Units):
Some advice about Parenting
Dear Mom and Dad,
All right, you know that I know absolutely nothing about parenting, except it’s probably pretty stressful and expensive, but also rewarding. Since you’ve put up with me and my shenanigans for so long, I’ve decided to recognize your great work by preaching to you about parenting. Okay, so I don’t know everything about parenting, but I will offer you some advice from the eyes of a child. All this advice is only based on what I have observed you guys doing.
First, always be patient, and keep a cool head. Whether this may be if your young four-year-old flushes your Space Quest One game down the toilet, or accidentally forgets his racing spikes at home before a big race, keep a cool head! We all make mistakes, and we know what we did wrong. Getting real angry at us won’t really do any good, unless we’re too dense and don’t realize what we did. Also, when we’re late to get to the car for school, let us take care of ourselves (unless you’re driving). We can take the consequences at school if we are late.
However, don’t take this to mean that you shouldn’t discipline your children. We need discipline. If we weren’t disciplined, we wouldn’t become very rational human beings. We wouldn’t know what the difference would be between right and wrong, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. We wouldn’t become very successful human beings, either, since it would take a long time for us to figure out we wouldn’t always get what we wanted.
Which brings me to my next topic. I’m really glad that you didn’t spoil us; well, not too much, at least. Yeah, you both have been there for me when I’ve needed you, you’ve given me a good, comfortable life, but you never gave in to all my demands, like sleep-overs. Although I have resented that a little, I’ve learned that you don’t always get what you want, which is important, because the people that do think that are usually weiners.
Another important aspect of parenting is love, acceptance, and encouragement. This is something that you both have done very well. You’ve always given plenty of love to me, Paul, and Stephen, and we’ve all been very grateful for it. Do not for one moment think that you’ve been unsuccessful parents; you’ve given us the most important thing in the universe. Also, you’ve taught me to believe in myself, and that has allowed me to do things I would have found very difficult without your encouragement. Who would have thought that I would have been getting an A in my Euro class? Who would have thought that I would have broken 18:00 for a 5k race this year? I did! And you helped me believe that!
So, that’s what I’ve learned about parenting. I can’t thank you enough for your help and guidance, mom and dad.
Thank you for your time,
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I thought your book was very well written and clear and precise on its advise. The two sections I especially enjoyed were war, because it didn’t take any sides or didn’t tell you any definite solution just the logic between the sides and to consequences of those. The other was the Blue Moment, It was inspiring and a great story with a lesson vital to happiness in life. It was amazing how such a abstract idea could be so simple when given a name.
For class we were assigned to write a letter to our parents similar to the writings in your book. Our instructor has asked us to email you our letter to our parents
Your Girlfriend is fun but so is the Renaissance Festival. Thanksgiving in Bemidji is neat but, chilling with my friends at home is too. Going to our Cabin is cool too but, so is telling me ahead of time so I can get off work.
Basically what I’m trying to say is you do your best to show us a good time but, you never ask us what we were maybe thinking of doing, or let us show you a good time.
When was the last time you asked me where I wanted to go over a holiday, or for vacation. When was the last time I got to have a say in what’s going down on the weekend. I can’t say this is true all the time, though.
I sometimes disagree with you, so listen and I’ll tell you my concerns.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I find that each passage I read in the book holds true on every level it was meant to. Your perspective on life is one I feel I could adopt after some more reading. In class we were assigned various chapters during he class period. I am near done with the whole book. Your chapters have shed a new light on my world. It it a light that I have always known was there, and your book has revealed it to me.
As an assignment in class we were asked to write a letter to our parents in the same essay format that is used in your book. I want to give you a copy of this essay.
We fight a lot. About really silly things sometimes. But that doesn’t change the way we feel. I know I could be better, more organized, nicer. The other day we were arguing about my room (of all things) and you told me that you don’t want me living like a pig. We got so angry at each other over such a stupid thing. Then you’ll say,” if it’s so stupid, then why don’t you just do it?” I know I’m stubborn, and I don’t think I got it from you. There are so many things about me which I owe to you. And aside from that, the simple fact that you’re my Mom is enough for me to unconditionally do any and all you set before me. But there are so many things which have been set before me which I am sometimes overwhelmed.
You need to know I am not always doing what I think is best. Sometimes I take advantage of the fact that I know you won’t get that mad, so I bend the rules. This is my opportunity to set the record straight.
I have been growing lately. Growing into a man. I know I’m far from it, but I’m beginning to realize more about myself. These new revelations about abilities and restrictions have allowed me to pave a relatively clear path into my future. But there are a few things I want to tell you about. The plans I have made for the future are still sketchy. I think I need you now more than ever. I feel like I will soon be asking you for advice about things I have never cared about in the past. I am afraid of things that will come in the future, but I am convinced that I can handle it. I just don’t know what to do right now. We’ve got our differences.
I think that I need to spend more time understanding the point of view that you guys hold towards things. So, in time, I too will want my room cleaned as badly as you do. I love my parents, and I know they love me.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I truthfully believe that your book can help out a lot of lost souls that don’t know some of the easy and not so easy steps of life. I read the “Spiritual Journey” section, and it really explained what I believed. It gives teenagers, as well as younger children, an open opinion that is neither strict, nor boring. I thank you dearly for writing your opinions and experiences in life for all to read, because your words can truly help people.
Our teacher has assigned us to write a letter to our parents and give them advice on parenting. I chose the topic of motivation. Several students have read it and gave me good ratings, and I hope you can give me some helpful criticism as well. I have attached a copy of the letter to this e-mail.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Motivation is a big issue in a teenager’s life. You may not know it, but we really do listen to you. A lot of times, parents will say something that seems innocent, but haunts the teenager’s life throughout their years. Something as simple as, “Stop acting stupid” can be totally flipped around. In a teenagers mind, this may flip to “I am stupid” then to “Stupid people are worthless”, and then to “If I am stupid then why do anything?” and finally to “I am worthless and meaningless in my parent’s eyes.” I know this may be hard to comprehend because you hate looking through the eyes of a person that lived in a total different time, with total different issues.
At this point in our life, many issues in life are agitating. School is stressful, pressure is bothersome, and hormones are crazy. It’s heaven for those who have parents that are easy going and understanding, but imagine the burden of parents mixed in with all the other stresses that we have already. Although you may think that we hate you, we don’t! All we are trying to do is get through our life without ruining yours and at the same time try to please you at least a bit. In your teenage years, you might have been saying “Thanks Dad, this is the greatest bike ever!” So you go out and buy us, your sweetest child, a brand new bike, and we say “Thanks… gatta go…” This could make any adult furious and then you may question how we got so spoiled. But you have to realize, we live with what we are presented in life and as money gradually loses value, so does the value of personal belongings. Having a car at the age of sixteen, in your opinion, is crazy! So you yell and refuse to buy one for us. Commonly, we will get frustrated and explain to you that everyone has one. The fact is, having a car or any other such material good, in this day in age, is like owning toothpaste. I know that may sound a bit exaggerated, and in fact, it is, but all I am trying to do, is get the point across.
You might be wondering why I journeyed onto the topic of being spoiled, when were talking about motivation. The main connection is, that understanding our world better will help you, likewise, to relate to us better. When you relate to us better, you can see the world through our eyes just a little bit better, and that already loosens some stress on our part.
As for motivation, understanding us better will help you choose your words and comments wiser. Meanwhile, we will try our best to understand you. How does that sound? We do love you after all.
Dear Mr. Nerburn,
I have not read your entire book yet, but I plan to. I found it to be very moving, informative, and honest. I learned a lot from your book, and it really made me think. I feel that it could spark many necessary conversations between children and their parents. I would like to hear many of my parents views, opinions, and stories about many of the topics you chose to write about in your book.
My assignment was to write an essay to my parents about anything I want to tell them.
For my parents
There are certain roles in my life that a parent needs to fill. They should always be supportive, understanding, fair, and caring. There are also certain things that they should provide, such as their help, advice, opinion, and protection. I feel that both of you have gone above and beyond these so called “guidelines” of mine to raise me. I have always been unique, and sometimes needed a little more attention, help, or answers than some others.
It is very meaningful and heartening for me to look back on the 16 years I have lived so far, and realize how there for me you guys have been through some of my struggles. I know that you put in more time than you could for me when I got very sick. I also know that you still do, taking me to more doctors appointments than most people need, helping me remember things I wouldn’t remember otherwise, such as pills and vitamins, and what I need to eat. You also put up with my complaining and fulfill my needs every time I get sick.
Beyond that, you guys give me respect. Instead of questioning me, or making me fend for myself when I informed you guys that I was going vegan, you supported me and took me to nutritionists, and co-ops, and helped me read up on how to stay healthy. When everyone said that someone with as many health problems as me should not go vegan, you guys realized how passionate I was about it, and helped me stay healthy. When everyone said the same thing about my health, and playing rugby, you guys let me give it a try.
This I know is because you have faith in me, and that is something that I feel is more valuable than anything else. When a child knows their parents actually do have faith and trust in them, it seems they tend to be more trustworthy. The way you both have never lectured me or told me what to do or who to be plays a large role in why I have really never had any desire to rebel. I want you to always be able to trust me as much as I know you always want to be able to trust me.
A teacher of mine asked the class the question “How is your home life?” the other day. We were all sitting in a large round group, discussing our home life, and when it came my turn to answer, it felt great to hear myself say, “I love my home life. I love everything about it, and I love being around my family.” My home life is obviously in part up to you guys, and you have always made me feel comfortable, happy, safe, and accepted.
I thank you for being yourselves, because by doing so you taught me to always be myself. I respect and love the way you both have always shared your opinions and multiple perspectives with me. I have learned the most in my life from your answers to my questions.
Dear Tomer —
I’m addressing this through you to all the students who used Letters to My Son as the basis for writing to your parents. I’m counting on you to pass this message around.
I’m fascinated by your assignment, and the heart with which most of you responded. It ‘s tough to speak from the heart, especially to parents. I know — I am one, and I can see my son struggling to find his own place and his own voice in the world that my wife and I have for so long controlled. I hope he will have the courage to speak to me from his heart as he moves into his high school years.
Just a few thoughts. There is a cry of anguish in so many of your letters. It’s as if you are saying, “Listen to me, notice me.” And, in many ways, you are. Your parents need to hear this, even if it is hard for them. But be sure that you don’t write from anger when you mean to write from love. Anger is just the firstborn child of sadness and betrayal. If those of you who are angry look behind that anger, you will see that it is betrayal that is at the heart of your dissatisfaction. What you must ask yourself is why you feel betrayed. What was it you expected that you are not receiving? And, once you figure that out, how can you ask for it in a way that will not put your parents on the defensive and make you feel like a fool for reaching out?
Tough questions, tough issues. But growing up is tough.
One thing to keep in mind when writing something like the assignment you just did: try to find the theme of the letter you are writing, and keep that theme always in mind. If it is “time,” for example, let that be your touchstone, and come back to that touchstone as you write, so you don’t end up going off on a diatribe or litany of complaints. All writing is, at heart, about finding your voice and having clear intention. Most of you seem to be finding your voice, which will serve you well in all forms of expression. Now, begin looking for the “spine” of whatever you write. Think of it this way — a body can do whatever it wants in terms of movement and gesture, but to do so it must have a spine. Likewise, whatever you write must have a thematic spine in order that you can be free to move around with intellectual agility and grace.
Keep up the good work, and keep telling the truth with kindness and honesty about life as you see it. Your time is coming. Learn now to do no harm to each other — to never treat each other with cruelty, whether verbal, emotional, or physical. It’s a lesson well worth learning.
I hope one of you will write to me and tell me where your school is, who your teacher is, and what grade you are all in. Right now, all I know is that you come from yahoo. com. That’s a big planet.
All my best,