Jacob, you are almost 4 years old with an intense interest in dinosaurs, telling Mom and me about the finer qualities of masiakasaurus and prancing around the house like a velociraptor. Lucas, you are just 1 month old and captivated by ceiling fans. I’ve come to believe that our lives are a series of hellos and goodbyes to people, places, and circumstances. The greatest joy in my life has been saying “hello” to you two. My love for you is immense.
Fatherly vulnerability. I worry about my own longevity, and my opportunities to impart some wisdom to my boys. I worry that even if I do that it will fall short. I hope that’s all for naught. I hope that you read this someday, at the right time in your lives for it to be even mildly helpful. I hope it touches you when you inevitably come to question who you love, what you love and why you exist.
Being a photojournalist was one of the biggest influences on my worldview. Every day, my colleagues and I were sent out into the world with cameras in search of beauty, as witnesses to history, to seek and report the truth – not for ourselves but for the public good, believing to our core that what we did could inspire a more informed and compassionate citizenry. As journalists, we experience communities in ways our fellow citizens never will. Yes, I photographed presidents and sports stars, historic political movements and grand achievements. But more meaningfully, I gained a working knowledge of civics, was exposed to cultures beyond my own, and helped chronicle people’s struggles, perseverance, triumphs and tragedies, too. This all changed me for the better.
While I do not necessarily want you to follow in my footsteps, I do want you to follow me in an awareness of the human condition. Our world is full of opportunities to help others in need – in need of justice, safety, dignity, compassion, stability, education, nourishment, healing, shelter. The world needs more love. The reason you exist is to give to others the love that God, Mom and I have unconditionally given to you. I often look into your eyes with amazement and wonder: What interests, passions and skills will this little human I helped create develop to serve others? Who will you become?
Never underestimate the power of people to come together in common values to accomplish great things. Groups owe their strength to their diversity – not just of the individuals, but of their varying contributions and skills. Contribute your best and appreciate the best of others.
In some facet of your life, choose to lead. Something big or something small, do so out of a sense of duty and service to others. Too many people take positions of leadership to exploit others for self-serving motives. True leadership is using the power within you for a good cause.
Question those who proclaim the truth. Blind acceptance is not merely lazy or irresponsible, it can be dangerous. There’s a journalism quip that goes: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” My mother never found that too funny. But investigate. Dig deeper. Challenge your own assumptions and those of others. Always ask, “Why?”
Imagine what is possible. Imagine what is out there. The greatest discoveries are made by those who wonder and wander.
School is never out. There is always something new to learn.
Always act with integrity and ethics. You will be tested in your life more than you think, and the solutions to the conundrums you’ll face are rarely clear-cut. Doing what is right does not insulate you from feelings of regret, or make that cursed rearview mirror in our lives vanish. But at the end of the day, you can live with yourself, others can depend on you, and you can answer to your creator. We all fall short from time to time. Atone, ask for forgiveness, and move on.
I will always worry about your safety and well-being. Bad things do happen to good people, whether by chance, negligence, or malice. Please be as careful and thoughtful as possible in your actions. Be kind and minister to others who experience harm.
Do not confuse that, however, with me worrying about your comfort. I know that I grew the most as a man, husband, father, journalist and leader when I was pushed outside of my “comfort zone” – physically, spiritually, emotionally, financially. Uncharted waters are where we learn what we’re made of.
My biggest wish for you is that you’ll have dreams – ones that you’ll pursue aggressively with passion and persistence. At a relatively young age, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and I feel blessed that with hard work I was able to do it. Not all of my specific dreams came true, and they have certainly changed over time. I suspect most people’s do. Find comfort in that.
Don’t feel pressure to monumentally change the planet. The world can be as small as your community, your street, or your home. And so this world is yours to make your splash. As you jump in, our next greatest joy will be watching the ripples of your life touch others.