An Open Letter, From Father To Son As You Begin College

BY: - 5 Sep '13 | Parenting

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It’s been couple of weeks since my wife and I dropped our son off for college for his freshman year. I have to say only now are we beginning to adjust. Even with our very vocal daughter still under our charge the quiet emptiness our son has left behind is palpable. For years I salivated over the idea of getting him out of the house. He ate too much, slept too much and did too much or too little of plenty that fathers perpetually beef about when it comes to their sons as they age into young men. But as we got closer to that day of departure for college I was caught off guard as I became overcome with sadness. I was losing/giving my son to the world, with only faith but not proof of what the outcome will be. I eventually overcame my sadness by spending as much quality time as I possibly could with my boy in the remaining days we had together so by the time we drove away from his dorm I was happier for him than sad for myself.

In 2009, as one of the first male writers here at BMWK I often shared my experiences with my then young son. It only seems appropriate that now, as he makes his entrance into adulthood that I should share once more with the audience here. What follows is an abbreviated version of the letter I wrote to my son for him to read on his own once he was off at college. It took me four weeks to complete. In it, I share my love and my guidance for my son. I’ve decided to share it here because this is the hub for marriage and parenting for persons of color. Black and Married With Kids has also emerged as one of the greatest stages to present to the rest of the world that we aren’t the one-dimensional, caricatures that mainstream media — from television to movies to music — wishes us to be. What follows is my testimony that I willingly took up the mantle of fatherhood, raised my son the best I could, and will continue to do so. I love him and I am not afraid or too tough to say so. I am no exception. Nearly all the fathers of color I know feel and do the same for their young. We are hiding in plain sight everywhere, not seeking recognition for our everyday activities, but definitely acknowledgement that we do in fact exist.

Dear Son,

I’m beginning this letter to you in early August. I’m not sure what date I’ll end this but I’m thinking it may take weeks to get it all typed out. Right now I’m in Chicago being driven through the neighborhoods of my childhood. From what I see outside my car window there isn’t too much to speak of. Some of these places look like they’ve been hit with mortar shells. This is truly heartbreaking. But that is the nature of this life game: if you don’t take care of something, it falls into decay. Remember this, because knowing so will keep you ahead of the crowd.

I’ve made many mistakes in this life. Some weren’t so bad and others have been downright idiotic. I don’t have any regrets though. I’ve been blessed with the ability to learn from many of them. This has made them teachers to me rather than my destroyers. Some of the lessons were easy to learn. Some were and are still painful to this day.

Unfortunately, you’ve seen me at my worst – unemployed and underemployed – out of options for a couple of years. The economy was not kind to me. As a man it was humiliating to be told “there were more qualified applicants” or “you’re too qualified” over and over again. My value took a hit that to this day I sometimes feel I am still recovering from the damage. But the whole thing made me tough and turned me from the man that I was into the man that I needed to be. So in that regard it came to make me better.

What I also hope you saw was that I never gave up. I WORKED to overcome my situation. I never stopped trying. Never quit. Never laid down and died. Not even once. I simply had too much to live for — my family and a driving sense of purpose. I kept trying. Kept knocking on doors. Kept networking and just days before seeing you off to school money is now no object for me.

Just to put things into perspective for you: in 2010 I didn’t make enough money to file a tax return. Things got barely better in 2011. In 2012 I began to make some achievements which opened the doors for me to be in the position where I am now, doing work I enjoy. I say this to say, it may not happen as quickly as you’d like but if you stay faithful and stay true to your goals and put in that hard and smart work (I stress SMART) you can and will succeed. Throughout it all you and your sister have always been provided for. And from one man to another, younger man, if I’ve been an example of anything to you, I hope that words that come to your mind are perseverance, kind, strong, dedicated, enduring, and positive no matter what. I want you to embrace these words and make them a part of your life as well. They and the good Lord above will carry you on the days that you don’t think you can get out of bed. And these days will come.

Now, here I am looking at your room in our home and our basement with all your stuff packed up for college and I look into your eyes and see that the boy I once knew is gone. You still have his smile and his laughter but a man has emerged right under my nose. And although I may be done with the rule-making aspect of raising you I think my life with you as Dad is getting ready to kick into high gear. In fact, the lessons are just beginning that will shape you into the man that hopefully the world will benefit from.

It is my goal from this point forward to no longer be your rule-maker or disciplinarian but rather your guide, mentor and voice of reason for those times when you find yourself in spaces where life stops making sense. Life is hard and it isn’t meant to be figured out alone.YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And in this regard I am here for you and always will be. I’m just a phone call, text message, skype, or email away.


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  • Aaron A. Bell

    Tears wallow in my eyes and burst from their prospective place. I have not even finished reading your article, or letter, that was posted on BMWK. The part that got me, the line that really made me stop was “You do not have to prove anything to me – EVER.” Wow, as if you know and can identify with what the root of the problem for myself a lot of my colleagues and many other (black) men are thinking. Wow!

    I find this letter at a serious cross road in my life. I have recently (as of last friday) become unemployed (this is the second time ever) as I have been employed by one job or another since I was 14 and am now 27. I have also just reinstated in school after financially not being able to attend for 3 1/2 years. I have been homeless, suffered from hunger pains due to lack of nourishment, and “lost” everything that I had only to start over. My fear now is that i’ll have to live through it all again. And now seems to be the most inopportune time for it to happen being that I am 20 credits away from graduating.

    I guess I’m saying all of this to say…Thank you! Thank you for writing and speaking to your son. Thank you for allowing God to speak through you to perhaps a generation of fatherless sons. And if nothing else, Thank you for speaking to me. See my degree is in education and I have been running a mentoring program (before this recent turn of events) for young men and women who enter into their first year of college. It was my job to train mentors and be a mentor to these young adults and my mentoring team. I helped them all excel to heights hat they dreamed of but never thought it could actually happen. I was to them what I wanted for myself.

    My father and I had, still sort of have a bad relationship. I’ve made progressive and continuous moves to better it but not much has changed. I learned a few years ago that everything I was doing was to prove to him that I was a good son. Everything I was doing was to get him to say that he was proud of me. I didn’t have to be good enough for everyone else, I just had to be good enough for him. I never seemed to get the result that I was looking for.

    However, I was raised tough! I was raised to work hard, harder than everyone else, harder than my previous best. So I walk with my fist up, humble, yet on my guard. Praying and believing for a turn of events. I’m babbling…

    Either way, thank you for telling your son all that you did, and thank you for sharing it with me and the rest of the world. I hope your son realizes how fortunate he is and that your very words, as his father and friend, will and can save his life.

    Best wishes

    • Anonymous

      One thing I know that this can and will turn around for you. Don’t give up. You are 2 semesters away from getting that degree. Go get it my brother. “The race was not given to those who can move fast, but to those who will endure until the end.”

    • Eric Payne

      Aaron, stay strong, my brother. And trust me on this one: when you are ready to give up that is when you MUST keep forging ahead. It’s the point at which you are ready to quit when the breakthrough (or at least the necessary steps to achieve a breakthrough) is at hand. If I could, you most certainly can. Just don’t give up on you. Stay prayerful and put the focus on doing for others, channel the desires for yourself to be done for the good of others and in time — a time I can’t proscribe for you — this will all be the dust of memories. What I will say is this, when you walk into your blessing and I most certainly pray you will, you will be so prepared by these times that you will take the ball, run with it and only look back in order to pull others like yourself along as they go through their struggles.

      Be blessed and Be Strong.


  • Marilyn

    Beautiful. Just a beautifully written letter !!! Oh, yes, I will be sharing. This page / article is permanently bookmarked and a KEEPER. GOD bless you (& your Fam)

  • Pingback: African American Father Expresses His Love To His College Son | Elev8()

  • PWL

    Awesome! I feel you brother. What a great letter. Aaron, hang in there the trials you go through wil make you stronger. I didn’t write a letter for my son but it’s not too late. My son is entering his 3rd year at the University of AZ. We lived in AZ for his freshman year but received orders to move back to VA. He spent his first two years on campus and this year he moved off campus. We all (me, my wife, his sister and my son) drove him back o AZ in August to move him into his apartment. We flew back to VA and left him there. As a father I had apprehension about leaving him being concerned about safety (off campus living) and more driving ( increase possibility of a car accident). Over the Labor Day w/end someone broke into his room and stole everything (computer, tv, Xbox, Jordns, watches, wallet, iPhone, etc). Thank God he was not hurt, but he is growing up fast. Just imagine a call at 1 in th morning from your child telling you he was robbed. Scary, but God is good. We are moving forward telling him to remain vigilant and not be deterred as to why he is there and to accomplish what he started.