Attention, Zane Thaddeus Goad—AKA Zany, Zaniac, Zandingo, Goose Machine, Larry Littleman, Turkey-Headed Nut, Timmy Tummytime, Pig Man, Monster Man, and Scoochy Pigliano:
I almost died a month before you were born, and I also postponed some potentially fatal medical tests just so I could see you born. I’m the guy who spent the first couple hours of your life with you after they wheeled your mama away to get stitched up. It was just you and I alone in a cramped incubation room. Your tiny pink wrinkly fingers wrapped around my index finger and held on tight as I cradled you, rocked you, and sang songs to you—dumb little nursery rhymes that I made up off the top of my head just like the millions of other songs I’m always making up and singing to you.
I never wanted to turn into one of those sappy-assed, over-sentimental parents, but kid, you’ve left me no choice. I couldn’t help it if I tried. I melted into a puddle the moment I saw you. You are my soft spot. From the moment you first drew breath, your happiness became my fundamental project, the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps me working seven days a week. You’re the reason I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. You’re the reason I eat healthy and stay in shape—I want to wring every last second out of this life so when I finally know I’m going to die, I can rest knowing I did everything in my power to ensure you have a happy life.
My parents didn’t seem to feel the same way about me, and that’s probably the main reason I don’t want you to ever feel that cold numbness of neglect. Going through life numb is even worse than feeling pain. One of my earliest memories is of being around three or four—a little younger than you are now—and being home alone while mom was off at church and dad was probably out drinking. A feeling brushed over me like a cold wind on an exposed molar—some odd mix of shame and embarrassment that was likely the dawning of a lifelong realization that they couldn’t give a fuck whether I lived or died. Some fifty years later, that feeling still hurts and cripples me in many ways. My parents had a “throw him in the water and let him figure out how to swim” attitude. I think that’s why I came close to drowning a couple times.
My mother gave me the middle name “Thaddeus” after St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. She even told me that’s why she branded me with that name, although she never explained why she thought I was hopeless even before my baptism at eight days old, which is when Catholic kids get assigned their middle names. I threw away the Catholicism and passed that middle name onto you as an act of defiance, a way to show that so long as both you and I are alive, nothing could ever be hopeless.
But as happy as you make me, life still brings a lot of sadness with it, and that’s what I wanted to talk about with you today. When I was very sad while attending college, I went to see a school psychologist. After a couple months of talking with him, I asked him what he thought my main problem was. He said it was that it seemed no one ever sat me down and told me what to expect from life. All my mother and father taught me to do was shut up and not say dirty words—I deliberately failed both lessons. My brothers and sister were much older than me and had left the house before I started school, so they weren’t much help, either. So the lessons I’ve learned in life were the result of an extremely painful process of trial and error as I faced this dumb, cruel world alone.
Because I love you, I want to spare you the pain of learning these lessons alone. So before you gouge me in the eye while we’re wrestling so you can go steal another Klondike bar from the refrigerator while I’m putting in eyedrops, I wanted to pass these lessons along to you.
1. Realize that nothing is fair.
I think we’re all born expecting life to be fair—or at least fair to us—and it’s heartbreaking to realize, again and again, that it isn’t. So don’t expect it to be fair. If it’s been unfair to you in specific circumstances, do your best to make it fair. If it’s completely out of your control, quit wasting your time worrying about it and devote your time to what makes you happy.
2. Realize that most people are very, very stupid.
As with life’s fundamental unfairness, this is another situation that’s often out of your control. Again and again you will realize that people are dumb, naïve, shallow, gullible, petty, transparent, predictable, and easily swayed by the crowd. Most of their brains are incapable of hatching an original idea throughout the course of their lifetimes. If you go through life expecting them to be dumb, it won’t sting as much when they keep acting dumb.
3. Realize that life is short.
I’ve packed in enough years to start having a dim appreciation of how many years I’ve wasted. I’ll let you decide whether there’s a God and an afterlife, but I think you should approach this life as if it’s your only one. When you’re on your deathbed, you won’t be worried about what someone said or thought about you—you’ll only regret the good times you didn’t have because you were hung up about unimportant things.
4. Focus on what you love, not on what you hate.
Wow, did it take me a long time for me to learn this one. I’m the type who could get a hundred compliments but only one insult, and I’d focus on the insult. This world will give you plenty to hate. You will be unable to make many of those things better, but they all have the potential to drag you down. Sometimes the things you hate will be impossible to ignore or avoid, but you should never go seeking them out. Instead, seek what you love and surround yourself with it.
5. Remember those who are nice to you.
Unsolicited acts of kindness, with nothing expected in return, are the best things that will ever happen to you. You’ll suffer no shortage of people trying to cheat, harm, swindle, or deceive you, but when you run across someone who’s nice to you for no other reason than because they wanted to be, try to make that person a friend for life.
6. Trust your instincts.
My instincts have never been wrong, but I’ve gotten into trouble many times because I didn’t heed them. If you have a bad feeling about someone, there’s usually a good reason for it. Don’t trust anyone until they earn it. People in authority will constantly lie to you. Friends and loved ones will lie to you. Pay strict attention to how often your instincts turn out to be correct, and you’ll spare yourself the blunt-force trauma of learning what happens when you don’t trust your instincts.
7. Accept everyone as an individual and demand the same from them.
I don’t care whom you fuck, whom you hang out with, or what they believe—so long as they’re good to you. You will find a rainbow of assholes in this world and a rainbow of good people. You may notice patterns among certain groups; feel free to draw your own conclusions. That’s called “postjudice,” not prejudice. But it’s best to hate people based on how they behave toward you personally, not because of their group membership, whether it involves skin color, gender, or belief system. And if they hate you because of your skin color, gender, or belief system, they will never be your friend.
8. If you get sad, find the reason for it.
If you’re sad, there’s always a good reason for it. Always. If you try to run from that reason, you will only wind up sadder. So find out what’s making you sad and work on fixing it rather than letting authority figures dope you up on pills. The same will apply when you’re old enough to drink or do drugs—before you start, learn the difference between trying to have a good time and running away from a bad one.
9. Never be afraid to ask questions.
If people try to shut you up merely for asking questions, it’s because they’re insecure about their own answers. All of humanity’s advancements were achieved not by lynch mobs, but by lonely geniuses who weren’t afraid to ask questions. Humans may not ever be smart enough to figure out everything, but only a dumb person trusts everything they’re told.
10. Don’t let anyone, including me, tell you how to think.
Over my lifetime, I’ve watched society become much more tolerant of extremely superficial things such as skin color and one’s choice of sex partners. At the same time, they’ve become embarrassingly intolerant of those who think differently, and thinking differently is the most valuable type of diversity any type of society could ever wish to have. Increasingly, this is a society that worships the crowd and hates individuals. Always remember that how you feel about yourself is more important than what they say about you, and you’ll grow into a strong oak tree one day, you silly little acorn.