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Life Lessons: One Father’s Open Letter to His Graduating Son

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Some words of wisdom from a father to his son.

Tomorrow you are graduating from high school and preparing to move on to what’s next. It is a surreal moment for me, both as a parent and as a man. In watching you over these last 18 years, I have seen clearly that you have accomplished so much: as a young man, as an actor and as a human being.

Your efforts and grades reflect your unwavering dedication to achievement, and your wanting the best out of life. You have internalized and demonstrated critical lessons in discipline, planning, focus and tenacity. You are on your way.

I watched you go to school this morning — your last day as a high school student — and my mind was flooded with memories. It’s cliché, but it wasn’t so long ago that we were building forts in the living room, or waking your mother and sister (way too early in the morning) by banging metal bowls with chopsticks on the kitchen floor, or running top speed through Disneyland so we could get on Space Mountain before anyone else.

As you grew, our time together remained as fun and playful as always, yet it shifted slightly — transitioning into working with you on your homework, discussing your thoughts on a book you (or I) were reading, acting with you on stage … and then watching you perform from the audience.

At tomorrow’s graduation ceremony, I will again be in the audience while you will be stepping — literally and figuratively — into the next chapter of your life. What that also means is that I’m going to be an audience member in a slightly permanent fashion; watching from a distance as you perform, but always supporting you with my attendance, my attention and my ticket stub.

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You are taking the reins in various aspects of your life, and I can’t help but smile. As you go on this journey, I would like to pass on a few key things that might assist you. These are lessons that I have both learned and am still learning. Don’t be fooled by my (or anyone else’s) age; learning never stops, and I certainly don’t have it all figured out. And as you discover new truths, please be sure to share them with me, as my fervent hope has always been that the Student surpasses the Teacher.

1. The definition of money. You are gaining perspective on what is needed financially in this world. I implore you to remember that money isn’t what you think it is. Contrary to popular belief, money isn’t the answer to all your problems; things purchased with money don’t matter in the long-term because they can be lost, stolen, broken or taken away. What money enables is freedom and flexibility, both for you and for those around you.

2. Fear and failure. Don’t be afraid of failure. Fear will paralyze and control you. Those who are afraid to fail are also afraid to succeed. To accomplish anything, you must risk losing in order to capture what you want. It is our struggles that not only define us, but also cause our growth. Remember: You will win some, and you will lose some, but either way you are loved for just being you.

3. Want and need. Sure, you’re going to need a job and a paycheck. But don’t lose sight of what you truly want from life, trading your wants for what you need. As you get older, you will regret so few decisions that you made, and instead will experience profound remorse about the decisions that you didn’t make and the opportunities you didn’t pursue. Don’t live a life of “What If?” Instead, take chances.

4. Love hard. You can’t control what another person does or says — you can only control you. If you love someone, love them completely. Don’t hold back out of fear. If you do, you will never know what might have happened. Sure, it might not work out, but don’t let that be because you were ruled by fear.

5. Be kind. You will never know what another person’s experience has been. As such, please remember to be empathetic and compassionate.

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6. Do much. Learn, grow, experience, change, shift, adjust — and then change again. Do as much as you can and experience all you are able. Life is not measured by how fast you arrive at the end because none of us are going to make it out of this alive. Life is about the accumulation of what you know, what you did, what you learned and what you thought about through it all.

7. Give. Be giving with your time, your knowledge, your money, your effort, your love and yourself. You are a gift to the world and you should share.

8. Always dream. There are times to be a realist, but not at the expense of passion. Dream big and chase what you want. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that your dreams are too big.

9. Don’t grow up. At various points in your life, you will need to be an adult and make hard decisions. However, being an adult doesn’t mean that you are forced to grow up. Make sure you still act like a kid whenever possible; life is immensely more fun that way.

10. Be brave. As a man, you will face challenging times; it happens to all of us. What defines you is how you respond to that adversity. It’s normal to be scared, just don’t stop moving forward.

11. Be You. Don’t allow anyone to define who you are. You are an incredible, vibrant, resourceful, amazing, talented, tenacious, outstanding and courageous young man. As you get exposed to new things and lessons, your perspective will shift, but you do the shifting. Don’t hand over the definition of who you are to anyone else. You choose who you are, what you stand for and what you believe in.

In closing, you need to know this: I am exceptionally proud of you. My pride is not a selfish pride, but is instead a pride of observation. As a father, I have tried to show and guide you, but ultimately you will decide your own path. You have listened. You have internalized. You are DOING IT!

Give ’em Hell, Drew! You have just begun. I am so excited to see what you have in store for the world!

I love you.


This guest article originally appeared on 11 Lessons For My Graduating Son.

Life Lessons: One Father’s Open Letter to His Graduating Son

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APA Reference
Sparks, A. (2018). Life Lessons: One Father’s Open Letter to His Graduating Son. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 15 Jun 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.