I wrote the following letter to my godson after his baptism. He’s still a toddler, so I’m sure it’s going to sit in a drawer for a few years. But I hope that when he’s navigating the turmoil of adolescence, it will provide a baseline for him turn to:
Even though you’re a bit too young to understand what I’m writing, and I’m sure your mom or dad is reading this to you right now, I want to write a few words to express what a godfather is. I hope you’ll hang on to this letter, and read it when you feel uncertain of your path.
When I was as young as you are now, my godfather wrote me a similar letter. His name is Tom, and he is my father’s youngest brother. Tom served in the Navy for 24 years, and I was fortunate to have visited him at his various duty stations as I grew up. I remember being in awe the first time I went out to Camp Pendleton, California, overwhelmed by the formidability of a real American military base, as well as by what seemed at the time to be the superhuman strength of my godfather. My brother and I slept on cots in the garage of his on-base housing residence, but that didn’t bother me. I was just happy to be in the presence of giants.
Tom enlisted before I was born, so this was my first time spending quality time with him. He was incredibly disciplined with his body, always waking up before dawn to exercise, and he only ate clean foods. He took a spear gun scuba diving and brought back fish he grilled for dinner. He talked about deer hunting, the countries he had visited, and his opinion on the current political climate. In sum, Tom was a man’s man with much worldly knowledge. His mentorship provided me with valuable insight on what a man should be that wasn’t subject to the instability father-son relationships face as the son determines who he is and what mark he will leave on the world.
Today, what it means to be a man is increasingly blurry. It has become too easy to lose our connection to our ancestors, and to the primal. Some even say we should lose it, which is why having positive male role models is absolutely essential for a young man to grow into a familial and societal asset. You’ll hear all sorts of garbage growing up about “toxic masculinity” and why we need to become a more sensitive society. Being in touch with your emotions is fine, but remember that your job as a man is to protect the tribe. Your job is to grow into a man that can provide for his wife and children.
I didn’t understand it at the time, but this is what Tom was doing when I visited him in California. He had the discipline to exercise often and early because he valued physical prowess. He ate clean because he respected his body, and understood that without his health he would become a liability instead of an asset. He knew how to use weapons and fight efficiently so he could protect those weaker than him. And he hunted deer and fish because it reminded him of the fragility of life.
Your father has bestowed upon me a great honor that I have humbly accepted. And now, I look forward to passing these lessons on to you. Your father and I served together overseas as Recon Marines in the Marine Corps Infantry. He was my team leader, and I his machine gunner. Like Tom, your father is a man you can learn much from. Observe him and listen to what he has to say. With his companionship, I made it through many tough times that taught me the importance of being able to endure hardship. For one, your body is a thousand times stronger than you think it is. But the real endurance is found within your mind. The Recon Creed states “to quit, to surrender, to give up is to fail.” You don’t fail until you give up.
Remember where you came from. And remember what you’re capable of. Protect your tribe, respect yourself, and master physical and mental strength. But most importantly, never give up.