Brad Paisley and Jack Nicklaus are two of my favorite performers. Brad’s music always makes me smile and puts a lump in my throat at the same time. Jack’s perfection, class, and work ethic on the golf course has always been an inspiration for me off the course. Jack and Brad also have something else in common – they both wrote a letter to themselves. Jack did it recently as part of a USGA retrospective. Brad recorded the song “Letter to Me” in 2007.
As you wonder where I have been the past couple of months, you now know the answer – I followed the lead of two guys I admire. I have been busy writing a letter to me. I thought I would share it with you…
“Dear Mike (this will now answer everyone’s burning question – “Do you go by “Mike” or “Michael”? My “stock” answer is always, “Whatever comes out of your mouth naturally. My Mom called me “Mike” and Mary calls me “Michael”. But, since I can only pick one name to address the letter to…),
How are you? I am fine. (Notice that I did not use that infernal crutch, “I hope you are well.” Of course, I also know that I was well back then).
I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately.
Mom is gone. Don’t let her faith and optimism fool you. She is very sick and she will be gone sooner than you expect. When you think you still have time to get to Florida and visit her, you don’t. Go as soon as you can. And, when you do, take advantage of the opportunity to get as close to God as someone on this earth is able and ask her what she “sees” and what she “hears”.
Dad is gone, too. Be prepared. It is not pretty and you need to be ready to make decisions that no one should have to make. I know that he frustrates you and competes with you and never quite seems to appreciate all you have done and how you have done it. You will come to recognize that the obscenely high standards he holds you to are the same standards you will hold yourself to in the future. And, believe it or not, you will end up writing a blog and many of your posts will stem from life lessons you are learning from Dad right now.
The son you will “inherit”, Keaton, is a husband to Laura, a wonderful woman, and a father of two, Penelope and Henry. He becomes a soft-spoken man of integrity. You will have to tolerate the fact that you will be a father to him long before he realizes that you were a father to him. But, on Father’s Day 2017, when you open that hand-made card…Well, let’s just say, it will all be worthwhile.
You will feel a tinge of frustration that the age difference between you and Mary (oh, man, wait until I tell you about Mary!) prevents you from having the big family you grew up with and dreamed of having yourself. Then, you will meet the son you will create. You will realize in an instant that God knows what He is doing and Matthew will absorb and radiate all the love you have to give. Pay close attention to the moment you first play Bruce for him on that Saturday morning on the way to the car wash. It will be the start of a bond that lasts a lifetime.
You are a grandfather. You never knew your grandfathers – one died before you were born and the other died when you were little. Unfortunately, as great as your Dad was, nobody bats 1.000 and he took a couple of “called third strikes” in the grandfather department. Yet, all that means is that you will be filled with the accumulated capacity for love from all of them and it will become the single greatest joy in your life. I know you are reserved and “buttoned down”, even at your young age. I love that about you. You will be pleased to know that you will crawl on the floor, build Lego forts, sing Disney songs, jump up like you’re sitting on a spring when you hear the words, “Nonno! Nonno!, and rock quietly for lengths of time just holding them. In short, you get to witness miracles.
When you decide in 9th grade at 6’2” to commit to basketball because you are destined to be 6’5” and a shoe-in for D-I, listen to Dad when he tries to teach you about genetics and tells you to stick with baseball. Better yet, listen to me now – just take up golf.
Don’t be in such a hurry. Your business career turns out great. You are always so focused on the next challenge, the next opportunity, the bigger hurdle, that you do not cherish the journey as much as you should.
Enjoy your time with Dr. Lentz in Economics 101. It will frame your entire business career – All things in life can be boiled down to Supply and Demand.
Be grateful for your relationship with Hildie as your Dean of Student Life when you are a Resident Advisor. She is not corny. The “unconditional love” and “warm fuzzies” she espouses you will find are sometimes great business tools.
Appreciate Tom McCarthy, Hal Schwalm, John Edmonds, Russ Sands, Dick Riley, and John Pasquesi as business leaders and mentors who will have an enormous impact on your career. They will teach you skills (to this day you will refer to “debits and credits” as “good guys and bad guys” thanks to Tom) that you will take with you for the rest of your career. More importantly, they will recognize something special in you and they will nurture it when lesser leaders would seek to snuff it out. You won’t know it at the time, but it will shape how you manage people – They will want to work for you because they know you are working for them.
I know I am writing to you as a child, teenager, and young adult, but this knowing the future stuff is pretty powerful and I think I should also be giving you some advice related to a more recent time. In 2016, when the faux outrage twitter mob gets you in their crosshairs, don’t underestimate the power of the cumulative impact of your character and all the people who will defend you. And, whatever you do, NEVER, EVER apologize for something you are not sorry for. Believe me, they do not want an apology. They just want a scalp.
While I’ve got you, here are a couple of other things that you should know that will save you a lot of pain and suffering…
Don’t just look over your right shoulder when backing out of Rich Covey’s driveway at 16. The telephone pole that rips off the car mirror is over your left shoulder.
Don’t try to beat the yellow light making the left turn onto City Ave in Philadelphia when you are 22. You were too busy canoodling (this is a PG blog) with Judy to see the oncoming car also trying to beat the light. Your “legendary Z car” (1984 baby blue metallic 300ZX – “IT IS AWESOME”) will be totaled. You and Judy walk away, though. And, you get some good sympathy… never mind, you can find that one out for yourself.
Speaking of girls, you won’t realize this until you become a Dad. But, when you think Mom and Dad aren’t paying attention to what you and Lauren are doing in the basement (“just watch basic cable and chill”), they are. And, just like Mary and I do now, they will talk about it when they go to bed.
You are going to have your heart broken several times. You like to be loved and you have a high capacity to love. There will lots of tears and lots of loneliness. And, then, one day in December 1989, early in your new job at CIGNA Special Risk, you will get on a phone call with your colleague in San Francisco. Her name will be Mary. I think I will let Dr. Seuss explain what will happen to you next…
Well, in Whoville (Philly) they say – that Michael’s small heart grew three sizes that day. And then – the true meaning of love came through, and Michael found the strength of ten Michael’s, plus two!
Looking back as I write this letter to you, I can see that all the good that happens to you in your life can be traced back to that singular moment and that singular person.
I want to thank you for all that you have done for me (although, please stay away from the concrete basketball courts. I could do without the hip replacements at age 40). You have given me a wonderful life and I am grateful. I will keep looking in my mailbox in hopes of getting a letter from future me, myself. I can’t wait to see what happens next…
Better yet, don’t send it. This time, I want to enjoy the journey.
Love, Michael (you really didn’t think I would let you off the hook that easily, did you?)