Dec. 28, 2003: Some Thoughts and Observations For My Grandsons

To Zachary and Nicholas Wansley, Brian and Thomas Yarbrough:

For the first time since we began this public correspondence a few years ago, I am writing to four teenagers. It seems like only yesterday that your parents were your age. This isn’t the time or place to snitch on them, but remind me one day to tell you what they were like as teenagers. Every time I hear them order you to “turn down that music” or “eat your dinner,” or give you the “when I was your age” lecture, I have to chuckle. Being a grandparent is wonderful revenge!

This year three of you will have your permanent drivers license. That scares the dickens out of me because it puts you on Georgia’s highways with some of the rudest and most inconsiderate drivers in the nation. Keep an eye out for trucks and for SUV drivers with cell phones in their ear. They are particularly dangerous. The situation is out of control, and nobody in state government seems inclined to address the problem. People routinely travel our highways at speeds of 85 to 90 miles per hour, tailgating anyone in their way because they know there are not enough law enforcement officers to stop them. Why don’t we have stricter traffic enforcement? We don’t want it. Hiring more police officers requires money, and as taxpayers, that is not a priority for us. We’d rather drive like idiots.

You are at the age where you will begin to question things that up to this point you have taken for granted. That inevitably will include spiritual matters. Let me make this easy for you. There is a God. I believe that with all my heart and soul and you should, too. God is not Protestant or Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. God is God. Too many people try to justify their prejudices and narrow-mindedness by invoking the name of God. Ignore them. They are bigots. And when you have doubts — as you surely will — just look at the magnificent symmetry of the universe. Your dads are high school science teachers and can give you scientific explanations as to why things are as they are, but take it from a non-scientific old man: This stuff didn’t just happen.

When I was a boy, Nazi Germany showed us humanity at its worst. Yet, there were those, including many in our own country, who chose to look the other way rather than acknowledge the unspeakable evil of those madmen or who wanted to appease them. Today, Arab terrorists represent the malevolent in all of us. And, yes, many in the world today look the other way as these despicable lowlifes kill innocent people, and some in our own country want to appease them and their supporters. We seem to have learned nothing from history. But Arab terrorists won’t fare any better than did the Nazis because their cause is immoral and, like the Nazis, they have seriously underestimated our mettle and our willingness to fight back.

Nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — is more important than good character. Never say anything you don’t mean so you won’t give anyone any reason not to trust your word. Do not cheat yourself or anyone else. Anything you do, do to the best of your abilities. Never try to take the easy way out. If you fail, don’t make excuses and don’t whine. Learn to accept a loss for what it is: A temporary setback. Life can be unfair, and there are no guarantees in this world, not even for exceptional young men like you.

You have been extraordinarily blessed. You live in the greatest country on earth. You have plenty to eat, a warm bed, good friends, parents who love you and a bright and limitless future. But remember that to whom much has been given, much will be expected. Don’t just take from the world, but give something back. Make this a better place for your having been here. I can think of no worthier goal or anything that would make me prouder.

Happy New Year and God bless you.
Love, Pa