Dec. 29, 2002: A Letter To My Grandsons

To Brian and Thomas Yarbrough; Zachary and Nicholas Wansley:

When I wrote you this time last year, we had just experienced the worst terrorist attacks ever in our country. We were still in a state of shock over the events of Sept. 11, and were trying to absorb just how much evil human beings can do to one another. What a difference a year makes.

Today, some people among us seem to have forgotten what happened and they think that tyrants in Iraq and North Korea and elsewhere can somehow be persuaded through logic to become peaceful participants in the world community. These wishful thinkers are composed primarily of actors and college students – both groups supremely unqualified to know what is best for the rest of us. Fortunately, the rest of us recognize that fact and ignore them.

Because we fought a bad war badly in Vietnam, we have raised a generation of people convinced that something is fundamentally wrong with us. Don’t believe it. Yours is the greatest nation in the history of mankind. Count yourselves blessed to live in it. The large majority of Americans loves their country, believes in God and cares for those who are less fortunate as does nobody else in the world. We are good people. Don’t ever let anybody tell you differently.

One of the reasons we have so many enemies around the world is because they envy our individual freedoms, our success, our wealth and our power. They can’t emulate us, so they seek to destroy us.

But we can always hope, can’t we? Maybe the young people of your generation who are forced to live in totalitarian states will finally figure out that there is something more to life than oppression and intimidation and sexism and will take fate into their own hands instead of entrusting it to a bunch of power-mad knuckle-draggers. Maybe then people around the world will see that we don’t hate them and there can be a real chance for peace. I sure hope so.

Before this year is over, all four of you will be teenagers and three of you will be driving. That though is a frightening thought, not because I don’t trust you, but because I don’t trust the rest of us. We have lost our civility on the highways. We are rude and aggressive and distracted by our cell phones and CD players. An automobile is not an entertainment center, nor is it an office. It is a dangerous machine. Please be careful.

In the general election of 2006, three of you will be eligible to vote. Voting is a sacred trust. The one thing about our nation that disappoints me is that we don’t take our civic responsibilities as seriously as we should. People say that their vote doesn’t count. Yet, look at what happened in the most recent election in our state. Some of our state’s most powerful political leaders were turned out of office because voters decided they wanted a change. Your vote will always make a difference.

The fact that you are making good grades in school and are participating in athletics makes me very proud. Have passion for whatever you do. Give everything your best effort without exception. Anything less than your best is dishonest. When you succeed, be grateful. When you fail, make no excuses. Just be determined to do better the next time.

Be nice to everybody. Don’t be judgmental of others and never say anything about anybody that you wouldn’t say to their face. Don’t worry about being popular if it means that you will have to compromise your values. It is better to have a clear conscience and your self-respect than the friendship of those who would mislead you.

Work hard this year, but don’t forget to have a little fun, too. Life is a lot more enjoyable when you don’t take it too seriously. Please don’t tell your parents I said this, but I have observed that the things they fuss at you about are the same things they did when they were growing up. They turned out okay. You will, too. Happy New Year and God bless you.