Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Advice for my Granddaughter

Recently I wrote a poem of the same title, which I’ve included at the end of this essay. I thought, however, that poetry might be too oblique, and I should leave her something easier to understand when she becomes a teenager, especially as her father isn’t in her life, and her mother is exactly the kind of negative role model (drugs, smoking, theft, self-indulgence at the expense of anything or anyone, poor education, no ability to plan for the future) which no one would select for a child, given a choice.

My granddaughter is now ten. It is likely I will not be here through her teen years, as I have IPF, so this must suffice, if I can get it to her. Perhaps it will also be useful to others who wish to influence a child’s future. ~Bob.

January, 2011

My Dearest Britnye,

As you know, you are my granddaughter not by blood, but by heart through my marriage to your Grandmother. You have been a source of endless delight since you unexpectedly came into my life and won my heart. The only person in the world who might possibly love you more than I do would be your Grandmother. And I think I love you every bit as much as she does.

You were born into difficult circumstances, without a father in the house, with a mother who had no ability or plan to support you except by putting her responsibility to do so off on others, and who saw you as a way to money for herself. Your Grandmother and I have tried hard to make your childhood happy and to give you some of the advantages a child born into a normal, middleclass American family with two parents would receive. These were the advantages your mother had as a child, but threw away, and thus was not able to give to you.

It pains me that the state of my health suggests that I won’t be here to see you grow to adulthood, to offer you advice and guidance and support. If someone else gives you this, it is because I could not any longer be with you. If you take your mother for a role model, you will have as unhappy a life as she has had.

I do not fear death. As a young Marine, I volunteered for Vietnam in 1966. I was fortunate to have an easy tour and come home safe—so everything since 1967 has been a gift. But I greatly fear for your future. Your mother is not likely to ever be able to support herself, never mind you, and our country seems headed for hard times. All I can do about that is leave you this advice, hope you will heed it, and that it will protect you when I’m not here.

Some people act like being poor is something that happens to them, like freckles, over which they have no control. That is sometimes true, and if the country goes through a bad patch, may be more true in the future. But often poverty and sad lives are the result of bad decisions by the people who are poor. Here are my rules for avoiding poverty and having a happy life. They may be hard to follow, but the alternative of a poor and unhappy life is harder.

1. Do not have children until you marry and have the income to support them. A very large percentage of the poor are single mothers and their children, with no father in the home and limited job prospects. Nothing is more strongly connected with poverty than being an unwed mother or the child of one. It’s terribly unfair to both your child and yourself. And your children will not have grandparents who can support them as we have tried to support you. Don’t do to your children the evil that was done to you. Children are a responsibility, not a meal ticket to use to get money from the government or other people. And all the studies show that children do better in homes with both a mother and a father.

2. Get an education. People without a high school diploma are almost always poor. Even people who graduated from high school often get passed over for jobs they are qualified for, in favor of people with a college degree. And it’s a lot easier to get a college degree if you do so before you are married and have children. The last time I looked, the average lifetime earnings for a college graduate were about $1,000,000 more than for a high school graduate. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table. Anyone as smart as you are can go to college, but it will take focus, dedication and hard work, because of your situation. It will be worth it. And major in something with practical value. (Hint: it won’t end in “studies.”)

3. Work full time. Some people, like your mother, never develop the habit of discipline and the basic work skills and work ethic that come from having a full time job and a career. You can get by when you are young on part time jobs and being a parasite on others, but as you get older, it gets harder. It also damages your self-respect. At ten, you already have a good work ethic. I hope you keep it because it will make you happy and prosperous if anything will. Be an adult.

4. Develop self-discipline. Do the things you need to do before the things you want to do. It’s easy to put off chores and studies for watching TV, playing, parties or reading a novel. Those bad habits lead to putting off work, career and education to have fun in the present, and thus to an unhappy life in the future. I’ve had a great life because of the discipline I learned in the Marines, and I owe all my success in life to my Marine Drill Instructors, Sergeants W. H. Harris, M. P. Martin and E. Owens, Jr. I’d have been even more of a success if they have got a hold of me before high school. I recommend you think about joining the military, the Air force, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines or Army for at least four years. You can save money for college through the GI bill (your mother won’t be able to pay for your college as we twice paid for her, without her getting a degree). It will teach you discipline. It will teach you how to get along with a wide variety of people, more than you will meet in school or work. It can teach you a skill such as computers that you can use to earn a living or that will be valuable to you in your career. As a veteran, you will do better when you start college after four years in the service, because you will be more mature. You will be able to support yourself in the military for however long you serve. You will get away from home and your mother. And you will be serving your country. We all owe a debt to the United States and to those who went before us for our freedom, but few people pay anything on that debt.

5. Develop integrity. Being honest is, of course, the right thing to do. But it’s also the smart thing to do. Over the past 15 years, your mother has stolen from your Grandmother and me countless times, and lied to us to get money over and over. She has forged checks. She has used credit cards to take merchandise from stores she didn’t pay for—and that she knew she could never pay for. That’s also stealing. She has even stolen from you, selling the Wii we bought you for Christmas of 2009 to buy drugs, which she had no right to do. She has borrowed money from other people and not paid them. (Remember how you were not supposed to answer the phone because of all the people calling your house because she owed them money for things she took and hadn’t paid for?) Her credit rating is about as low as it could be, and no one will now ever lend her money to buy a car or a house, or give her any job where she has to be trusted with money. By her own lack of integrity, she has ruined her life, and hurt you and your Grandmother badly. Don’t make the same mistake.

6. Your reputation is your most precious thing. This goes with integrity. When you promise something, do it. Make “your word your bond,” as the saying goes. When given a job, carry it out. Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully. Earn a reputation for being reliable and working hard. Earn a reputation for being trustworthy. If you borrow something, from a book to a dollar, make sure the person gets it back. I have a very good job, because I have a very good reputation and people know they can trust me. The old saying is true: “Reputation is like fine china—easy to break and hard to mend.”

7. Don’t smoke. If you’ve started smoking, quit. Smokers die 10 to 15 years younger, on average, than non-smokers. Don’t throw away those years of life for a habit that is expensive, starts fires, and makes you smell bad. (Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray!) One out of every four smokers dies of lung cancer, but only one out of 100 non-smokers does. Smokers are much more likely in any year to die of breast or colon cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and other diseases. And smoking sets a bad example for your children—don’t help them get started. Plus your second-hand smoke can injure their health. Studies show that children of smokers are more likely to be sick, and have a 21% greater likelihood of having high blood pressure. Your mother smoking around you in the car used to drive me crazy, especially as my dad and my uncle died from smoking. (Yes, I used to smoke a pipe, though I didn’t inhale it. Even smoking a pipe was stupid of me, which is why I quit, though not nearly as stupid as getting addicted to cigarettes.)

8. Don’t use illegal drugs. They are expensive and usually addictive. Everyone who uses drugs to any extent ruins their lives. (Yes, some people use pot and are okay, but it too often starts them on other drugs, or becomes a habit they can’t function well with, just like drinking too much alcohol.) I think people who use drugs think that they are so special it won’t affect them, even though they see all the other druggies with lives in the sewer. It’s like thinking you are so special you can jump off a cliff and fly, though you see everyone else who tries crashes on the rocks below. Drugs can get you a criminal record that will cost you jail time, money and decent job prospects—and make good people not want to be around you. Drugs can make you do stupid things like get pregnant or can get you killed. People who get addicted often steal from their families to buy drugs. Your Grandmother has said she’d a thousand times rather have been beaten up than been hurt the way your mother and your uncle have hurt her through drugs and crime. It can make you degrade yourself by selling your body to buy drugs, costing you your self-respect. The only way to support a heavy drug habit is through stealing, prostitution or selling drugs to other lost souls, because druggies rarely function well enough to hold decent jobs. (And, if you must ask, I’ve never even tried pot, let alone the harder drugs like heroin and cocaine.)

9. Don’t be a complainer. Sure, everyone complains from time to time, but some people are constant whiners. People don’t like to be around them (including bosses, so they may not get or keep good jobs). People like to be around cheerful, upbeat people.

10. Be careful of sex. Like a gun, it can be your best friend or worst enemy. Used for pleasure and closeness with someone you care about, it’s wonderful. But it can bring you disease, children you can’t take care of, degradation, heartache and even death. When you are in your teens and twenties, a great many of the boys and young men you meet will not be interested in your welfare, but in enjoying themselves at your expense. Don’t be a fool for them. (And before you ask, yes, I’ve been pretty stupid about sex sometimes myself. But I was also very careful not to create children I couldn’t parent with women I had no intention of marrying.)

11. Be careful of alcohol. Used responsibly it can be enjoyable, even healthful. But many people become alcoholics; then it destroys their lives as surely as any other addictive drug. Don’t drink to get drunk. You will end up sick, embarrassed, possibly raped, pregnant or worse. My father and grandfather were alcoholics, though they always controlled it well enough to hold good jobs. I seem to have been spared that gene. Make sure you don’t give alcohol a chance to rule your life. You can be a slave to booze just like you can be a slave to drugs, cigarettes, sex and food. Be a free person.

12. Be a life long learner. Keep your love of books. At ten, you love learning and I hope you will love it all your life. I’ve probably learned as much from reading good books in the last four years as many kids have learned in four years of college. If I knew I was going to die next week, the hardest choice would be which of the many political and history books I haven’t gotten to yet that I would want to read. You should always be learning more, learning new things. And the more you learn, the more you can learn. If times get tough, as I think they will, the only protection you will have will be the knowledge and skills you have acquired.

13. Keep your self respect. I won’t say live so your Grandmother and I are always proud of you, that would be selfish, though I wish every day your Grandmother had children she was proud of. Live so you are always proud of yourself. When you are ashamed of how you have lived or behaved, you poison your soul. Your mother is a sad example of this.

14. Live your own life. Because of your family situation, you are going to have to be on your own far too early. Don’t let your mother or anyone else drag you down. Don’t let a parasite live off what you earn. Don’t live for them, live for Britnye. Don’t hang out with dishonest people or people who cannot be trusted. Guard yourself against thieves and druggies, no matter who they are. Don’t associate with evil people, or with losers. Your life is a gift from God, not your mother, father or anyone else, and you need to honor God and yourself with how you live it.

15. Don’t let your life be ruled by greed and envy. It’s good to make enough money to live comfortably, to be able to take care of yourself and your family without begging from others or living on government charity. But greedy people are never happy, because they can never have enough money. If they make ten million dollars a year and have a 20-room house, they are unhappy because someone else makes twenty million dollars a year and has a 40-room house. Don’t envy people with more money than you. You were born in the United States—there are billions of people in the world who have less and would change places with you to have the opportunities you have.

16. Live for something greater than yourself. People who only live for their momentary self-indulgence are always sad and unhappy. You have to have something, hopefully several things, that you care about that are more important to you than your own desires and wants. They can be your family, your job, a cause, an organization, your church, your community, your country, the military, your school or many other things worthy of having your love, time and energy. Only this way will you have real happiness.

Well, dearest Britnye, I’ll get off my soapbox and stop preaching. I think if you can follow most of this advice most of the time, you have a good chance to have a happy life, though there are no guarantees in this world. I’ll leave this with some people to give to you when you are 16, in case I’m not around. Thank you for being a loving Granddaughter. We don’t know what mysteries come after death, but if it is allowed, I will be watching you and loving you from beyond the veil. Take good care of yourself, and cherish that which is good and right.

Your Grandfather who loves you.

And here’s the poem that started me writing this essay:

Advice for my Granddaughter
By Robert A. Hall

The world will break your heart, my girl,
Embrace it anyway.
You were a gift from God to us,
To turn despair away.

Enjoy each day you live, my girl,
For joy was made for you.
We see it in your happy smile
And everything you do.

Now live a life of honor, girl,
Of hope and faith and trust,
For duty's just a word for love,
And doing what you must.

Now live for something great, my girl,
For something more than self,
True happiness in service lies--
That is the only wealth.

Now live a life of learning, girl,
And read a book a week,
For knowledge is the Holy Grail,
You'll never cease to seek.

Now be a friend of truth, my girl,
And judge folk by their deeds,
For empty words are honeyed traps,
And lies are evil's seeds.

Don't live to make us proud, my girl,
But live so you are proud
Of everything you do in life—
And shun the evil crowd.

If reputation's lost, my girl,
Then life is but regrets,
So make your word your bond, my girl,
And always pay your debts.

If God is good to you, my girl,
And children come your way,
Don't pass support to someone else,
But parent every day.

Don't live for just today, my girl,
Or you will soon be bored,
The things in life worth having are
The things you work toward.

We do not wish you riches, girl,
By greed are many wrecked,
Contentment only comes to those
Who live with self respect.

We do not wish you ease, my girl,
Existence free of strife,
But all the joy that's found within
The purpose driven life.


  1. Old Jarhead, that's magnificent. May I copy it (abridge it if need be) and save it for mine, please? Thanks very much!!

  2. Sure, Old Bob. Anyone may copy and use for a child whose future you are concerned about. editing as needed for the situation. ~Bob Hall

  3. Well said! Well said! I pray that your grandaughter heeds those words fully.

  4. from long ago i come to comment....your sense of honor hasn't changed from all those many years ago in Fitchburg....life seems to have been kind to you and I am glad...I am sure that little girl knows her grandfather loves her and will hear his voice guiding her when she needs him the most

  5. Nice stuff. Only thing I would add is "Learn to manage money". You mention paying your debts. I would include not getting into debt in the first place.
    Debt is ruining our youth's prospects.

  6. I am a school counselor in a title one school. Your words of wisdom could have been written by any of my precious grandparents raising their grandchildren. Thank you! May God bless you!

  7. Anyone can see that this was written by a loving grandparent, but I would go easy on the comments about her mother. Better just to focus on the positive comments for your grandchild.