Linenger's Letters to his Son

March 2, 1997
"
Moral toughness"

Dear John:

Daddy even had to take a nap today. We were up all night preparing for the undocking, so at ten in the morning we were ordered to bed. No complaints from me. I didn't cry, stand up and look around, suck my thumb and pout, or squirm around trying to avoid capture. Just smiled and went right to bed. You maybe can try that sometime--Mommy reports that she's lucky to get you down even once a day. You little hooligan! Life is such an adventure for you and you just hate to miss anything.

John, I want to tell you what I think you should be when you grow up. Mommy's worried I might say fireman, since she knows that I've been playing fireman lately. But that's not it. What I want you to be is honest--a person of integrity. If Kathryn and I succeed in instilling in you that one characteristic--I will be satisfied that I raised you well and will be proud of you forever. It would be the ultimate gift you could give back to me as your father; and by doing it, you would honor me forever.

It's not as simple as it sounds.

A surgeon in Detroit asked me if, from my unique vantage point of space where I see one planet without boundaries, I had any solution to the senseless violence against one another that he sees daily . The question has bothered me since.

I don't know the answer, of course; but I think the problem stems from a basic lack of individual honesty. Thinking that prejudice is okay. That it is okay to steal from that person because he has plenty. That killing another person is okay 'in this instance'. That it is their problem, not mine. It goes on and on; but the common thread is someone deluding themselves into thinking that a wrong is okay; being dishonest with themselves.

It takes practice to get good at it, John. And determination. And moral toughness. Because in the short-term a little deception, a little lie makes the road ahead look smoother, easier. Keeps things simple and helps us to avoid, at least for the short term, the consequences. But it is always, and I mean always, the wrong path to choose.

I told you before--your Daddy was a 'scatter-arm' (my father's words...). Mommy says you love playing with any ball you can get your hands on. Someday you will break a window. No one will see you do it.

You will have an overwhelming urge to wait it out. I mean, maybe someone after you will throw a ball exactly through the same hole, and you are off the hook.

If confronted directly with: "you don't happen to know who broke that window, do you John?"; you will again want to say "no way", and hope no witnesses step forth, and that the name 'Linenger' wore off the ball on its flight through the glass. Saying "no way" will probably make you feel uncomfortable from the start.

If someone else is wrongly accused--it is very easy to sit quietly by -- never being directly dishonest. To do the right thing, to speak up, is especially difficult. You will have to work hard at this to get it right.

Even if presented with evidence--your name on the ball for example--you'll want to cover it up with another little lie by saying something like "oh, that's the ball my brother (hopefully you will have a brother someday--hint, hint to Mommy!) always uses. This is the slippery slope of once you tell one lie, it becomes increasingly difficult not to lie some more. Beware.

It is not as simple as it sounds to be honest, to have integrity. For a child, for an adult. But a lie breaks down trust; and once broken, trust is nearly irreparable.

Don't worry, little guy, you will fib and I expect you to fib. Part of the learning process. Maybe the natural human tendency favors that option. But I will correct you. Try to explain why it is important to be honest. I will correct you again and again and again. And I will pray that your conscience becomes strong enough so that at the point where you break out into adulthood, you will always make the right choice.

If over your adult years, my son, you never faltered on this one point--you will make me forever proud. For my part, I will try to be the best role model possible. And as to occupation: based on my limited experience: I don't recommend fireman (though the hats, sirens, and Sparky dogs are pretty cool...).

Goodnight John. And goodnight to the cow jumping over the moon.... I'll be watching over you.

Love,
Dad.

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