Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dear Harrison

By Joe Cunningham

Dear Harrison,

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while, and as you will know by now, you won’t ever do something unless you just do it.

I was driving to get you from your Mom’s one day, and someone cut me off. I felt how fragile my life was and how at any moment, in the everyday things, I could be gone. And I would never get a chance to tell you even a little bit of what I wanted to say.

So I decided to write this. And hopefully I am around when you understand it all.

This won’t be everything. I’m hoping I’ll be around long enough to be a pain in the ass and tell you more “-ism’s” and “wise things” that you will mostly find boring until maybe someday in your distant future, perhaps if you have a son of your own, or when you “get out there” and realize what it is like to be a man in this world, you will appreciate and find useful.

I trust that my friends will make sure you get to read this if I’m not there when you are old enough. I’m betting there will be kids that make fun of you for some of these things I am about to tell you but, trust me, they are just jealous their dad isn’t such a badass motherfucker.

  1. If
By Rudyard Kipling. It is your Dad’s favorite poem and says more than he can ever say. I yelled it out loud at your grandparents’ house when I first got out of the seminary when I was 24. I didn’t know where the hell I was gonna go at the time. But that poem become part of my blood.

Your Uncle Kevin used it in his Best Man speech when your Mother and I got married. Memorize it. You will someday make decisions based on it if you think about it enough.

Also “Invictus” has helped me son. That one is your Uncle Kevin’s favorite.

2. Climb Mount Washington
There is a story about mountain climbers. People who never scale those heights ask them, “Why do you climb that mountain?” and they reply, “Because it’s there.”

When your Father was a boy and all the way through college, he used to run mountains with his friends and kids from boarding school. It was hard in the beginning, but your Dad was “an animal” they would say.
One time, only the toughest volunteered to do the Presidential Range when we were on vacation in New Hampshire. It’s something like 12 peaks, 26 or some-odd miles. We were two teams of 5, we met at Mount Washington and exchanged car keys. Some of the guys on the other team didn’t make it. The fast altitude changes made us all sick. Normally you do that hike in 3 days. We did it in 12 hours.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more sore in my life, but it was something I will never forget. It made me feel I could do anything.

When you get up on the top of that mountain, look out there and think of me, and know that you can do anything you really want to do. Hopefully we can do that together.

3. Do what you love.
Perhaps my favorite speech is this clip of Jim Carrey giving a commencement address. Your Dad does a great Jim Carrey impression as you probably will know (and hate) by now.

It took your Dad a long time to figure it out, and life never really ends when you think you got all your shit together, son. It’s about being responsible and also being able to enjoy the present moment, because that’s all you got, but it’s also the time you have to prepare for the future for you and the ones you love.

When your Dad graduated with a creative writing degree, he went into marketing, because that was a seemingly logical step to make money off of his passion and talent. Though I don’t regret the friends I made, and everything happens for a reason, that was a fucking stupid idea in itself.

After 7 years of getting burnt out and highs and lows of doing great and sucking ass, I realized I had to separate “the money making thing” from “the passion.” I got a job that I can leave at work, left the ones that had me chained to my email inbox, and God, “that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost, read that shit.)

Right now I’m working on a book about Lawrence Gabriel, who you hopefully know very well. He’s a fucking hero and he doesn’t even think so, someone your Dad wants to be like, and someone who deserves being looked up to.

And I’m doing on my own time, when you’re with your Mom and I’m not working. I miss you kid, more than I can say, but two moments that I really feel alive are when I am with you and when I am writing something good.

Find a way to do what you love kid. Do what makes you feel alive. I will always support you in that.

4. Just be you.
You’re never gonna be perfect kid. If you’re reading this when you’re about 15 years old, you’ll probably be going through the emotional battle I went through when I first got hair on my balls and did about 3,000 push-ups a day.

You’re always gonna be rough around the edges, and after 30 fucking years of that, I realized that I like that about myself.

Your parents named you after Harrison Ford because he is like that: someone who has character flaws but is a man’s man: he says what he means, no bullshit, and stands up for and protects women and children. I always felt an actor couldn’t portray someone he was not in some way, and you can read about how he saved people in his helicopter and whatnot.

(Watch all of his movies, especially Raiders, Fugitive, the Jack Ryans, Regarding Henry, and Witness. And Adaline. And the one your Dad writes for him. There’s something there kid: that’s why you have the name.)

We improve ourselves everyday: eat healthy, read, work out, work on our habits and try to form virtues. Never stop that. There have been times your Dad let himself lose “it,” but he got it back again.

You will never be “perfect,” but I think that’s perfect in itself.

There is only one perfect man in my book, and I hope you get to know him as I did when I was away in Dublin as a hermit for those years.

You don’t have to be a hermit to do that.

5. Don’t give away your trust like you give money to cashiers.
“Your Father worked with Hyman Roth, but he never trusted Hyman Roth.”
- The Godfather, Part II

There are a lot of shady shit people in this world kid. No doubt you’ve met more than a few of them. Some of them “are like wolves in sheep’s clothing.” You will get wiser as you get fucked over, but that’s life kid.

You go from being naive to getting scorned. Just don’t loose the goodness and don’t hate everyone because of what one person did to you.

There’s a reason why Dickens (your Dad’s fav author, read Tale, his favorite book) wrote Oliver Twist. And, analogously, why Rowling wrote Harry Potter, which, I’m guessing is one of your nicknames, because of your name and matching scars, that your Father has also.

It’s because of that. They were able to stay good despite the worst possible things happening to them.

Which brings me to my next point.

6. Don’t play the blame game.
Sylvester Stallone said it better than I ever will here kid. The first Rocky will always be the greatest, but this is the very best speech. It changed your Dad’s life forever.

I been through my fair share of shit kid, but when I looked back after this speech, I realized most of life’s shit comes from the decisions you made, and then there’s the shit that just happens. How you deal with all of that is what makes you a real man or a fucking loser.

Which leads to…

7. Be a real man.
There are a lot of biological men out there kid, but very few real men. I swear if you are a fucking doosh I will rise up from my grave and beat the living shit out of you.

You need to protect women. Respect them. (I knew you would treat women like I treat your Mom now, so even though we don’t always agree, I am aware of that when I talk to her for your sake.) Protect children, the innocent. You need to be the one that stands up for what is right, even when it’s not popular, even when there will be really tough consequences.

Let me tell you kid, the real riches are in character; everything else flows from that.

8. Always seek the truth wherever it may be found.
Your Dad came from an overly-conservative background. People that think they have all the answers. Fortunately, he was able to break outta that, while still keeping the good things he learned.

Some of the worst people in the world are the ones who think they fuckin know everything. Beware of those people! The wise man knows there is so much he does not know.

All of the best philosophers and teachers were able to look at all sorts of different cultures and peoples and find the truth that was there within, the common thread we all have in our hearts to cut through the bullshit and really know and do what is best.

Don’t ever look down on someone because of what they look like or where they came from. There is something to be learned from everyone kid. Obviously, some more than others. Stay humble.

9. Seek true love.
It exists kid. I’ve felt it.

“What is love?” - Phil Collins (great fucking song, haha)

True love is the very best feeling you can feel. (But also "More Than A Feeling" - another great song.) You really have to risk your whole heart to find it, and if you lose it, it is the very worst feeling in the world kid. It will take the wind right out of you and no sword can cut deeper or hurt worse.

But it is worth it.

It makes life come alive, it is the comfort you only dreamed of, it makes sex something ethereal that is more the communication of two people that are crazy about each other.

(I remembered this and added later): son, don't waste your time on girls without character. True beauty is on the inside. Of course, it's great to find someone who has both, and you will. Pretty is on the outside, beauty comes from within.

A wise person once told me: "Reflect what you desire." If you want to attract someone of worth, be someone of worth.

True there is a spectrum of the kinds of love. Siblings, parents, children, soul mates, friends, etc.

I love you son. I love you more than anyone or anything. I know I’m not perfect, by far, but I would die for you without thinking. And I live for you, which is the harder thing sometimes. But I love my life mainly because you are in it.

“I simply love you
More than I love
Life itself.”

- Elton John (who is better than Billy Joel kid)

I post a lot of pictures on Facebook and Instagram, hoping that in the future you will go back and see them and see how much your Daddy loves you. I love you kid.

“You want to know what my happy thought was?
It was you.”
-Robin Williams, Hook

It was you kid, it was always you.

“The two most important days of a man’s life are the day he was born and the day he finds out why.” - Mark Twain (read Joan of Arc by him, your Father’s 2nd fav book

You are my why kid. You and the people who read the small sliver of my writing that isn’t total fucking shit.

10. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry you didn’t have an easy life kid. You will have heard the stories over and over from many different people (like Citizen Kane, which you need to watch) about how your Mom and I were married for like 5 minutes. The important thing for you to remember is: I will never regret it because I got you.

I miss not seeing your sister and brother and you all the time, but trust me kid, it is better this way.

Your Dad is very much not perfect. But he tries to be all the things I just wrote about here. And I know what I write and what I say won’t really stand up against two shits flying in the wind (WTF?); it is what I do that you will really remember and take to heart.

I am aware of that. And I think about it all the time.

You will hear many stories about me, some of them good, some bad - and some of both of those will be true. I hope you are able to discern which. Your Father was never a cheater, and he’s made a lot of mistakes, but he always tried to be a hero, which has sometimes worked against him.

What is more important than worrying about our legacy is what we do for others, and the quality of character we truly have. Good people will misjudge us (and bad), but it must not be the shit we worry about most.

11. I want you to fuck up.
What? Yeah.

Some of the best experiences and life lessons have come from me going out “there” on my own quest, on my own dime, with my own lack of experience and wisdom and coming back bruised, beaten, and a little bit wiser.

Just don’t go anywhere you can’t come back from.

And I will always be there for you kid. But I want you to be able to be able to take care of yourself too.

12. Your Dad is Batman.
But don’t tell anybody. (Hahaha.)

13. Enjoy the moment, kid.
If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be that. I spent most of my life til recently just thinking about the “next thing” and distant future plans that I hadn’t begun, and not the here and now.

The present is everything that is real. We use it to deal with the past and plan for the future but you’ve got to enjoy it. That’s really the secret to life kid. That and we were meant for more than this world. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” We have infinite desires that can only be satisfied by something/One infinite.

Yesterday, you were with your Mom and I had the day off so I ran around Green Lakes. Your Father loves to run and listen to good music. No doubt you heard me sing in the shower like all the time, or blast music in the car. Your uncles and I inherited that from your Grandfather (“Beepa,” as you call him.)

Find what you love (again) and do that with the people you love. That’s the shit right there kid.

I used to think “It’s not only the destination but the journey” was a motto for losers, but those are the people who really have it figured out there kid. Have goals and work towards them and attain them, but enjoy getting there son.

And the real “there” isn’t even “here.”

14. Put on your own oxygen mask before you help the person next to you put on theirs.
Someday you’ll understand this. You’re Daddy fucked that up and learned that.

15. You become like the people you spend the most time with.
Choose that shit wisely, and be able to shift if need be.

16. Remember the world doesn’t owe you jack shit!
You gotta “earn it” kid. (Saving Private Ryan)

Don’t ever expect a free ride or a handout, from anybody! That will make you weak as shit. And the day will soon come when none of that is there and then you’ll be fucked. You gotta work for everything that is truly worth anything.

Remember that.

17. Beauty will save the world.
 "Beauty is truth, and truth beauty; that is all yea need to know on earth, that is all that you can know." - Keats

Your Father is an artist and a semi-decent writer sometimes and he loves music like the lifeblood that flows through his body.

Go to the art galleries, watch great movies, read great books, listen to the music that makes you feel alive son! Find your favorites and just cherish those! And don’t be ashamed of any of it.

(And go outdoors - art reflects nature and the opposite can also be true.)

I never wanna be that jackass dad who decides everything for you and puts you in all sorts of extracurricular shit. I want you to be you and do what you want. And I will enjoy seeing exactly what that is.

You’re so cute when you sing with me in the car. Haha. All your girlfriends are gonna thank me for adding that. (Haha!)

18. Keep a journal and write down your goals.
Thanks to my buddy Mark, I do that. Most everyday. And it helps a whole goddam lot kid. 

"The lightest ink is stronger than the strongest memory." - Chinese proverb

It just helps you get the important shit into focus, to go for it, and get it done.

19. Just remember I love you.
I know you’re going to hate my guts and shit. God knows I did that to your grandparents and put them through hell.

But I love you son. And if I do my “job” right, you’re gonna hate me at some point.

I get you tomorrow. And I can’t wait kid. (Your Mom and I split the week.) You and I do this thing where I tell you I love you and you say “I love you back” and then I say “I love you more” and you reply I love you “most-er,” and I “mostest," and “mosterest” and “more than that.” And I know, even though you are three, that’s real kid.

You can be a real pain in my ass sometimes (it’s part of the deal, and it goes both ways), but you gotta know that I would kill for you. And that I can’t be there all the time to protect you from everything. And that will help make you a man. It scares the shit outta me, but at the same time, in some ways, I want that for you.

It’s like when you get sick, which you may know if you ever give me grandkids, I feel it more kid, even if I’m not sick at the time.

Because I love you.


I’m gonna think of 50 other things to say after I post this, but I’ll end here. I’m sure you’ll hear 5 million more from me (and roll your eyes) as the years go by. I hope I’m there to see you do all the great things you’re gonna do. And know I’m already so goddam proud of you, son.

I am not the best Father a boy could have, but you are the best son; and don’t you ever think otherwise.

With all my heart son,

Your Father
Joseph Thomas Martin Cunningham

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