An open letter to Rebecca Anne:

ď[Will you be] a poet or a dancer, a devil or a clown, or some strange new combination of the things weíve handed down?Ē (Marc Cohn, ďThe Things Weíve Handed DownĒ).

The fact is that we have no clue as to who you are.As I write this, you sit with us and develop your brain at an alarming rate.Our current task is to keep you healthy.Our goal is to let you become whomever you are destined to be, shaped only by our guidance, mistakes, and love (youíll hate that I used that word once you are a teenager).

That isnít to say we are Calvinists (look it up).Nothing so easy as predestination.Life is a series of choices and consequences.Parenting is all about trying to help you make the right choices, generally long after our input is warranted or wanted.That, my dear Rebecca, is the reason for this letter.Think of it as the rules of engagement for living in our family.Iíll try to crystallize key ideas and thoughts, if only to avoid hearing you say ďyou never told meĒ.Iím telling you.Will this be complete, a users guide for dealing with us?Not a chance.Iíll do my best, but you might as well learn early that Mom and I are just winging it here.Timothy will undoubtedly back me up on this, as well as point out numerous other shortcomings.He will, I hope, also help fill in the gaps.Listen to him; being older doesnít make him smarter, but heíll at least have seen a lot of our mistakes and be able to talk you through them.

Below you will find a number of topics with a brief description of how we feel about each.To summarize in advance, itís our job to instill in you a sense of personal responsibility, integrity, and an appreciation of the fact that you have exceptional opportunities to affect your life.

Family.This one isnít at the top by accident.Family first, always. Always.†† There may be some rough patches, but you will never need to watch your back with us.Never accept less and never give us cause to wonder if you are being straight with us.

Consequences.You will get to make decisions for yourself, and need to accept that every action and choice will have consequences.Some will be immediate, some wonít materialize for years.Some will be obvious, others will be subtle. The decisions we will let you make will be based, in part, on how well we think you have handled prior ones.There will come a time when you are an adult and move out, at which point our ability to manage your choices ends.Until then, we make the final call (you may, at times, think you have the ability to go around us, but I promise that action will have long lasting consequences that you had better fully appreciate).This system, though terribly unfair to those under itís influence, seems to make sense to everyone who has been through it and come out the other side

Integrity.You need to behave as if everything you do will be published on the front page of tomorrowís New York Times.If it would embarrass you for the whole world to see it in print, donít do it (ďThe measure of a [personís] character is what [s]he would do if [s]he knew [s]he would never be found outĒ, Thomas B. Macaulay).Also under the heading of integrity, your word is binding.If you agree to do something you either do it or hurt yourself trying.Dad is a bit nuts about that last bit, but with some credit to the inventor of caffeine it has resulted in a few fairly surprising accomplishments.Mom has integrity too, she just doesnít over-commit like dad.

Drugs.One of the choices you will make is whether and when to use drugs.Mom and dad like to drink wine, so we certainly are in no position to say ďdonít ever do anythingĒ.Weíve also been given the opportunity to make some of these decisions for ourselves.What you need to know here is never hide this stuff from us, and understand that even though you feel invincible when young you can do some pretty serious damage.Anything that is about killing brain cells needs to be respected.If needed, you and I will spend time with folks in rehab and with damaged cognitive abilities to reinforce this.This can hurt you years later and you need to accept that Iím going to make that point clearly and often.

Religion.Think of me as a practicing agnostic with a Jewish heritage.Momís a musician first and a Methodist second.Itís important that you understand your history.Some find faith helpful in dealing with crises.Others look for it to provide moral guideposts.Both of these are valid, and understanding what drives much of the world has value even if you donít subscribe to otherís beliefs.You will be allowed to make your own decisions here, once you have been exposed to enough and have shown the ability to do this in a thoughtful way.

Dating.A fatherís first inclination is simply to say donít.Ever.Given that starting point, you should understand that itís unlikely you will ever meet anyone I think is worthy of you.Like drugs, you need to make smart choices here.Really.Oh, and donít trust boys (I was one, once).

Education.There are lots of benefits to being a part of this particular (and peculiar) family.Education is one of them.Expect a fair amount of support for any serious pursuit of self-improvement.††† The effort will continue to pay dividends in unexpected ways for the rest of your life.This doesnít mean that we do the investing alone.You will have to commit, but if you do so will we.

Work ethic.Get one.Dad is a bit over the top here, in part because Iím not afraid to aim high.I then work like a maniac to meet my commitments.Basically, donít ever be afraid to earn more than you make, and always have higher expectations for yourself than others do.Trust me, you wonít sleep much but it will be amazing; the colors get so vibrant when sleep deprived, and people do end up appreciating your contributions.

Judging others.You have an unusual opportunity.Genetically, you are likely to be predisposed for some great stuff.Environmentally, you will be given the tools and resources to take advantage of this.Donít demean those who are less fortunate; there are brilliant folks out there who will never get the opportunity to succeed.Donít confuse being luckier with being better, and be absolutely blind to otherís race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc.Breaking this rule wonít be tolerated, ever.That doesnít mean you canít judge other who demonstrate a lack of personal responsibility or work ethic.Thatís very different from prejudging.

So now you have it.A glimpse of what to expect.I have no doubt that Iíll regret the way in which I said something here, and wish that I had added a lot more.No stone tablets; I reserve the right to evolve this as we go.Did I mention Iím just winging it?So when I totally screw something up, cut me some slack.It isnít for lack of trying, and my intentions will at least be good.Iíll ask the same of you.

Love (thereís that word again) always,


P.S.I read somewhere that you donít love your children, you fall in love with them.Itís true.I really hope you get to find out for yourself someday.