A lesson in life to my 12-year-old son

Dear Son, you don’t know hard.

You ain’t ever picked cotton. Never stood in the face of a lynch mob. Never carried a cotton sack across sun-baked plantations from can’t-see-in-the-morning ’til can’t-see-at-night.

Dear Son, Dr. King took stones for you. A fatal bullet for the dream of your freedom and equality.


So many nameless, faceless people risked life and limb that you might have the right to sit at a restaurant counter and eat, to drink from any public water fountain, to vote. Inhaled the stench of human spittle and racial epithets.

They marched toward the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., toward Montgomery amid teargas and vicious billy clubs swung by merciless white officers with ferocity enough to crack a human skull. They dared venture to the polls, choosing to seek out liberty or else humbly to accept death.

And yet, today only a handful of our people vote. Instead, we make excuses, stay home and complain that nothing ever changes — thereby spitting in the faces of all of those who bled, died and sacrificed.

Dear Son, Rosa Parks sat down that you might someday be able to stand up in the full embodiment of American citizenship. The Little Rock Nine braved hate so that you might have equal access to education.

Your ancestors could be horsewhipped for being caught with a book. And yet, they embraced education and literacy like precious jewels.

Today, too many of our children come to school unprepared to learn. Won’t sit down and behave. Would rather rap than read. Party than pay attention in class. Would rather “turn up” than turn in their homework.

Today we have access but devalue what once was held in high esteem. Too many would rather dribble or run with a ball-chase the pipedream of the NBA or NFL than faithfully pursue the promise of education.

Our ancestors lit kerosene lanterns to see at night. Walked their feet sore to be able to attend school. Learned to make something from nothing. Stood in the face of unrelenting cruelty, singing in the heat of the day under the master’s lash, dreaming of someday laying their burdens down.

Son, you don’t know hard. And I regret to inform you that you have been born into a most ungrateful and selfish generation of privileged thanklessness. A generation, disconnected and oblivious to past struggles and sacrifices that are the wind beneath your sail.

Still, I have concluded that if you do not know this, it is my fault. Not yours. And it is my obligation to teach you:

That you don’t “need” a new pair of Jordan’s, an iPhone, iPod or iPad. You don’t “need” a new video game. That you will not die if you don’t have the latest silly fad on your back or backside.

What you need is a good mind and a good education. What you need is to develop sound character and to continue to love and respect yourself and others.

For your worth will never be measured by how much stuff you accumulate, or how much money you make, but by who you truly are and how you treat others. By whether you are a protector, or a predator. One who ministers to others, or a menace. A producer, or a parasite. A stalwart, or a sluggard.

One of these ways seems easy but will make your life hard. The other seems hard, but someday will make your life much more at ease.

Son, you don’t know hard. I love you. So I pray you never do.

Email: author@johnwfountain.com

The Latest
Coach Billy Donovan used the game to rest DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Alex Caruso. That meant an opportunity for rookie Adama Sanogo and veteran Jevon Carter to shine.
The third inning was the difference in the Sox’ 11-1 loss to the Reds at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Since the 1990s, countless shoppers have scored eye-popping deals on a range of goods found in giant cardboard boxes and on warehouse-style shelves.
The 46-year-old was found unresponsive in a hallway about 4:50 p.m. in the 5600 block of South Michigan Avenue, police said.
Sitting at a typewriter, the Los Angeles-based performance artist is working on a project to re-type 100 published novels — each one on a single page.