Hoover, you know I’m infallible, right?
I’ve realized that you’ve never asked for my credentials for giving you advice. I appreciate your blind trust but want to make sure you grow up a discerning young man. So for the sake of thoroughness, and to dismiss any potential naysayers who may one day happen upon these notes to you, I thought maybe I’d give you a quick sampling of a few important accomplishments in my life.
—Heart Award, Hidden Valley 4-H Camp, Waktins Glen, New York (2000) [the 4-H motto: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living.”]
—Poet Laureate, Thomas J. Rusk Middle School, Nacogdoches, Texas (2003)
—undefeated cake eating contest champion, ADVANCE Program for Young Scholars, Natchitoches, Louisiana (2009-2011)
Since this last one is definitely the most impressive, I offer you photographic proof, taken after my first victory:
(The contest measures speed, not volume, so the trick is just to be able to swallow a piece of cake without chewing. Also, that was the summer we were really into bandanas.)
I trust these things speak for themselves in terms of communicating that I am highly accomplished in many areas, and therefore obviously have the authority to advise others such as yourself on a breadth of topics.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to business.
There’s this episode of The West Wing (I’m pretty sure I’ve promised you before that we’ll watch it all one day) that centers around the idea of “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet.” Bartlet’s the prez, and the idea is he does better work when he’s actually being true to his natural instincts instead of trying to do what he thinks people want. I don’t think anyone rational would argue with this concept. I’ve adopted this motto and when I find myself in conflict with people about what I’m supposed to be doing (with my day, my life, whatever), I say, “Let Herbert Be Herbert.”
And yet, even though the rational should understand this in theory, in practice they so often don’t. People can be such dumbs.
The version of this mantra that is bandied about frequently in my apartment is “You do you.” (You’ll meet my friend Lauren one day, sometimes she is tortured/TREATED with endless pictures of you.) One of us will come home from something or get off a phone call and start complaining about people interfering with our lives and inevitably the conversation becomes, “I just wanna be like, ‘You do you, let me do me.’”
It is very hard for some people to let other people (usually ones they care about) do what they want. It’s a protective thing, which, while well-intentioned, can be totally infuriating.
Let’s take you for a sec, Puffbutt. Here are two of the reigning qualities of your personality:
1. Loves trucks.
2. Thumbs-middle-to-down on holidays.
These are things we accept about you, we embrace them, because trying to get you to do anything other than what you want or be anyone other than who you are is never gonna end well for any of us. So personally, I love that our Christmas photo together looks like this:
Because it so captures who we both are.
What I’m getting at here is neither deep nor particularly original, but it’s such an important thing I need you to understand. You do you, bro. Let Puffbutt be Puffbutt. We’ve established that I’m an infallible source of wisdom for you and obviously want you to follow all the advice I ever give, but if you’re like, “Look, Aunt Vera, I’m gonna listen to Christmas music before Thanksgiving because I freakin’ feel like it” or “I hate birthday parties so stop telling me I need to be excited about having one,” I’m gonna have to suck it up.
Let’s make a pact right now. I will never try to run your life if you promise not to let anyone else run your life either. Look, if I show up for your 2nd birthday party and you’ve got track marks on your arm, I’m gonna break this pact because that’s a problem, but barring such a turn of events, I’m gonna trust you. You have such defined likes and dislikes, you so know what you want, I never want to make you miserable by getting in your way. Your gut is ever-growing; let’s both trust it.
John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and his book “The Winter of Our Discontent” contains one of my favorite lines ever: “You know how advice is. You only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway.” Preach, dude.
I’m not giving you free license to never listen to other people. That is certainly a recipe for failure and definitely your parents will not be happy with me for that. I’m saying listen to people — like really listen, don’t just pretend to while silently reciting the lyrics to 2Pac’s “Only God Can Judge Me” in your head — but if you know deep down inside your jelly little belly, even if you can’t express why, that what they’re telling will not work for you, then you say, “Thank you but my aunt says no thank you, take it up with her.” And I will sort them out for you.
For now, you keep ignoring everything around you that isn’t truck-shaped as long as it makes you happy, even though the rest of us are like, “Dude, they have four wheels and they roll, WE GET IT.”
And I’ll keep competitively shoving my face into piles of cake when my best friends and I decide we have nothing better to do.
One love, little giant.