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September 19, 2011

Letter To My Son On His 3rd Birthday: Welcome To The Machine

September 19, 2011

Letter To My Son On His 3rd Birthday: Welcome To The Machine

Dear Z: Just like last year, I’m writing this letter nine days after your 3rd birthday. The last couple weeks with you starting pre-school have been a huge adjustment.

Now I’m sitting here all showered and ready for work in the 6:00am hour, starting this letter, hoping I finish it before you wake up and we start your before-school routine.

This is the first day of my new routine and it’s quite jarring. The first day of your new routine was no big deal. You walked into class, started painting, and didn’t even notice when we left. When your mom came to pick you up that day, you said: “I want to stay here forever.”

Well chosen words. Because from here on, you will be part of some institution or another. So let me be the first to say: welcome to the machine.

I spent most of my life internally fighting the concept of machines—schools, teachers, companies, bosses—mostly to my detriment.

It’s a lot of wasted energy because everyone is part of some machine, which is just fine if you’re using it to your advantage … something you realized on your very first day.

It took me much, much longer than that.

Five years ago, I was telling our friend Greg F (SF) how I’d won this sales contest at work by placing in the top 15 companywide, how it was all prestigious, and how I won this fancy trip for me and your mom.

His response: “Well don’t you just have to keep up with that made-up target now? Do you even want to?”

For the first time in my life, my answer was genuinely “yes” and not because I was trying to impress (or perhaps spite) anyone else, but because I was enjoying what I was doing.

It’s the same reason you said what you said when your mom picked you up from your first day of pre-school.

If you enjoy what you’re doing—or at the very least, if you realize that what you’re doing is a means to an end—then you can be at peace in whatever machine you’re part of at the time. And you can get the most out of it.

School will be your main machine for the next 18 or more years, then work for the next 40 or more years after that.

So like last year, I’m saving these words here so we can refer back to them later, at a time when you’re raging against the machine and might need some guidance.

That’s when we’ll get into other ways of dealing with machines. I’ll introduce you to bands like Rage Against The Machine, The Coup, and Pink Floyd. And movies like The Matrix and Office Space.

By then you may be too cool for me and my pop cultural teachings because parents will at some point become just another machine.

I hope any such phase passes quickly but if you’re ever feeling like my words aren’t needed, take a look at this picture of you from yesterday.

This is what it means to disconnect from the machine. Loosen up the tie, get the sand in your toes, and wander a bit. But clearly you already know that.

Love, Dad