On Father’s Day ‘Dear Son’ A Father’s Gift by Hal O’Leary

On Father’s Day ‘Dear Son’ A Father’s Gift by Hal O’Leary

As an extremely proud father on this Father’s Day, I would like to recall a letter I wrote to my son on his graduation from college thirty-four years ago.  May all fathers, on this Father’s Day, contemplate and appreciate the gift of fatherhood.

On Father's Day 'Dear Son' A Father's Gift by Hal O'Leary

Portrait of Alexander J Cassatt and his son Robert, by Mary Cassatt

Dear Sean

  1. You now possess a BA degree in philosophy.  I’ve been asked on occasion just what you intend to do with a degree in philosophy.  My response has been that with it, you have learned to think, and with the ability to think, you will be able to do whatever you choose.

Yes, I am content in the belief that you are now well-equipped to do anything you may wish.  Your body is fit, your mind has been liberated and your soul is beautiful.  There is little doubt that you will most often not only do the right thing, but more importantly, it will be done for the right reason.

While I apologize for those times when I may have been less attentive than some fathers, you can take great pride in having gotten where you are pretty much on your own.  I’ve made no great sacrifice for you, nor do I think you would have wished me to.  I’ve been pretty occupied in the leading of my own life, a life I wish for you, a life with a high degree of freedom which I believe to be the basis of all genuine happiness.

The freedom I speak of is that freedom which allows us to act on our own freely formulated precepts and concepts, but ever mindful that perceptions are not necessarily truths. They are nothing more than stepping stones to whatever truths we may discover in this journey of life, for, as the old proverb tells us, life is indeed a journey, not a destination.  This freedom cannot be granted, nor can it be taken away. It is won by the courage of one’s convictions, with the recognition that they can at times be faulty.  It is only with the willingness to accept the blame for our failures that we can take pride in and credit for the successes.

In this fashion I have tried to live my life.  Like all men, I am body, mind and soul, but in saying that, I lay claim to a uniqueness.  I am that for which there is no metaphor.  From time to time, however, I must surrender a portion of that uniqueness for the privilege of co-existence.  In this regard, we are all prostitutes; the only difference is the price.

The capitalists bid for my body with the promise of the “good life.”  The politicians bid for my mind with the promise of the secure life.  The priests bid for my soul with the promise of eternal life.  I must say that I find the capitalists tempting at times, for it is often that their need for product coincides with my need to produce, and we can strike a handsome bargain in which I am rewarded twofold.  I also flirt frequently with a variety of politicians and priests whose occasional idea or philosophy might catch my fancy.  From these, I have profited physically, intellectually and ethically.  BUT, when the capitalists become cynics, the politicians become fanatics and the priests become zealots, demanding complete surrender of body, mind and soul under the threat of deprivation, ostracism and eternal damnation, I rebel.  My rebellion comes in the form of a very simple but highly effective, “No.”  It’s effective because it takes them so by surprise. You see, the politicians have counted heavily on my fear of accepting responsibility for making decisions– in short, my fear of living; the priests have counted on my fear of the vast unknown–in short, my fear of dying; and the capitalists, of course, have counted on both.  However, so long as I can rejoice in life, a life of my own making, a life that, of course, has no meaning at all without the acceptance of–yea, even the promise of–death, they have no power because I have no fear.  Their currency is counterfeit, nothing more than promissory notes to be circulated among cowards.

For now, this is about all I have to give you, an example of a life I have found for myself. It costs me nothing.  Thus it carries with it no obligation.  May you find, as I have, discipline without obedience, love without obligation, and happiness without fear.



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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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