I have three sons, the youngest of whom just turned 18. They are all now legal adults! Their mother and I divorced 16 years ago. They didn’t live with me but when we had time together, I did my best to help guide them to this point in their lives. I knew I had limited time with them, so I’ve often wondered how much influence I could have had over them. So I’m writing them this letter to give them my rules for living so they can improve upon my successes, avoid my mistakes, and live a life that will make their kids proud. I don’t know if my kids are proud of me, but I’m very proud of them!
When your mother and I divorced, I had a few well-meaning people warn me that children of divorce will have an extremely challenging life. They told me you would have trouble in school, trouble with relationships, have psychological and anger issues. Instead, you turned into very resilient children. You never became a “child of divorce.” Your school work was exemplary, you were active in sports, and when you found jobs, you exhibited the work ethic I hoped I would see from you. I want to believe I had something to do with that, but I want you to know I give your mother credit for the majority of it.
Now that you’re adults, I want to give you my rules for living a happy, productive life:
Laughter is the best medicine. When you learn to laugh at yourself, you can get through anything life throws your way. You’ve heard the saying, “you’ll look back on this and laugh one day.” Laugh today instead! Laugh so much that people wonder about your sanity. I gave the eulogy for my mother and I had my brothers and sisters and friends of the family laughing during the service. Sure we cried before, during and after the service, but if you can laugh through your tears you’ll be okay.
Be kind to everyone. whether they deserve it or not. I learned this rule a long time ago and I’m still trying to perfect it. One day, I was driving to work. The guy in front of me at the light would not turn right on red even though there was clearly no traffic. I honked at him and got him to go. I turned right and followed him into the parking lot at work. He was the CEO of the company! I now gently tap the horn only when necessary. Be kind to everyone you know or don’t know, because that person you don’t know now could be someone very important in your life later. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.
Don’t let pride get in your way. There will be many times where swallowing your pride is the best way to resolve a situation. Swallow hard and do the right thing. Be proud, but not prideful.
Don’t lie, cheat, or steal. Honesty really is the best policy. When you lie to people, you create a divide between you and them. That lie will always keep you from closing that divide and prevent you from being close to them ever again. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them” is not true. What they don’t know hurts you. Cheating is a form of lying to yourself. If you think you can win by cheating, you have already lost. Stealing is wrong. I have no pearls of wisdom about that – it’s just wrong.
Love women just the way they are. I love women! I have more female friends than male friends! Don’t expect your logical mind to ever figure out women because they aren’t ruled by logic. You will drive yourself crazy if you question a woman’s motivation for doing something. It makes sense to them, so it doesn’t need to make sense to you! Don’t fight with a woman, because you will lose! Even if you win, you lose. Go with the flow, enjoy their company, treat them with respect, and always open the door for them (even if they could bench press the building).
Learn how to work a room. At any social gathering, it’s important to learn how to enter and exit conversations. If you’re at a cocktail party and you see someone nursing their drink and standing off to the side, talk to that person. Ask questions to find some common ground and talk the shit out of that topic. Don’t look around the room while you are talking to them just to see if there is someone else you’d rather talk to. When you are ready to move on, do it gracefully. Give them a firm handshake, look them in the eye and say, “It was great talking to you.”
Handle your finances wisely. Don’t use credit for consumer goods. If it’s something that will last longer than the payments use credit. This means you buy houses and cars with credit. You might have to use credit to furnish the house. You should never use credit for impulse purchase or for groceries. If you need to use credit to buy groceries, it’s because you are paying so much on your credit card bills that now you have to charge everything. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. Don’t do it!
Love yourself. There will be many times in your life where you will not be proud of yourself. You will do something you’re ashamed of. You are not alone – this is human nature. As hard as we try, we can’t live a perfect life. When you mess up, learn from it and never do it again. Then, you have to forgive yourself and let it go. You can do this only if you love yourself and respect and value who your are. Loving yourself opens up your ability to love someone else and accepting them as they are. Then, when they fail to be their very best, you can be there to help them rather than scold them. Loving yourself lets you love others freely.
Friend quality is better than friend quantity. Having a few close friends who know you as well as you know them, and they love you anyway, is better than having a bunch of “friends.” Your best friends should be your spouse, your brothers, and a few other close friends you would trust with your life.
You aren’t the only one. There will come a time when you are surrounded by people who appear happy and successful and who seem to have it all figured out. When they are alone, they have doubts, fears and frustrations and they question why all those other people seem to have it all figured out. No one has it all figured out all the time. Everyone has doubts, fears and frustrations. You’re not alone.
If all else fails, follow your instincts. You have been given the gift of intelligence and good looks, thanks to yours truly, and you’ve proven that you’re moral, ethical, and caring individuals. But there will be times where you don’t know what to do. Your conscience will never lead you astray. If what you’re considering feels wrong, don’t do it.
Finally, if you could just do one thing, it should be “enjoy life.” If you use the above tools, you should be well on your way to enjoying life to the fullest. We are on this earth for a mere blink of an eye. I hope to live long enough to read what you want to pass on to your children.
On my FAQ post, the responses were mainly about my smile. I thought I’d try and share with you some of the most memorable encounters I’ve had with people due to my smile.
As a kid, it was a non-issue for my friends and family. It was just how I smiled. It was a part of me that made me unique. I had a few negative experiences, one of which comes readily to mind. It was easy to find people to play a baseball game in the Presbyterian Church field. It wasn’t really a baseball diamond – we just made it that way. One day, after months and months of my ignoring this kid who kept calling me “crooked lip,” I cracked and called him by his middle name. He threw down his glove and came toward me ready to kick my ass. I stood my ground and said, “You’ve been calling me “crooked lip” for a long time and I didn’t do anything about it. This is the first time I called you by the name your parents gave you and you want to fight me? That’s pathetic!” He backed down, walked back to his position and never talked to me again.
When I was younger, my mom sent us to the Fraser’s house while she was at the hospital delivering babies (I think it was Carl but it could have been Mark & Martie). All I know is that I was standing up in the rope swing hanging from the Fraser’s tree. My brother, Doug came out and decided to spin me around. I guess when I yelled “STOP” he heard “SPIN FASTER!” I couldn’t hold on and I flew face first onto the sidewalk. To make a long story short, I broke my nose and I lost about 5 baby teeth. The rushed me to the hospital and I ended up needing surgery to put my face back together. The first thing I found out about after I got out of the hospital was that Mr. & Mrs. Fraser wanted to make sure my smile wasn’t ruined! I thought that was really weird at the time, but now it’s a fond memory.
While in boot camp in the Army, I met people from all across the country. This was my first experience meeting a large group of new people who I thought must have seen my smile as an oddity. No one said anything or asked about it until one day, with a big grin on his face, a fellow soldier gave me a nickname. He said, “I’m going to call you Turnip.” When I asked why, he said, “Because your lip turns up when you smile!” I laughed hard at that one!
Since then, there have been random strangers asking me about it. As I age, people have started asking me when I had my stroke. I just tell them I was born with it and that’s the end of the conversation. One time recently, I was sitting at a bar. Next to me was a guy with a hearing aid who seemed roughly my age. We started talking and it turns out that he was an artilleryman for the Army and we both served at Fort Benning,Georgia. He couldn’t stop thanking me for my service to the country. I assumed his hearing aids were the result of blowing shit up. Out of the blue, he said “what happened to your face, did you have some kind of a heart attack?” After briefly considering laughing and correcting him that he meant to ask about my stroke, I just told him about the forceps.
It’s really a non-issue for me. If nothing else, it’s a conversation starter. It hasn’t stopped me from landing a job, making friends, or having children. Actually, that reminds me. There were a few times while holding a toddler (mine or a niece or nephew), that they would inevitably try to mimic my smile. It made me laugh every time!
Everyone has something that makes them unique. Lucky for me, mine also makes me awesome!
Yes, now stop making me think about my parents having sex!
What number are you?
I’m the 9th kid and the 4th son. While not technically the “middle child,” 9 out of 14 is close enough.
What was it like having such a big family?
Yeah, but you always had someone to play with, right?
And we always had someone to fight with too! During the blizzard of 1978, I spent more time at Shawn & Craig Honnerlaw’s house than my own. I walked through a blizzard with snow drifts taller than I was in order to keep myself from going crazy at home.
You guys could have fielded your own basketball team!
If by team you mean unathletic, uncoordinated people who were 5 feet 5 inches tall on average, then you are correct!
What did your dad do? Did your mom work?
My dad drank. A lot. For money, he worked as an accountant. We weren’t allowed to discuss money so I didn’t know how much he made until he co-signed my student loan. In 1984, he made $45,000. That’s roughly $93,000 in today’s money, so he didn’t do too badly. The house was paid off, so that helped. Mom worked during my teen years, but only as a way to stay sane. She could get drunk on less than one beer.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the metropolis of Wilmington,Ohio. It’s located about 45 minutes from Tri-County and 45 minutes from the Dayton Mall. I always stopped at Dingleberry’s whenever I went to Dayton Mall. First, I went there because of their prices and selection of albums. Beginning the summer before my senior year in high school, I shopped more towards the front of the store.
Wilmington, huh? Did you live on a farm?
Fuck you and the stereotype you rode in on! Small town America isn’t all farms! I spent a summer detasseling corn, which was pretty damn tiring. I made good money, but I learned I’m not cut out for that kind of work! I think our house was the farm house before they built the Southridge subdivision, but that was before our time.
Are you married? Do you have any kids?
I got married at 20 and divorced at 35. We have three sons, 23, 20, and 17. I was married for 15 years and I’ve been divorced for 15 years! I love my kids and I’ve remained active in their lives. I don’t think I’ve been active enough, but they turned out to be extremely well adjusted, productive members of society. Remaining friends with their mother may have helped with that, but I’ll give her the credit she deserves.
Are you seeing anyone now?
In the 15 years since I’ve been divorced, I spent 6 years being the King of the One-Night Stand. I didn’t want to be in a relationship because, if I did, it would have been a horrible idea. I spent the next 7 years trying to be in a relationship with a woman who had two young children. That ended after many years of me trying to help raise her kids while she was their mother and also an expert in early childhood education. I was a fool to even disagree with her! I then spent about 6 months alone until I met the woman I love who wants to be the next Mrs. Whittenburg despite all warnings to the contrary! She’s like the character in the horror movie that makes you yell at the screen “DON’T GO UPSTAIRS!!!” She never listens, she goes upstairs anyway, and she dies a horrible death. Whittenburg men (with a few exceptions, maybe), don’t make the best husbands.
Why do you smile like that?
Like what? Like Two-Face from Batman? Like Sylvester Stallone? Like this? - http://www.chacha.com/question/when-you-have-a-crooked-smile,-what-does-that-mean-about-your-personality
My smile is a byproduct of a doctor using forceps to help speed up the delivery while I was being born. He severed the nerve that controls the right side of my face. I can’t raise my right eyebrow or the right side of my smile. The great thing about that is when I think I’m raising my eyebrows, I look like I’m intentionally raising just the left eyebrow. That trick comes in handy sometimes!
Are you really as awesome as you seem?
No! I’m way more awesome than that!
Is this the last question you’re willing to answer today?
Yes it is. Please use the comment section below if you want to know more.