Literary Journal – Spring 2017

A Letter to My Son

By Fred W. Donaldson

The following letter, written in August 1970, to youngest son, Noah, three months old at the time, was originally published in The Conshohocken Recorder (PA) newspaper.

Dear Son,

You were born in a year when war was waging on a giant scale in South Vietnam and in a modest manner in Israel. The Ibos of Biafra were being extinguished as a separate race, and the Roman Catholics of Ireland were gaining concessions from their Protestant neighbors in the North.

But in this country, as for more than 100 years, there was peace.

From the day you enter school until your eyes stop reading, you will find yourself bombarded with ceaseless talk of peace and ending all war. So many prophets will embrace that dream and promote it, you may begin to believe that it is possible.

The history of man is clouded with such prophesy, but the nature of mankind is friction among unequals, eminence by the strong, and war in one manner or another.

War can take the form of a strike, a petition, a demonstration, an economic confrontation, a banker’s battle, or the bullet-tossing, blood-letting that stands behind every diplomat’s whisper.

You will hear prattle that violence is the most cruel of man’s actions, but do not believe this. There are more wicked ways to destroy a man than with bullets, and the worst of these is to deprive him of his instincts, his common sense, his faith in himself and his capacity to love.

Of all of these, love is the most vital, the most fragile, and often the most elusive.

It will dominate your life and form the basis of your soul and aspirations. Yet, many will use that sensitivity to sell you roll-on deodorants and new roofs for your loved ones, and that love may even send you on misguided expeditions to love-ins and rock festivals.

The hardest thing for any good man to learn is that there is rampant and uncontrollable evil in this world. This evil will not hesitate to twist your good emotions to bad purposes. There are men who spend nearly every waking hour designing ways to steal your possessions or your ideas.

As you grow up, I think the world will change as much as it has for my father and myself. When my dad was born, there were horses and gaslights and no movies or phonographs. The Wright Brothers had not yet succeeded at Kitty Hawk.

You are born in a age of chrome and transistor mentality, of rabid progress and technical magnificence. Never disregard the fruits of the scientists. Any man can turn on a radio, but who among us could invent one?

The schools you attend will preach equality and mime John Dewey’s wish that repetition alone can create realities. You will discover that equality is a myth, but that good men treat all people courteously and fairly, and that gold is not found in any special valley.

You will search for causes and be told that you can be measured in dollars and memberships to country clubs.

But there is no success except the happiness of fulfilling your responsibilities, working in unison, meeting and overcoming challenges, and always maintaining a treasured intellectual balance.

For a few secret moments each day, you may feel a closeness to all things, and that is either success or communion with God, according to what you believe.

As you grow and gain confidence, nothing should be more important to remember than this:

You are the only creature on Earth with such tremendous capacity for wisdom. Inside your brain may be locked a singular secret that could improve the lot of all mankind.

Your every-consuming need must be to use that capacity for wisdom and to search endlessly for the truths that you alone may possess.

God’s love, always.


Fred W. Donaldson began his career just out of Central High in February, 1959, as copyboy for Evening and Sunday Bulletin. Many promotions later, worked rewrite and general assignment until leaving there in 1965 to edit two Montgomery County newspapers. In 1972 became Sr. VP of InterCounty Newspapers (18 titles) and their President/CEO in 1993. Named publisher and division CEO in 1998 of Journal Register Co. (NYSE: JRC). Retired in 1967. Served three terms as president of his synagogue (BTBJ) and held various posts with the regional and national United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ). Wife Linda owned and managed a printing company (with real presses!).

 

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