In the collection of letters gathered in Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children and edited by Dorie McCullough Lawson, I have come across some really famous/well known letters, probably because of the blog Brain Pickings by Maria Popova.
But then today, I read one that Sherwood Anderson, most notably for his work Winesburg, Ohio and who I probably hadn't given much thought about since undergrad (aka a really long while). The letter included penned by a then 49 year old Anderson to his second child, John. Under the collection on "Good Work" this letter included some advice on what the future holds for the seventeen year old.
He stresses the importance of learning how to do something with one's hands, though if given the choice, he himself would still be a writer first and how the importance shouldn't be strictly measured in a monetary benefit. He writes, "There is a kind of shrewdness many men have that enables them to get money. It is the shrewdness of the fox after the chicken. A low order of mentality often goes with it."
Then, about a year later, when Anderson's son stays behind in Paris to study painting, after his family traveled there together---he writes what I would describe as the "Wear Your Sunscreen" sort of commencement speech bits of advice for his son.
Some particular bits of wisdom:
The object of art is not to make salable pictures. It is to save yourself.
The thing of course, is to make yourself alive. Most people remain all their lives in a stupor. The point of being an artist is that you may live.
And he closes this long letter with what is such terrific advice from a parent to a child, so accepting and loving:
It isn't your success I want. There is a possibility of your having a decent attitude toward people and work. That alone may make a man of you.
I think reading this letter, coupled with having just finished John Green's Looking for Alaska has me thinking a lot about parenthood and the relationships between teenagers and how they relate to their folks. That weirdo age between almost adulting and actually having to adult is interesting because while so much depends on the teenager, undoubtedly a great deal rests on the involvement of the parents. As someone who has had hands off parenting since early adolescence, I can't help but feeling as though I missed out on not having these sort of letters and conversations. But, perhaps it's the beauty of collections such as these.... Sherwood Anderson's parental advice keeps on instructing far longer and much further than he had imagined back in 1927.