Dear 16-year-old me,
You are shy and insecure, you make good grades but aren’t really sure you want to be a “brain”, your father doesn’t approve of you as a son, a former friend is making school hell for you, and somehow you’re just stumbling through life, hoping for the best. Well, the way you’re going the best isn’t going to happen. You’ll keep stumbling through life, doing just OK, but not nearly as well as you could. I know some things that can help.Let’s start with the tough one, your father. Even with 50 more years of experience I don’t really know how tell you to handle him. He lives at home and pays the bills and keeps you fed, but you need a FATHER, and you don’t have one. And as time goes on you will come to hate him because of that. Communication is the main problem, but you can’t just sit down and talk with him because he won’t talk WITH you; he doesn’t care what you think and he’ll just tell you what to do and he won’t understand why that isn’t good enough. Even after all of these years the only suggestion I have is to try to show some interest in things that are important to him and listen to him talk about those things, and when you can, maybe try to talk with him occasionally about some unimportant stuff in your life. Maybe the two of you can build a sort of bond. I repeat: you need a father, whether you know it right now or not.
Now that we got that out of the way I’ll give you my most important piece of advice: learn to respect others and understand that they are real people just like you, and their wants and needs are just as important to them as yours are to you. Read that sentence again, and again and again, until you really believe it. And I mean everyone. All of us, every single one, need to be treated with respect, and if you can learn to do that you will be a happier person and everyone else will be happier around you.
The shyness and insecurity will be a problem all through your life if you let them. Make yourself meet people and be friendly to them. Listen to what they say and show an interest. Right now all of your friends are band members. Branch out and make friends with some of your other classmates. Maybe they’re doing things that will interest you. And date girls your age. Right now is a good time to start, while there’s only one class of younger girls around. You’ll find that the girls your age understand you better and have more in common with you, and as you become more interested in sex (and you most definitely will), some of them will, too. I repeat: treat them with respect. Don’t be afraid to ask if she wants to, but don’t ever, EVER try to pressure her.
Don’t be ashamed of making good grades, but don’t make a big deal out of it, either. Don’t feel that you need to let your grades slide just to be “one of the guys.” Go ahead and be a top student, but be a good person to be around, too.
That classmate who is bullying you? He’s jealous of your relationship with Carol, and to be honest, buddy, she ain’t worth it. She says you’re best friends, but actually she has a lot of “best friends.” She just does what’s good for her and she will get married and be totally out of your life after high school. He’ll stop bullying you next year, but if you back off your relationship with her I believe he’ll let it go sooner. Oh, and if you don’t want to do it that way, go ahead and fight him. He’ll beat the crap out of you, but you’ll probably gain some respect and it may even satisfy him.
That brings us to “stumbling through life.” You need to set some goals and work toward them, and the most important one is your music. You’re going to be a professional musician, though you don’t know it yet, and you’ll be a much more successful professional musician if you start your serious training now. Ask your teacher (you know the one) if he’ll give you lessons during practice period sometimes; I bet he’d love to. Then use that period each day to practice the stuff he tells you instead of screwing around and getting into trouble. You wouldn’t believe how much you don’t know yet, but the guys you’re going to be competing against are already learning those things. And learn to concentrate, ferpetesake! Your mind wanders all over when you play (and other important times, too). Learn to put on mental blinders and focus on what you’re doing.
On a related subject, consider joining a military band instead of going directly to college. You’re going to get that chance, and if you take it you will get military service out of the way instead of worrying about getting drafted into a very ugly war and you’ll be free to pursue any opportunity that comes along. As a side benefit, once your service is complete Uncle Sam will happily pay for a large portion of your college expenses.
There’s just one more thing. You’ll be getting married one of these days. Love her and cherish her and treat her like the most important thing in your life, because she will be.
That’s all, buddy. Best of luck.
Me, a long time later