Dear G at 16,

How you doing, young man? I’m not here to lecture you, just to give you a little guidance, and a glimpse of what’s to come. I know you’re hard-headed, and you have authority issues, so I will tread lightly.

You should probably study a little more and play ball a little less. But don’t sweat it. It will all even out in the end. Hoops won’t be what you expect it to be. But it will teach you resilience and determination. And make you fall in love with paying dues. It will break your heart, but over time, you will convert that disappointment to fuel. And just like scars and fractured bones, where what is broken heals, it often ends up stronger.

Along those same lines, the stuff you love about the gym, double down on it. You were probably better built for the solitary endeavors, and individual sports. Plus you can train for the rest of your life, it isn’t like the other games where the clock is running. You don’t have to rely on anyone else for validation or to help you win or allow you to play your game. You will get out what you put into it, and I know you will give your all. Your apartment bedroom alone will one day soon become the Brigantine Fitness Center with the boys and then the great gyms of the world. And then eventually in your basement alone every morning. But the iron will always be there. You already know this, but it can be a cold and unforgiving world out there. Sometimes your best survival mechanism will be to turn yourself into a fucking tank. Respect the weights and their transformative power, they could literally change your life.

The stuff you love right now, don’t ever abandon it. Your friends will go through phases and “grow out of” them. But your passion will be what grows. The music, the culture and obscure subcultures, the style and aesthetics. Embrace them. The stuff you talk about until all hours of the night with Otis—sports and history and politics and food. Amplify it all. And share it with everyone.

The gifts you have might not be the ones that land you in the league, but they will be the ones that open the important doors for you, and allow you to help more people. So keep up with your writing. You’ll do a bunch of film work with Sko, no surprise there, and that too will be a grind. In your frustrations with that, you’ll start a clothing brand with another friend, who you’ll call Dirt (don’t ask). But throughout it all you will gain tools for the toolbox and experiences that are priceless. It will teach you more about the “process”, and that process will become a theme of your life.

Pay attention to everything your mom teaches to you through quiet example. Taking you to church on Sunday and the eventually 18 years of Catholic School you’ll “do” will just reinforce it all. Weed out the bullshit but pay attention to the message. You’re going to be surrounded by a lot of folks who hold close to their heart some pretty fucked up views. But you know right from wrong. They might be popular in certain circles, and it is always easier to go with the flow and follow the crowd. But history remembers. And so will you. Remember getting your ass beat. Remember the taste of blood in your mouth. Remember feeling scared and weak. And dedicate yourself to making sure you don’t ever let anyone feel that way in your presence. Let empathy guide you and put yourself in the next man’s shoes before you judge. Stick up for the underdog and the little guys because the underdog and little guy has often been you. Remember everything Christine taught you. You’re gonna need it.

When it comes to strong women, they will define your life… Not just Ma Dukes and Mary and AMS and your aunts. You see, though your whole life has been about rap and wrestling and rugged athletics, with Frank as your role model, you will instead one day be what they end up calling a “girl dad”. You will meet a gorgeous young woman–literally your dream girl, only a few years from now and immediately, though totally unprepared, become a Dad to a daughter. And you will love that fact. Several years later, in a whirlwind of twenty months, you will do the same, three more times. The country and the planet (and our species) will go through some hard times and dark days. You will realize that it will be the girls who may have to save us all. And destiny chose you to raise four of them. It is an awesome responsibility. One for which each day you must rise to the occasion. It won’t always be easy. But then again, nothing worthwhile, as the saying goes, ever is.

One of the hardest things you’ll ever endure is loss. But in it, there is always an opportunity to learn and grow. The most profound of which, will be the loss of people you love. It leaves you numb, with an emptiness in the pit of your stomach. And your whole world will feel like it is unraveling. But you will suffer through it, again burying yourself in the process and your pursuits. And soon you will learn to find meaning. And another responsibility–being the keeper of memories, the guardian of lore and of becoming a living legacy. You will gain the perspective that the pain of the absence is not as great as the value these people provided your life in the time they were here. Cherish your time together and do not take it for granted. One day all that will remain are those memories and the stories you will tell. In a strange way too, you will find pride merely in the act of surviving–of being there to stand strong, for others to lean on. To keep pushing forward no matter what. That through all the loss, you’re still here. In and of itself, that is an accomplishment. There is a reason you’re meant to endure.

And that is the message I will leave you with, Young G. You’ve got a long and hard road ahead of you. Nothing is promised or guaranteed. Nothing will be given to you. And you will have these dreams to carry, that some will mock and few will understand. But that is what makes this journey so great… The challenge. The joy of proving yourself worthy of aspirations and ambitions far beyond your circumstances. Feeling the pain that is necessary for the growth that you seek so sincerely… How strong you will become, struggling under that weight. You will realize over time, the tremendous blessing to be found just in being in the fight… How lucky you are simply to be able to get out of bed each morning and swing the hammer.

The limitless potential found in each new day will be directly commensurate to your ability to recognize the limitless potential that lives inside of you. I see it. I always have. You’ve just gotta keep pushing. No matter what.

And that’s why I make this promise to you. I know what you’re expectations are… I know what you want. And I will give my all to never let you down.