Parenting & Fatherhood

The 8 Things I Want to Tell Every College Kid

The 8 Things I Want to Tell Every College Kid

Originally Published on the Good Men Project 2/28/2016

It’s been over 30 years since I was in college. I won’t use the cliché that time has flown by, even though I can close my eyes and easily remember myself walking across the College Avenue Campus at Rutgers University. However, it’s been a long and winding road. I was married for nine years – twice. I had five children with my first wife to only have her walk away from us when they were little – meaning I had to raise them by myself.

Because I was pushed ahead a grade when I was young, I graduated high school at 16 years old. While I was academically ready for college, it was difficult for me socially. I was shy, awkward, and scared of women. And being younger than everyone else in my grade didn’t help either. It is a simple concept: 18 year old high school women, don’t date shy, awkward, freckled little boys, like me. Those social difficulties continued through my college years.

Things improved somewhat in graduate school. I left the University of Pennsylvania, with a master’s degree in mathematics and the woman who would be my first wife. At 23 years old, I chose to pass up the career opportunities that an Ivy League graduate degree could offer, to start a family, work in our family business and make money. That business was a very difficult one. It provided its own set of adventures, good and bad – until I sold it last August, after 28 years. Those 3 decades were filled with challenges I could never have imagined I would have. I had to figure out a way to support my five kids, raise them into adults and somehow find time to have a life of my own.

I now realize the decisions I was making when I was in college would actually set in motion much of the course my life would take – both good and bad. I’ve watched my two sons and three daughters go through the college years. In fact, I have one son graduating this spring and one daughter graduating next year. I am desperate for my kids to make smarter decisions than I did and so I frequently give them fatherly advice about the decisions they are making in their lives.

Group of six students working around table in library

So here are 8 things I have told my 5 kids and would tell any young person who is in college now:

  1. Study and Work Hard. Yeah I know, I sound like your parents and that’s because I am one. Take full advantage of that very expensive education you are getting. At least half the stuff you are learning will actually be useful in life – and you don’t always know which half. Wasting time partying is wasting precious years you’ll never get back. Work habits you develop now will be the ones you carry through the rest of your life. And whoever told you C students end up as successful as A students has lied to you.
  2. Don’t Be Serious. It’s ok to have fun and companionship but don’t get too serious in your romantic relationships. Men and women in college may look like adults but they are just as unsure and immature as you and will mess with your head, career and life. There’s plenty of time in the future to find that special person in your life.
  3. Date a Lot: You may think you know what you like but you won’t know until you have experience with a lot of different types of people. Each person you go out with gives you a different perspective on you. This is your chance to find what really makes you happy. And it’s the only way to do that.
  4. Marriage is for Old People: Don’t get married until you are 30. We live much longer in modern times and women can have children safely at much older ages. Why not use that to your advantage and wait until you get to a point in your life where you know what you want to do? And when you marry in your 20’s you both haven’t found yourselves so you both will grow – but not necessarily together.
  5. Say No to Kids: Don’t have children until you are 30. You need to have a stable career and spend a few years with your significant other to see whether you actually belong together. Having a child too early will make your life needlessly harder and prevent you from doing the kind of exploring you should be doing at your age.
  6. Be an Explorer: You don’t have a spouse, kids, mortgage, or commitments. There will never be another chance like this in your life, unless you win the lottery. Your mom and dad may not like this advice, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a year off after college to travel, learn and explore the world.
  7. Follow Your Dreams: Don’t make the mistake of studying or doing what your parents want. Make sure it is what you want and if you don’t know, take different kinds of classes and explore as much as you can. The fastest ticket to failure and an unhappy life is to follow someone else’s dream for you.
  8. Be Charitable: There is no better way to grow as a person than to devote your time and efforts to helping others. There are non-profits in every community as well as national ones that are desperate for quality volunteer help. It looks great on your resume and I promise, charity always comes back to you – with interest.

When you are young you think the decisions you make are not so important and there is plenty of time ahead. As adults, we have learned the hard way that is not true. So as loving and caring parents, it’s our job to make sure you kids understand that the decisions you make now are the building blocks for the foundation of your future.

If you make wise choices when you are young, you’ll look back on a life feeling satisfied and happy. If you make bad decisions, the sacrifice your parents have made for you will be wasted. You will look back and have to come to terms with a new word…


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3 replies »

  1. Obviously your life experiences influence the advice you offer now, as it should. However, as I’ve had different life experiences, I would disagree with two of the points you made. (Only two- I agree with the rest.)

    If everyone waited to get married and have children until the age of 30, I fear many would never be able to have children at all. A woman’s biological clock is a real thing, and believe it or not, at 30, it’s already beginning to be too late. We shouldn’t have to rely on fertility drugs to have a family only so we can “find ourselves.” And some of us do find our soulmates in our early to mid-twenties or even sooner. Now I’m speaking from MY experience. 😉

    • I agree with the technical argument you made. My oldest daughter turned 28 and she is married over a year now. If she had kids, she wouldn’t be “breaking” my rules for success. I was writing to kids – you know, the 21 year olds ready to have kids. By setting the thirty year old mark I was letting them know there is plenty of time to start a family. A mature 25 year old with a career can start a family, no problem – and hope for a successful life.

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