College Letters

College Letters

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I started sending my son letters in the mail when he went to college four years ago. He graduated this past weekend.

I also called, texted or emailed, but I figured he would be more likely to read and keep a physical letter he received in the mail.

Also, there were things I could write that would be hard to say.

I got the idea from a copy of The Great Gatsby which I found in one of those “Little Libraries” people put in front of their houses.

The preface was written by the author’s grand-daughter, Eleanor Lanahan. She noted that her mother, Frances “Scottie” Fitzgerald, had received letters from her father while at Vassar.

She also noted that Scottie hadn’t bothered to read them all. She just put them in a drawer. 

It was a sobering thought for any parent.

If the greatest American novelist of the 20th century cannot get his daughter to read his letters, what hope is there for the rest of us?

On the other hand, Scottie kept the letters and they have helped preserve Fitzgerald’s legacy.

F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940, 18 months before Scottie graduated.

Fitzgerald’s most famous letter to Scottie was written in 1933, when she was 12. Toward the end he included a list of four things to worry about and 16 things to ignore.

Ninety years later list holds up pretty well:

Worry about courage

Worry about cleanliness

Worry about efficiency

Worry about horsemanship

Worry about. . .

Things not to worry about:

Don’t worry about popular opinion

Don’t worry about dolls

Don’t worry about the past

Don’t worry about the future

Don’t worry about growing up

Don’t worry about anybody getting ahead of you

Don’t worry about triumph

Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your own fault

Don’t worry about mosquitoes

Don’t worry about flies

Don’t worry about insects in general

Don’t worry about parents

Don’t worry about boys

Don’t worry about disappointments

Don’t worry about pleasures

Don’t worry about satisfactions

Scottie would later describe her childhood as “golden,” even though her father was an alcoholic and her mother was committed to an insane asylum.

Fitzgerald’s later correspondence could be dark, especially considering his daughter’s young age.

Two months before her freshman year he wrote to say that Scottie’s mother, Zelda, had ruined him financially and as a writer and driven him to drink.

People talk about being “authentic” with your kids. That letter sets a high bar.

The tone of the letters I wrote my son was considerably more upbeat. 

There were a few life lessons I tried to convey. It’s hard to resist dispensing advice to your children, especially when they are young.

But mostly I wrote about day-to-day goings on, encouraging him not to stress.

Like Fitzgerald, my “don’t worry about…” list is long and getting longer.

Graduation brings an end to the college letters.

Which is one less thing I worry about. 


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