I’ve chosen to send you the following letter because my wife gave birth this morning—it’s our third child but first girl, and both Karina and our daughter are doing really well after a long and stressful day and I am in awe of them both—and as the big moment approached, usually during long, bemasked periods of contemplation in hospital waiting rooms, I sometimes found myself imagining the kind of letters I might one day send to her. And those thoughts often led to this.
When he wasn’t busy writing some of the most critically lauded and enduring novels of the 20th Century, The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald could often be found penning the most fascinating of letters to such famous characters as his good friend, Ernest Hemingway; editor extraordinaire, Maxwell Perkins; and his wife and fellow author, Zelda—to name but a few. However, no letters are more revealing, or indeed endearing, than those written to his daughter, Scottie, many of which see him imparting wisdom in a way only he could. This particular letter of advice, written to Scottie while she was away at camp and still just 11 years of age, is a perfect example.
August 8, 1933
I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy—but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.
All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”
Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of getting up a Saturday Evening Post story. I think of you, and always pleasantly; but if you call me “Pappy” again I am going to take the White Cat out and beat his bottom hard, six times for every time you are impertinent. Do you react to that?
I will arrange the camp bill.
Halfwit, I will conclude. Things to worry about:
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
Things to think about:
What am I really aiming at?
How good am I really in comparison to my contemporaries in regard to:
(b) Do I really understand about people and am I able to get along with them?
(c) Am I trying to make my body a useful instrument or am I neglecting it?
With dearest love,
P.S. My come-back to your calling me Pappy is christening you by the word Egg, which implies that you belong to a very rudimentary state of life and that I could break you up and crack you open at my will and I think it would be a word that would hang on if I ever told it to your contemporaries. “Egg Fitzgerald.” How would you like that to go through life with—“Eggie Fitzgerald” or “Bad Egg Fitzgerald” or any form that might occur to fertile minds? Try it once more and I swear to God I will hang it on you and it will be up to you to shake it off. Why borrow trouble?
Letter excerpted from the first edition of the original Letters of Note book, first published in 2013.
Congratulations to you and Karina! I wrote a letter for my daughter on her 16th birthday in July. She insisted I give her a handwritten letter to her as a birthday gift along with the book she wanted. I felt great because teenagers rarely write letters, and I didn't expect she'd want letters from her parents either. I have some letters my parents wrote me when I was younger. Even one I sent to my dad when I turned 13. I asked him and he allowed me to take it to show my kids. Best wishes to you and your family.
I’m so happy for you Shaun. Congratulations! I was concerned when you said you couldn’t send us letters as frequently because a lot of stuff were filling your plate especially with your wife pregnant.
You’ve got me thinking the same thought too. I wonder what kind of letters I’d write to my kids when I have them. It would be the best thing!