Dear Future Son...
Dylan Soh writes a letter to his future son about the importance of asking "why" and "why not" and the need to carve out his own narrative.
Dear future son,
I am your father from the past. Since I’ll most probably be super-irritating, and won’t be able to communicate well with you, it’s probably better if I talked to you kid-to-kid. By the way, what’s the “In” thing? What’s the “trending” song, or the newest dance move? Is Justin Bieber fat? Have machines taken over? Do flying cars exist? Or magnetic roads? Hoverboards? If so, please tell me that I have one, even though I’m probably freaking old.
I’m beginning to sound like granddad lol, but isn’t that what we all are? An improved version of our father? But I hope that I’ve always tried to be the best dad there ever was. That’s every dad’s goal: to make your son better than you. Like my dad did for me.
What about the education system, has it changed? I hope schools don’t still expect you to follow the “model answers”. Granddad and I hope you learn that there’s no “model answer” in life. You don’t always have to follow the guidebook. Sometimes, you have to write it.
I’d like you to write the guidebook in the future. Did I ever show you the book granddad and I wrote? Or the message we wanted to spread? Maybe not. But that’s what I need you to do as well. Only, you have to write your own book. You need to tell your story, because you become the stories that you write. In your time, creating and crowdfunding inventions and ideas will be the norm. So this will be one of the first things I’ll teach you, along with riding a bicycle.
The book that granddad and I wrote was called The Big Red Dot. It’s about a little red dot that goes on this crazy adventure and realises that it’s who it is on the inside that counts. It shows what you need in the future. Resilience, creativity, adaptability and the ability to go, “Why?” and “Why not?”. Even when you pass your knowledge onto your son (if you have one) and him to his (if he has one too), these values will remain true. Trust me, I know, because I’ll raise you with these values. It means you can challenge or question me, but do it respectfully.
We’re gonna have arguments, and be at odds with each other. Which is good. Always push the boundaries of what you and I know—though some things are a straight-out no. Like sticking your finger into an electric socket. There’ll be times when I will get pissed off with you. But just like your granddad, I’ll do my best to explain why. And just like me, the quiet talks will be the things that get to you. Not the canings. Although, if you’re really naughty...
The book also shows the type of people you’ll meet. Bullies, people who shit on you, friends, friends who don’t want you to change, friends who become enemies—all this is inevitable. Even if future technology prevents people from doing bad things, there’ll always be those who cause trouble. The trick is to react with a sense of humour. Don’t sink down to their level, because people who shit on you are usually full of it and not worth your time, but they’re not gonna go away either. Sometimes, you have to make them your friends. Get these “bullies” on your side. How? I dunno. Find your own way. Charm them. Bribe them with sweets. You’ll figure it out by practising in the playground.
Granddad, our friend Yu Ling and I created something called the GIY stick. Grow It Yourself. We created it to give first-time farmers the confidence to cultivate plants. Sixty percent of people live in cities now. The other 40 percent? They’re expected to feed the rest. Where do you think all that McDonald’s food comes from? Farms, of course. For the 40 percent to feed the rest, the animals are pumped with steroids in order to be “mass produced.” When we eat cows or chicken, we ingest those steroids as well. Well, maybe not always steroids, but stuff just as bad. Plus, we don’t know the effects of the chemicals or the drugs. We just eat it, because we don’t care about what comes after, or before. We just want to enjoy it now.
Once you start growing your own plants, edible or otherwise, you’ll see the cycle of life. With the GIY stick, we want to tip the balance back by getting city folks of all ages to make concrete jungles fertile again. It allows you to start growing without the pain of failure when, despite all your care, your plants wither from over- or under-watering. Our goal is to make the world slightly better than before. And for you to make it better for your children. That’s the other thing. We can’t change the world. We can only make it better. Actually, there’s a possibility that we won’t be able to change anything at all. But the most that we can do is try.
So what am I trying to say? Well, this is something schools now, and probably in the future, are slow to teach: creativity. The lessons of “why” and “why not”, when you actually go out and do something, and have that sense of fear and adventure, that uncertainty of trying. And if it fails, just move on and try again, and again, and again. That was something your granddad had so much of. He is the originator of the guidebook. This is what it means to be a big red dot, to stand up and say, “Life is too short. I’m gonna live it.”
Everything is out there. Just find a way to grab it. Granddad always asked me not to make the same mistakes that he did. Make new ones. Then we can all learn from it. So son, that is what I ask of you, too.
I look forward to meeting you in the future.
First published in Esquire Singapore's May 2016 issue.