53 things I want to teach my son

From a father to his one year old boy

Garron Engstrom
5 min readJun 19, 2022

I’ve just returned to work after spending the last 6 months caring for and bonding with my son. Not only that but until now I’ve spent every day with him, having worked from home during the pandemic.

The combination of fathers day and returning to work has made me very reflective. It’s put into perspective my role in my son’s life and the amount of time I’ll spend with them in a week, year, or lifetime. It redefines the phrase “working for the weekend”. One way or another it got me thinking about what I want him to learn, and what kind of man I want him to be. So I started writing it down.

These lessons and nuggets of wisdom span topics like mindfulness, health and fitness, personal finance, career, politics and culture, and more. The list includes principles that I live by, and those that I aspire to. Some are big and lofty while others are quite banal. But in aggregate, the list is everything I hope to teach him in the time we have together on this earth. And as I continue to grow and learn, I’ll add to the list.

Without further adieu…

  1. Most of what you experience in life is out of your control. What you can control is how you react. Try to have a positive, non-judgmental mindset.
  2. Create a daily practice of meditation or breathing exercises to ground yourself.
  3. Eat mindfully. Chew your food completely, and take the time to smell, taste and feel the food.
  4. Thoughts will always consume you with regrets from the past or fears of the future. But remember, thoughts are just thoughts, they are not reality so don’t let them take over your present.
  5. Practice forgiveness. Life is too short for pettiness.
  6. If you ever feel angry, stressed or overwhelmed, stop, close your eyes, and take several slow, deep breaths. It will reduce your cortisol and help you think clearly.
  7. You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how to respond. Happiness is a choice.
  8. Drink a lot of water. More than you’d expect. And ensure it is balanced with electrolytes.
  9. Don’t fall for fad diets. The best diet is simple: “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much” (Quote from Michael Pollan).
  10. It’s as important when you eat it as it is what you eat. Intermittent fasting burns fat, increases energy and focus and may even improve longevity.
  11. Include strength training as part of your exercise regimen. It burns fat, but more importantly it builds bone density which is critical as you age.
  12. Don’t forget to stretch your body every day.
  13. Breathe through your nose. Mouth-breathing can lead to gum disease, crooked teeth, sleep apnea and more. Nose strips and mouth tape can help.
  14. Check your bank account frequently.
  15. Save 20–50% of all the money you make for long term financial goals, including retirement, the purchase of a home, and education expenses for a child.
  16. If you can, donate around 10% of your income to charitable causes you care about.
  17. Sometimes it makes sense to do something yourself, and sometimes it makes sense to pay someone to do it. Know what your time is worth and make the tradeoff accordingly.
  18. Bucket short term savings by creating several savings accounts for predictable expenses like car repairs, home repairs, vacations, etc.
  19. Don’t speculate in individual stocks. Invest regularly in a diversified portfolio of low-fee index funds.
  20. Prioritize investments and debt based on rate of return. E.g. if you’re choosing between paying off student loans at a 3% interest rate, or investing in the stock market at 7% average rate of return, invest in the stock market (assuming you’re already paying the minimum payments on your student loans).
  21. Maintain a rainy day fund equal to 3 months of expenses. Get it up to 6–12 months if you can.
  22. Start thinking about retirement in your early 20s. It might feel like it’s far away but it will come faster than you think.
  23. Compounding interest is your most important financial tool. Start saving for retirement as early as possible.
  24. If your company offers a 401k match, max that out. It’s free money.
  25. Insurance is important. Don’t cut corners when it comes to car, home, life, disability and pet insurance.
  26. Material success is not as important as doing work that is meaningful and impactful. Use your unique skills and passions to make the world a better place.
  27. You’re never too good for an internship. The early days of your career should be spent finding what you love. In doing so you’ll find a lot of things you don’t love. That’s part of the process.
  28. Once you achieve a certain level of success you should spend time mentoring and helping others in their career. Ultimately you should judge the success of your career in the number of other careers you’ve touched and empowered.
  29. Take a “kaizen” mindset of continuous curiosity and learning. Always be sharpening your skills and growing your base of knowledge.
  30. Be nice to service workers and tip them well.
  31. Always refer to strangers as “Sir” or “Ma’am”.
  32. It’s better to have fewer, deeper relationships than more, shallow ones. Nurture those important friendships by checking in frequently and showing random acts of kindness.
  33. Spend more time listening than talking.
  34. Assume good intent from everyone you deal with. If someone is being rude or impatient, give them the benefit of the doubt. You don’t know what stressors they have in their life.
  35. Nothing is black or white. There is nuance and shades of grey to everything.
  36. Maintain a healthy level of skepticism about everything. Don’t take anything at face value.
  37. Don’t fall into the trap of consumerism. More things will not make you happier.
  38. Spend more money on experiences than on things. The memories will last longer.
  39. Doing fewer things perfectly is better than doing many things decently. Bring focus to all things in your life. Prioritize what is most important.
  40. People are judging you a lot less than you think. Be kind to yourself and don’t worry what others think.
  41. Travel as much as you can. It will open your eyes to the world and give you perspective.
  42. Stay open minded and try everything once.
  43. When in a new place or country, always try their customary foods. It’s a small window into their culture.
  44. Love is love.
  45. Science is real.
  46. There is only truth, and no alternative facts.
  47. Celebrate diversity.
  48. Women are in charge of their bodies.
  49. You have both white and male privilege. Work hard and be successful but never forget: there are invisible forces that make your life easier at the expense of others. Do whatever you can to lift BIPOC, womxn, and LGBTQIA+ voices.
  50. “Manning up” does not mean bottling up your feelings and pretending you’re okay. It means being vulnerable and accepting help when you need it.
  51. Never scapegoat. Take responsibility for your actions.
  52. Learn to drive a stick shift. It’ll come in handy when renting a car in Europe.
  53. Have strong opinions but hold them loosely. This means to have conviction in what you believe but be willing to change your mind in the face of new or compelling information.