One out of four.
No, that’s not the winning percentage of the Chicago Cubs (which is just slightly higher). It’s the number of thank you notes that I’ve received this summer from the checks I’ve written to graduating seniors, many of whom I could not pick out of a lineup.
Everyone gets these announcements in the mail. Often, you didn’t even know so-and-so had a son. Sometimes you’re amazed that what’s-his-name’s daughter graduated eighth grade, let alone high school.
Either way, it’s a hit to your wallet. A ritual of Spring, so to speak. Sort of like crabgrass in your lawn or mosquitoes in the back yard—they sprout up when you least expect it, or they bite you right in the butt.
It's the equivalent of a round of golf at a local hack course, a few beers on you with friends, maybe a pair of tickets to a ballgame. What the heck: it's even the same as the cost of a romantic dinner out with your spouse, if you even do that kind of thing anymore. (Make note to self about scheduling one of those soon.)
But I always pay up to these children of people who I sometimes hardly know, lest I get the scorn of a family member or the stink eye from a long-time pal. I write a note with some type of worldly advice that I heard at some commencement speech somewhere (“Seek the unbeaten path” or “Make your own path” or something to do with a path in the woods somewhere), and then I insert a check, just like I do for my magazine subscriptions and gambling losses.
Then I sit back and wait. And wait. And then give up.
I sent four notes and checks in May. By the end of July, I had received just one thank you from the son of my wife’s co-worker, whom she has to sit across from every day, so it was pretty much assured that one was coming.
The others? Who knows what happened? I’m sure Johnny and Susie told their parents that they got a check from me, and I’m sure the parents mentioned something about writing a nice thank you to that man in Ohio.
But what has happened to real gratitude? Where has the simple thank you gone? Why has the acknowledgment of a gift been lost in translation somewhere between 1970 and 2013?
I said “thank you” to everybody when I was growing up. I would write my notes with neat penmanship, with my father or mother standing over my shoulder making sure I spelled everything correctly and offering tips when I need it. (“Write more than that, dammit,” Pops would say).
My own two children—daughters aged 19 and 15, so yes, I am suffering—grew up with the notion drilled into them that you say “thanks” whenever someone has performed a nice gesture your way, whether it be a gift, an award or even a compliment.
Just say “thanks.” Pretty simple. Jot a note or pick up the phone, but never email or text or post on that Facebook thing.
Perhaps the worst thing we have ever done as a nation is formalize one day out of the year for giving thanks: that fourth Thursday in November. Why? Should we not be thankful every day? Should we not seek to appreciate all we have been given all 12 months of the year? And why do I get turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie only on that one day a year? It’s a scam, I tell you.
We should appreciate what we have year-round, and we should express our appreciation whenever we can, several days a week. A note to a teacher when he has taken extra time to help your child is nice. An “atta boy” to a colleague who saved your butt—again.
A note has got to be handwritten, and it has to be meaningful and it must always original. My kids have become masters at thanks, whether it be for Christmas or their birthdays. My oldest daughter has her notes written before nightfall, and not because I will stop serving her food and water if she doesn’t do it. She has come to realize that a gift is something thoughtful, often loving and almost always from the heart.
Having my children realize the importance of saying thanks is one of my proudest accomplishments (of which I only have about six). I’m proud to say my two kids are respectful, grateful and considerate. It’s all that I can ask of them, and for that, I’m forever thankful.