Dear Son:

Do you know why your mom married me? It wasn’t because she thought I was good looking or that I was particularly smart. It wasn’t because I was funny or had money. Yes, I had some of each of those things, but the main reason she chose me – according to her own words – was because I was a kind man.

Let me put it this way, if you want to find someone as wonderful as your mother (and you do), being kind is one of the best things you can do.

Before getting into what this means, I need to tell you a few things. First, being a kind man doesn’t mean being a pushover. Second, it doesn’t mean feminizing the manly parts of you. You can be kind and still want to arm wrestle your friends or try jumping over a creek.

Finally, being kind means – above all else – treating others the way you’d want to be treated.

Here are some more examples of what kindness means to me:

Ask your friends’ about their lives

The most meaningful people in my life ask about me. They want to know how the big project at work went and how my dad is doing. They ask about the big things in my life – and even the smaller things – because they care about me.

Do this for others and you’ll surround yourself with meaningful relationships.

Treat women with dignity

Women are not sexual objects. They are whole people. I know that you know this, but an entire current that runs through our culture will tell you otherwise, and you need to be prepared to stand up to it.

Listen, really listen, to others

When someone is talking to you, look them in the eye. Take your emotions down the same path as theirs, and push away distractions.

Treat people as equals

Some people in your life will have less than you do: less money, less privilege, less social standing (according to culture), etc. You will be tempted to overlook these people in favor of other rich or “popular” people.

Don’t give in to this temptation. Treating others equally is at the root of what it means to be kind. If you heed this advice, you will have deeper and longer-lasting friendships, because the friendships you develop will be based on who each of you are and not about what can be brought to the table.

Be assertive, but not rude

Being kind does not mean being a pushover. I can’t stress this enough. You must learn how to communicate your needs. However, being assertive is not the same as being rude. You can be kind while also asserting your opinions and beliefs.

Learn how to healthily deal with anger

Sometimes, you’re going to get mad, and that’s okay. However, we men sometimes have a hard time realizing when we’re getting upset. We bottle up our anger and, like a shaken soft drink, burst out at those around us.

Learn to recognize when you’re angry so that you can take a time out when needed.

Be kind in small ways, too

Open doors for other people. Always say please and thank you. Let merging drivers into your lane. When you are kind to others in mundane ways, your own life ends up being more pleasant.

Respond to anger with kindness

Strangers are going to be rude to you sometimes, and the people you love are going to say hurtful things. That’s because we are human. Learn to understand the story behind the anger, and respond to that story with kindness.

Be kind to yourself

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you are not kind to yourself, how can you expect to treat others with kindness?

When you make a bad decision or simply make a mistake, you may be tempted to indulge in self-hatred. Do not feed that beast. Figure out how to change your behavior if needed, but do not be unkind to who you are.

Help those less fortunate

Take a meal to a new parent, help foster children, or stand up for someone being bullied. Be aware of those in need around you, and be ready to respond with kindness and generosity.

Honor your commitments

Keeping your word is a version of being kind. It is a way of telling someone that they are more important to you than whatever event is competing for your schedule.

If, at the end of your life, you don’t have a fancy job or education, but you spent it being kind in a real and deep way to those around you, you will have lived a life worth being proud of – a life I will be proud of, too.