Handwritten letters make enduring gift

Jay Wilkinson

My dad was Bud Wilkinson, one of the most successful and well-respected college football coaches of all time.

At the heart of my father’s success — not only as a coach, but also in many other facets of his life — was his extraordinary ability to communicate with others.

Dad knew success was forged from the dedication and sacrifices each individual made to the greater good of the team. To strengthen that bond, he spent considerable time speaking with each of his players on a personal basis. When they went home during summer break, he regularly wrote them words of inspiration and encouragement.

He also wrote to me throughout my own college experience. These handwritten letters at first bolstered me through the challenges every young person faces when away from home for the first time. Later they contained advice he believed would better my circumstances and pave the way toward a more fulfilling life. While his tone was always positive, his counsel came from a place of “intellectual honesty and courage” and he pushed for me to do the same.

Instinctively — more than intentionally — I saved many of my father’s letters. Decades passed before I realized Dad’s correspondence defined him in a way no one had really been able to do before. That’s what prompted me to write Dear Jay, Love Dad: Bud Wilkinson’s Letters to His Son. I hoped the letters would give people new insights into my father, and that his wisdom might help others achieve a deeper sense of purpose.

For many, the book also serves as a reminder of opportunity lost. Frequently, readers write or tell me, “I wish I would have written letters like these.”

My response is simple: Why not start now?

I encourage everyone to take advantage of Father’s Day to begin a new family tradition and resurrect the lost art of the handwritten letter.

While technology has made communications instantaneous, I believe we are paying a price for our urgency. Too often, electronic dialogue lacks compassion and concern. Choosing our words wisely when we communicate can bring about lasting change. Slowing the process a little can make all the difference in the world.

So, rather than choosing another necktie for the man in your life this Father’s Day, why not give him something more significant and enduring: a handwritten letter straight from the heart? I speak from personal experience when I say your loved ones will appreciate the gesture — now and for years to come— and you’ll be surprised at what you can learn about yourself in the process.

Wilkinson lives in Oklahoma City and was an All-American football player at Duke University.

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