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Fatherly wisdom for back to school

Be brave!

When your kids go back to school each fall, what words of wisdom do you give them? 

First, a word of warning. I have many, many words when I write. Almost none of them are wise.

To start, I tell them to be brave. Fortune favors the bold; that’s what I tell myself each day as I tie my shoes and trudge off to work, and what I used to tell myself when I was in their tiny, Velcro shoes.

Additionally, I tell them that fortune did not favor me as a child, and I’m hoping they do a better job at this than their old man did.

I remember how ridiculously difficult it was to be a kid back when I was one of them. You get dropped off at kindergarten with a bunch of kids you don’t know, a teacher you’ve never met, and no mom anywhere. I know! I looked everywhere for her that first day, and then I wet my pants and cried.

And that was my first day at college. Those were a rough six years; I tell you what. But I’ve got my bachelor’s degree to show for it, and just paid off my student loans this year, so I guess you could say that things turned out pretty alright for me.

Elementary school was even rougher, because I did not develop the skills needed to walk up to a peer and ask them to be friends. They could say no, which is the worst thing and the end of all civilization, I assumed. Then I grew up and got told no a bunch of times, and though it still stings, it’s survivable.

This world’s going to tell you “no” 25 times for every one “yes” you get. That’s what I tell the kids, the beginning of each school year. And every Tuesday, too. I don’t tell them on Mondays, because Mondays are rough enough.

That’s where the bravery kicks in. You have to be able to face rejection a whole lot. Everyone misses more shots than they make. Except Steph Curry, but he’s a mutant.

Let’s look instead at the baseball sporting game. If you hit .300, you’re a legend. That’s getting a hit 30% of the time. And not getting a hit 70% of the time.

Life isn’t about how you react to getting a hit, though. It’s how you get back up when something knocks you down. That’s what takes bravery. Taking a punch and not giving them.

I was well into my adulthood before I really started to learn these lessons. And I’m 40 now, and I’m still learning it. When I got my first jobs out of college, I asked to do things like design the front page or write columns. My editors were silly enough to say “yes.” I asked my sweet Annette to marry me. She cried a lot, but she did say “yes.”

Eventually, the world stops telling you “yes” all the time and gives you that hard “no” instead. How will you react when that happens?

So that’s what I tell the kids. Ask someone to be your friend. Most of the time, they’ll tell you “yes.” Eventually, though, you’re going to find someone who says “no,” though. Bravery is being willing to take that chance, knowing that it’s not fun to be rejected, but it’s survivable. Respect it, the same way you’d want others to respect your ability to say “no,” too. But learn from it. Figure out how to turn that current “no” into a future “yes.”

Those are my words. Hope they help you more than they did me.

Kelly Hagen is a writer and communications professional. He lives in Bismarck with his wife, Annette, and their two young children. If you have a question you’d like to Ask A Dad, send e-mail to, or leave a comment at the Prairie Parent Facebook page,

Written by Kelly Hagen


Kelly is the Director of Communications at North Dakota United. He has been with NDU since merger in 2013, and worked previously with the North Dakota Public Employees Association since 2011. Kelly is in charge of coordinating and distributing print and electronic communications between members and with the public, is the editor for United Voices magazine, administrates the website and social media properties, and works directly with local leaders to build their own communications infrastructure. Kelly is originally from Wilton, ND. He received an Associate of Arts degree in journalism from Bismarck State College and a Bachelor of Science degree in mass communication from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Prior to his employment with NDU, he worked for the N.D. Department of Health, the Fargo Forum and the Bismarck Tribune. He lives in Bismarck with his wife, Annette, and their two children.

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