27/08/2015 8:19 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Dear Son, There Are 8 Things I Never Want You To Forget

Thomas Hawk/Flickr
Was shooting last week in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco and took this shot of what I assume is a mother and her child walking somewhere after school. San Francisco's Tenderloin District is one of the worst areas in the City. A few years back I helped to raise some money for the Salvation Army's after school program in the Tenderloin. This program walks kids from their school in the Tenderloin to an after school program above a Burger King. The Director of the Program told me that there is a higher concentration of registered sex offenders per capita in the Tenderloin District than anyplace else in the United States. Which is sad. I've shot the Tenderloin District a lot over the course of the past few years. I've seen people arrested. People shooting heroin on the side of the street. Prostitutes and massage parlors fronting for prostitution. Once I saw a shooting. I followed this woman and her son for a few blocks to take this photograph. In this photograph they are approaching Ellis Street walking down Hyde. At the next corner at Ellis there was an arrest being made. At this point this woman pulled her son closer to her and rapidly turned the corner at Ellis to avoid interacting with the police action as she picked up her pace. Continued... <a href=""></a>

Dear S,

There are just so many things I want to tell you, and teach you. Some may come as life lessons, some lessons you may never need to learn. But there are a few that you must absolutely remember. Those - the ones I think are important - I am putting down in this letter. These are things I think you must live by. I hope to teach you by example, and I hope I teach you well.

I will always love you, unconditionally

The most important thing I want to tell you is that I love you. I will always love you just as much, irrespective of how angry I am, or how disappointed I am. Just remember that love. Let anger and disappointment not keep you away from me. You will always have a place in my heart and nothing can take it away. I love you unconditionally and that is how it will remain. Also I hope this declaration makes you feel free enough to come and confess your mistakes to me. I may punish you but I still love you, remember that when I give you your time outs or ground you.

You are the best part of my life

Remember - never have you been or ever will be the reason for my problems, my decisions, or my errors in judgements. They are all mine. You can never be the cause, or the justification for them. If my path is difficult, it is because I chose to walk it, not because you are walking alongside me. You are what makes my journey worthwhile. You are what makes the difficulties seem easy. You are the one who makes making tough choices easy. You are my strength and my inspiration forever.

"[P]ick humanity over religion, love over hate, understanding over fanaticism, sensitivity over rage, and brotherhood over power."

Your dreams are Important

Most parents dream that their children be something, amount to something. I have no such dreams. I want you to see your own dreams, have your own ambitions. Live the life that you want, the way that you want, and remember that I am always by your side, to encourage you and support you, and sometimes even criticise you.

But criticism doesn't mean I don't like your path. Okay, I may not like it, but I sure will try my hardest to respect your choices. Also remember that your dreams are worth fighting for, let no one tell you that they are worthless or can't be achieved - not even me. You will never know what you can do unless you do it.

Religion is not a definition

Religion does not define people, people define religion. Terrorism, discrimination and hate in the name of god or religion is not the teaching of any religious text. Every time you are confronted with a dilemma, remember the people who lost their lives in senseless acts of terror, remember the mothers who braved the loss of their children, just because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time or the parents who lost their children to twisted teaching and misguided learning. Remember the heroes who chose to love in the name of religion, not the cowards that divide. And when you have to choose pick humanity over religion, love over hate, understanding over fanaticism, sensitivity over rage, and brotherhood over power.

Everybody deserves respect

The fact that you are a boy does not give you the right to trample over anyone, and if anyone tells you otherwise, you know they are wrong. Everyone, be it rich or poor, man or woman, educated or non-educated, manager or labourer, deserves your respect. That is the least you can do for the person - treat them with respect.

No one is privileged; you are not, so don't act like you are. You are a normal person, like any other. You will have to struggle and fight your own battles just like anyone else, and I will be your strength and inspiration when you need me to, but remember your success can never be at the cost of another.

At the same time, fight for your self-respect. No one has the right to trample all over you. It's complicated, but you will get the balance right eventually.

Fight back

Never take abuse of any kind, and always stand up against it. Whoever and whatever may be the reason for the abuse -- and be it physical, mental, emotional abuse -- always fight back. Also never be a part of abuse. If you have power, learn to use it the way it is meant to be, for good. Never use it to put another down, or to make gains in an improper manner.

"It is good to fail. Believe me, not failing is a sign of not trying."

Love deeply

Be capable of loving, and proud of having found true love. It doesn't matter to me what religion the person (yes person, I would love him/her just the same) belongs to, their caste, where they work etc. What matters is that person loves you unconditionally, from the bottom of their hearts.

And when you find that person, treasure the person and your relationship. It is very easy to take things for granted, or to forget the other person in your relationship. Never let that happen, never put anyone else above that person, and always take the time to let them know what they mean to you.

Failure is good

It is good to fail. Believe me, not failing is a sign of not trying. As you grow up, you will have to try, fail, learn your lesson and then succeed. Don't live your life on autopilot or by default just because you are afraid of failure. Leading a cautious life because you haven't tried to live your dreams is a failing in itself.

Remember your life does not depend on anyone else's, even mine. Live your life and do whatever you feel like. You get only one life, never lose it to please others or live for others. Live fully to the end, and try to have as few regrets as possible.

A version of this article first appeared in Women's Web.

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