I can’t believe I’m writing this. I can’t believe this day is here already. I know it sounds cliché, but it seems like just yesterday that I held your 8 pound, 15 oz. bald beautifulness in my arms for the very first time, and I will never, ever forget that moment. In that moment, I looked at you – and you were utter perfection. Not a flaw, not a problem, not a care in the world. Just a promise. A promise of anything and everything that you could become.Eighteen years to the day later, I look at you with that same feeling – that you are in fact a promise, but to yourself and yourself alone. Not that I won’t be here for you – you should know that by now. I have always been and will always be your biggest fan. But the days of me writing the script are about over, Son, and now it’s up to you.
I’m not equipped to tell you what you need to do to be a man. I raised a boy, and I raised you with the morals and values that I felt were important for you to grow up and become an upstanding adult, and I hope you carry those with you wherever you go. That alone will be part of your manhood, I pray.
But I do know a few great men, namely your grandfather - my father. I know you feel the same way about him. So I want you to think of him, and men like him, and remember some of the qualities that make them what I simply call “good people.”
Qualities like humility and selflessness. I know technically you’re still in your teen years, and those are by nature selfish ones. But you will soon find that most people don’t give a rat’s ass about what you’ve accomplished, and they don’t remember how good you were to yourself. What they will notice is your actions and what you do for others.
I once had a boyfriend who was pretty full of himself. One day, I’d had it with him regaling me with tales of things he had done and how puffed up he was about himself and said to him, “You know, my father is a great man, but he’d be the LAST person to tell you that. Great men don’t need to.”
It’s true. And great men also have a great work ethic. I know you’ve learned this to an extent in your experiences over the last few years, so hopefully you’ve gotten a glimpse of the truth that nothing good comes easy. Oh, sure, you may get a break here and there, but don’t expect it, and don’t wait for it. And working hard “for a while” doesn’t automatically guarantee you “deserve” a break. You don’t. Think of the men who work three jobs to support their families and still barely make ends meet. Even the millionaires didn’t get there sitting on their talents. They worked their asses off – and not just for a couple of weeks or months. Years upon years. There’s no “end” to working hard. You should always work hard at whatever you do. You CAN do it, even if you don’t WANT to. And if you enjoy it? Well that’s gravy on the biscuit.
That’s another thing. You’re going to have to do a lot of shit you don’t want to do – plain and simple. In adulthood, you can’t pick and choose like you could when you were a kid. In fact, there will be days when all you do is shit you don’t want to do. And you won’t get a medal or a pat on the back for it, either. The attitude in which you approach this is going to say a lot about you and how your life’s going to go.
And while I wish you enough success that you have all the material things you need and a few you want, you’re going to have to quickly learn discipline, and you’re going to have to keep that trait in the forefront of your mind. Discipline means bills get paid first, and credit card debt is not a road you want to go down. Discipline means work before play, and making sure play doesn’t interfere with work (think late nights and early mornings.) Discipline means evaluating short-term gratification versus long-term gain. Remember easy/hard, hard/easy? Take the easy way out now, it’ll be hard later. Put in the hard work now, you’ll make it easier on yourself in the long run.
Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” This is going to be tough for you, because for the first time you’re going to be out in the world with nobody telling you what to do and what not to do. They say the world is your oyster. It can also be your worst enemy. And some things may be dangerous even in moderation for you. You’re going to have to be vigilant about that. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s right, and just because others do it doesn’t mean you should. Recognize your dragons. Know your triggers. Embrace your strength to turn away, and reach out to positive reinforcements when you need to. You know where they are.
The same thing goes for love, and I know from experience that this will be trial and error. It’s easy to fall for the ones who aren’t good for you. It’s easy to fall for the ones who you think you can “save.” And you’ll do it more than once. What I hope for you is that you find someone who brings out the best in you, and you in her. I hope you don’t lose yourself in that love, but are committed enough that you make her a priority in your life. Be loyal. Be kind. Be respectful. And by all means, be careful. I once read, “Boys fall in love every day. However, falling in love, and picking up the pieces if they fall apart, is part of manhood.” I’ve had my heart broken, and I’ve broken a heart. It’s a pain like no other, but we both survived, and you will too. But don’t let it jade you. We’re not all the same, you know.
Finally … listen. Listening is a true gift, and one that gives back every single day. You’ll learn more than you ever thought possible by listening versus waiting for the other person’s mouth to stop moving so you can speak, and formulating your response instead of truly hearing what they have to say. Listening will serve you well in your schooling, your work and your relationships. There is no greater compliment than being told you’re a good listener. And you never know what part of your own story could get solved or improved by listening to someone else’s.
My son, it has been a privilege to be your mother for the past 18 years. It hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure, but there is this thing called unconditional love that I discovered the moment you were born – and someday I hope you experience it too. Only then will you be able to understand how much I love you, why I do some of the things I do, and why I care so damn much.
There’s a very popular poem that you may or may not be familiar with, but it much more eloquently puts into words what I’ve tried to do above. Read it, live it, and know that even when you’re a man, my son, you’ll always be my light, my joy, my sweet baby boy.
Happy 18th birthday, Son. I love you today, tomorrow and always, more than words can say.