This picture basically sums up our relationship.
You’re 18, officially an adult, with all its privileges and heartache.
It seems like just yesterday, you were riding your bike (with the training wheels) around James Street, wearing your superhero cape I made you (that lighted up) as well as a giant sombrero I brought you back from Mexico, wearing that giant grin–so much fun.
No, I don’t have documentation of this moment. I have so many regrets.
Confession: I never thought that tooth was coming in.
On the day that you turn 18, I want to tell you:
18 doesn’t change who you are overnight. You are still you.
Your life spreads out before you like an open road. It’s just that now, the training wheels are gone.
Now that you are a “real” grownup, here are some things you are allowed to do:
You can move out legally. You can vote. You can take responsibility for your own decisions, your own body, even your own life (or someone else’s, if you become a husband and dad).
You can get married, or divorced.
You can join the Marines. I remember when you toyed with the idea of this, and even visited a recruiter. Do you remember your dad’s advice when he said, “It’s a man’s decision with a man’s consequence?”
As are so many things.
You can apply for a credit card. You can sign a will, or donate your organs. You can serve on a jury of your peers, potentially taking the life of another human being into your own hands.
You can file a lawsuit against someone, and you can be sued.You can take a trip without my permission. You can make terrible decisions, and feel the painful consequences. You can make wonderful decisions, and reap the rewards.
All. Of. The. Things.
Here are some other things you can do, no matter your age:
You can be kind, even when kindness is not returned.
You can help others, even when they cannot or will not help you back.
You can love with your whole heart, or reserve a bit of your heart out of fear.
You can make promises or break them.
You can take responsibility or blame others.
You can be truthful or be a liar.
You can give 100% of your mind, body and soul, or you can halfheartedly commit.
You can be someone others can count on.
You can give to someone in need, even if they cannot pay you back.
The choices are yours to make.
I don’t have any doubts you can do this: live this life you’ve been given to the fullest. You’ve always been good at tackling the hard stuff.
Only sometimes, the hard stuff will try to break you.
At some point:
You will be severely disappointed. You will feel crushed, humiliated, defeated.
People will gossip about you.
At some point, you will love and not be loved in return.
Someday, you will work hard, sweating and climbing, and cutting your hands on the side of the mountain. Sometimes, even though your desire is strong, things don’t work out.
You will lose, and it will sting.
There’s a temptation to give up. To stay home and hide. To say, “This isn’t worth it.”
Please, please don’t let it. Don’t give up. Step into the sunshine. Trust again, even if it’s a risk. Do the hard things, because difficulty shapes you. Don’t quit, even if others try to discourage you. Determination carves your character and teaches you that those who take shortcuts will only short themselves. Sometimes, the only reason the man on top of the mountain is there is because somebody else gave up first. Sometimes, showing up when you don’t want to is half the battle.
But you know what else?
You will also experience great joy–times of such success and pride, you’ll wish the moment lasts forever.
You will love — and be loved in return.
You will work hard–blood, and sweat, and tears–and you will complete your task. You’ll stand on top–experiencing the view you have earned–and you’ll bask in the moment.
You’ll do a job well, and know you gave your all.
You’ll face the life-changing moment, and you’ll nearly kill yourself with effort, and when you’re finished you’ll know you’re a bit tougher. You’ll stretch yourself to the very limit of your endurance, and you’ll push through.
But again, you’ve got to make the choice to keep going, even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.
In other words, put on that sombrero and Superman cape and take care of business. And that cape of yours will float on the wind.
And you will know that you have lived.
P.S.: I’m really glad that tooth finally grew in.
One thought on “A Letter to My Son on Your 18th Birthday”
Really enjoyed what yiou wrote. It is all true but I would like to add that the older you get the time goes by faster. You and Lee are great parents and all your family shows that you are. My love to all of you always.
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