On the Occasion of Your Eighteenth Birthday
Dear kids adults,
So, you’re eighteen years old tomorrow. Adults. Wow. That’s weird and awesome and terrifying and unbelievable and how-on-earth-did-two-little-babies-I-could-fit-in-the-palm-of-each-hand-ever-end-up-as-adults?! It sort of makes me feel like a quivering blob of nostalgia. It also makes me feel old. Rather insensitive of you to become adults so quickly, if you don’t mind me saying. At any rate, I’ve written you a rambling letter on each of the last three birthdays, so I figured I’d add one last one to the collection. And this will be the last one. After this, you’ll have to fend for yourselves without dad’s treasured wisdom which I know you cherish so deeply. Er…
So, what to say on this momentous day? I’ve pretty much covered the bases in my previous three letters, in my not-so-humble opinion. On your fifteenth birthday, I warned you of the dangers of the cultural imperative to “be true to yourself.” On your sixteenth birthday, I urged you to cultivate the habits of the heart that will help you resist the temptation to define yourselves by the fickle and shallow judgments of social media. On your seventeenth birthday, I told you to grow up. Well, sort of. I said that I hoped you wouldn’t lazily slide into the “adulting is hard” narrative and come to see that the task of learning how to be the kind of adults that the world needs is actually quite a privilege and a noble task. So, yeah, that about exhausts my parental wisdom. What’s left to say?
Well, two simple things, really (you’ll be glad to know that this letter will be shorter than the previous three). First, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the parenting mistakes that I’ve made along the way. I’m sorry for not being as understanding as I might have been, sorry for majoring on the minors and, sadly, sometimes minoring on the majors. Sorry for not trusting you more. Sorry for assuming the worst and allowing my anxieties to bleed out onto the floor in all kinds of ugly ways. Sorry for being quick to speak and slow to listen. Sorry for not trying to see things from your perspective more. Sorry for living vicariously through you in all kinds of embarassing ways. There are probably other things, too, but I can’t remember them all and, to be honest, I don’t really want to. I hope I’ve given you as little to recover from as possible. You didn’t come with manuals and I kind of had to figure it out along the way.
Second, I’m proud of you. Like, seriously proud. You’ve both encountered some obstacles along the way. Things haven’t always been easy. But you’ve stayed on the road, you’ve kept taking risks, learning new things about yourselves, about others, and about God. I’m proud of the things that you’ve accomplished in swimming pools and volleyball courts and on pianos and guitars and all that stuff. But more than that, I’m proud of the character that I see in you both. I’m proud of the compassion for the outsider that I see in both of you. I’m proud of the way that you stand up for what you think is right. I’m proud of the way you stick up for each other and for the way that you engage with people of all ages, colours, shapes and sizes. I’m proud of the fact that neither one of you are inclined to follow the herd. I’m proud of you for your willingness to say sorry and to extend forgiveness easily. This last one is rare, you should know. I’m proud of you for all kinds of other things, too, but I said this letter would be shorter, so…
I’ll end with one more thing I want to say. I love you very much. I look forward to great things in your future and all of the other things that parents are supposed to say on their kids eighteenth birthday. More than that, I look forward to how God will grow and shape and lead and possibly reroute you in the days, months, and years ahead. I care a lot less about what you will do than I do about who you will be. I mean that sincerely. I am so grateful for the privilege of being your father.
Now get out of the house and start paying for your own Internet. And clean up your rooms before you go. I think there might be things growing down there.
(Just kidding. I’ll give you until you’re 19.)
Much love. Always.