Advice To A Young Man: An Open Letter To My Son On His 18th Birthday
I believe in you, son. I believe in your heart, your wisdom, and your courage. I believe in the path you now claim that lies before you.
Today you are a man. In the eyes of the law, you are a man. I know, right? Weird? After all this time as a kid? But it’s true. You can vote. You can drive. You can fight and die for your country.
Voting, driving, and fighting don’t make you a man any more than your shoe size makes you a man. There are many so-called men out there wearing what amounts to clown shoes. They are not men. They are boys wearing the bodies of men. But let’s not dwell on them. I’m here to tell you what I think a man is. How to live as a man. These are the things I would tell you in person if I could, the things I would say to you late at night when the rest of the house is asleep and it’s just us two, talking about the important things in life.
So come sit next to me, the way we used when you were small and we read stories together. Remember? Today I tell you the story of You, or the You I see in you. The seed of You that your father and I planted 18 years ago, the day you emerged and the day I first sang to you your victory song.
Find your mountain and climb it.
You are a man when you decide to be one.
Is it really that simple? Can’t becoming a man be something more complicated, like finding the just the right shirt and wearing that man-shirt with just the right air of studied insouciance that says to anybody who cares to look, “Hey there! I’m a man!”? Well, no. Sorry to say there is no man-shirt. No sign that you can paste to your forehead. Being a man is far more than looking the part. Man-ness comes from inside you.
So take a deep breath and decide once and for all to own your future, to claim your birthright as a brilliant star, and to walk the path that you create — you and your sweet magic machete carving swaths out of the jungle of rejection, mistrust, uncertainty, and misdirection that springs forth in the face of every stalwart rebel such as yourself.
Oh yes, you are a rebel.
If there is anything I’ve neglected to tell you enough times over the past 18 years, it’s this. You are a rebel. You were born for greatness. You were born to change worlds. Inside you are the seeds of a kingdom. Being a man means digging deep, finding those seeds, believing they exist, and watering the hell out of them. I tell you this because I know you. I made you, and although I’ve made many missteps along the machete-path of my own life, you are not one of them.
You are here for a reason. Being a man means making nothing more important that finding out what that reason is and then living it fully, every cell in your body singing a song of victory. Live your reason with every part of you. Don’t stop until your heart beats in time with the universe and you know your machete is magic.
“You are here for a reason. Being a man means making nothing more important than finding out what that reason is and then living it fully.”
What kind of man should you be?
That’s up to you. Completely. Being a man, as I see it, is being your own man. It’s claiming your place in the world, your unique thread in the global tapestry that together we weave. Being your own man means not taking someone else’s path. It means standing up to people who try to tell you what to do or how to do it. It means saying no, maybe dozens of times a day. It means saying yes to what’s in your heart, even though your head says something else. It means knowing that your thoughts lie to you sometimes but your body never will.
Being your own man means being a man of your word — saying what you will do and then showing you mean it by taking strong, decisive action. Being your own man means walking in tune with your unique and beautiful heartbeat. It means doing the right thing even though that thing may be scary, or difficult, or you think will piss people off, or even seems dangerous. You do it because it’s the right thing to do. You know it’s the right thing to do because your body and heart tell you so. Boys do what is easiest. Men do what is right.
Be a good man.
A good man knows himself, first and foremost. He knows who he is and what his mission is. He knows his shadow side, too. A good man enters the depths of his soul and stares his shadow in the face, to shine light upon what has lived in darkness. A good man treats others the way they would want to be treated. He is fair in word and action. He admits to being wrong when he is wrong, and he defends his values when they are attacked.
A good man knows how to love. He loves with his whole heart and he knows that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but of strength. A good man tells the truth — his truth — and joyfully accepts the truths of others, knowing there is room for all. A good man lives for the joy of being alive and of knowing he is doing his best. He does not allow himself to be bound by regrets of the past nor by wishful thinking for the future, but instead takes quiet and decisive action in the present. A good man constantly strives to be a better man.
A good man is a great man. And the world needs more great men. I believe you will one day be a great man.
May the metaphorical roads you take lead you through beautiful inner landscapes.
Love is paramount.
There is truth in the saying that you cannot truly love others until and unless you love yourself. This phrase used to piss me off, but it was because I lived in denial of my self-hatred and wanted my love to count for something. Don’t let that be your legacy; instead, make love for yourself your top priority — always. You are an amazing being, a bright star.
Let that be your guiding principle, not to swell your head and place you above others (that’s not your way), but to remind yourself of your strength, your wisdom, and your purpose. Maybe you don’t yet know your purpose. That’s okay. Part of your task as a man is to plumb your depths, the universe that lies inside you, until you find your purpose and live it.
I believe we are all here to love and be loved. So give of yourself generously, willingly, constantly. Wear your heart on the outside and let your love shine forth. It will be a beacon that calls other willing hearts to you. Yes, you will hurt sometimes. Yes, you will feel lonely sometimes. But let yourself love. Men who love fully are a formidable power in the world. When you love fully, with your whole heart, and when you let love find your inner dark corners as well, there will be no stopping you.
What about when you’re afraid or sad or angry?
A great man knows that he is king of his kingdom. He has the wisdom to seek wise counsel when required. He knows he’s not an island and does not exist alone. A great man shines light on the shadow of his fears. He lets himself feel sad when there is something to feel sad about. He lets himself grieve what was lost and what might have been, but does not become lost in the loss and the might-have-been. He channels his anger into creative power to further his passion and penetrate the wide wide world.
A great man knows that emotions are energy in motion and he strives not to control his emotions but to allow them to flow through him, bringing life to the cells in his body and the passion in his heart. He knows that flowing with strong emotions is not a sign of weakness but of inner awareness and true strength.
A great man chooses to align with joy as much as possible. He knows that joy is his personal beacon — the things that bring him joy are most closely aligned with his true purpose.
Be a steward of community.
A great man champions community. Find your tribe and steadfastly protect it. A great man makes it his mission to serve something bigger than himself, to seek out injustice, and to right wrongs. He defends the defenseless. He acts as the heartbeat of his community, and constantly feeds that which is greater than himself. He knows his deeds are visible to many and he acts carefully, guarding the trust his community holds in him, and models for others what they do not yet know for themselves.
A great man rides the crest of the wave, spearheading change. He knows that others watch him closely and pattern their footsteps after his. He is the change he wishes to see in the world, and he champions others to do the same.
Honor the god within you.
I believe we are all sparks of the divine. Remember the sacred places inside you and use them as your touchstone, your guiding light, and your inner compass. Spark your inner fire so that you may be a lighthouse for others to follow when their own lights dim. Treat your body as a temple, a holy place, and fashion your life carefully, knowing that every step you make matters.
There is god in you. I see it even if you yet do not. Know it is there and remember it on those dark days and nights when nothing seems right and you feel lost. Remember the spark inside you — its light will never fully dim, and is always ready to warm you even at the coldest of times. Let your actions spring forth from that light within you, guiding your way and lighting your steps.
I believe in you, son. I believe in your heart, your wisdom, and your courage. I believe in the path you now claim that lies before you. I love you like the sun and I am deeply proud of the boy you have been and equally proud of the man you are becoming. A good man. A great man. It begins today. The world needs you.