Two years ago, I delivered a letter to my sons, written for their eighteenth birthdays, as part of my Father’s Day sermon. I first considered the idea when a friend of mine, a former Marine, told me about starting the tradition yearly as he served in various tours, and couldn’t be home for his children’s birthdays. Even after he retired and became a pastor, he continued the practice. I found the idea enticing and wrote that first letter in 2012. Now, it seems appropriate, not necessarily to update the letter, but to add to it, to emphasize different spots. Of course, it’s an open letter, and can never be finished…
By now, you’ve finished the first letter, the one that told you not to mix the reds with the whites when doing your wash (yes, that includes in the dryer!), about being a Christian, about respecting other people. But there are some things that I think I’m supposed to remind you about, over and over, as much as you might think I’m crazy.
First off, have you called your mother yet?
Second, I love you. And I’m proud of you.
Society seems to think that might makes right, but I have an admission to make: I’ve never regretted not throwing a punch, or not sticking it to someone. But I’ve wished I could take back something I said, or someone I hit. Just because you don’t fight back doesn’t mean you’re wrong or weak or a coward. Sometimes, it’s the stronger man who doesn’t have to settle things with his fists.
You’re going to have the opportunity to try lots of things now. Things maybe you’ve always wanted to, and things you’ve never heard before. I’d tell you not to do anything I wouldn’t do, but what fun would that be? Instead, I’ll tell you to make smart decisions, to respect yourself and the people around you. If there’s a chance you might regret it in the morning, wait til tomorrow to make the decision.
Call your grandparents, write them on whatever social media exists now. Remember that they loved you even when you were a pain, and make sure that you spend as much time as you can with them.
Stand up for those who are persecuted. You don’t have to agree with them, like them, or believe what they believe, but it’s not right when the majority holds someone down. The majority can be a group of people, or just the bully on the playground. There are bullies everywhere, but they run screaming into the night when people stand up to them. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing” is a good quote to keep in mind. No one seems sure who said it first, but I know Batman said it, and it’s true.
Speaking of things that are true: I know Jesus Christ is God’s son and he died on the cross because God loves us. I know that because I believe that, I am forgiven and can have an eternal relationship with God. All that other stuff? It’ll get worked out in the wash. It’s not always pretty. Just remember to keep the main thing the main thing.
I don’t have any regrets, which is strange because I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I should’ve eaten more vegetables and drunk less Coke; there are plenty of times I should’ve kept my mouth closed. But I’ve learned that being ashamed of what I’ve done or hanging onto what could’ve been doesn’t really help: what you do right now, tomorrow, when the opportunity arises, that’s what matters.
Do what’s right. We taught you the difference between right and wrong. You know the difference, so make good choices. (That’s from your mother– I asked her what one piece of advice she’d give you one you turned eighteen!)
Be independent. I am. Oh, you can be Republican or Democrat, or independent. But vote. Your voice matters.
Go to church, or small group, or something. We all need accountability. Your dad has been in a small group for years with guys who call me out when I’m being an idiot. We all need that. Especially guys.
Forgive quickly. Don’t hesitate to say you’re sorry. When you mess up, and you will mess up, because you’re human (and my son), admit it. If you need to talk about it, let me know. Otherwise, tell your mom.
Be punctual. (I can only hope you learned this from your mom.) Whether it’s school or work or for a date, someone is counting on you.
Dream big. Dare to do the impossible. Believe that you can do anything. Sometimes you’ll fail, but where you’ll get to while dreaming is pretty amazing.
Someday, you’re going to meet a girl that knocks you off your feet. Get up, she’s probably about to score a goal or dunk on you! No, seriously, one day, you’ll meet a woman who drives you crazy and makes you wish you were a better man. She’ll love you even though she knows what you’re really like, and she’ll encourage you to be the man God wants you to be. You won’t be able to imagine your life without her. Propose. Marry her! But until then, guard your heart and your affection– you are a great gift from God, not to be taken lightly or wasted. Getting married is no walk in the park– it takes hard work and commitment– but dating should be fun.
Greet people who don’t agree with you with grace. You are probably a little wrong! Whether it’s political, or social, or religious, it doesn’t matter– there is room for you to grow by hearing them, without fearing that you’ll lose yourself. Everyone is welcome to their own opinion, unless they went to UNC- Chapel Hill. Then they’re just wrong.
The more time you spend serving others, the happier you’ll be. Give your time away, give your money away, give away what’s been given to you by giving back. In some strange corollary of the universe, it will come back to you. Your dad doesn’t know exactly what heaven looks like, but he believes that we’re preparing for heaven now, not just waiting to get there. Maximus says in Gladiator that what we do in life echoes for eternity: Jesus said to store up treasure in heaven. Either way, do what you do with purpose, and selflessly.
For the days when you don’t want to go to class or work or to get out of bed, remember these things. Remember that God has a plan for you, and if you don’t know what it is, keep searching. Remember that your mom and dad love you unconditionally, and that you will always be my our boy. (Even though by now, you’re probably taller than I am.)
Call your mom, she misses you. Let me know when you’ll be home next: I’ll take you to a movie, or we’ll go play catch.