What you need to know:
- Freedom that you are about to enter into adulthood and a place of self-determination.
- To be born male is one thing but to become a man is something you will have to fight for.
On the occasion of your 16th birthday, I want to believe that this is a great day for you.
Unlike any other birthday, this one carries special meaning because it brings you closer to freedom: freedom in the sense that you are about to enter into adulthood and a place of self-determination.
I do not know what the freedom you celebrate means to you, which is why I thought it wise to give you a feel of what freedom really entails. I do not wish to spoil your celebration but I think it is important that you learn the truth; that freedom is actually harder to manage than slavery.
I will be turning 58 soon, which is quite some distance from 16, a time during which I made many mistakes and learned many lessons.
That is why I would like to share with you the lessons I have been taught in the school of hard knocks, hoping you will find them useful.
Life, my son, is not what it seems. It will give you all the sun to bask and laze around in during the summer, only for it to ask for something in return, in a very cruel way, during winter. It will want to know: “What did you do with yourself all summer?” or rather, “I hope you saved up enough for these times.”
Today life asks me, somewhat bitterly, what I did with myself when I was 16, and I suppose it will ask you the same. So what does freedom entail?
Whatever one pleases
Freedom is not about celebrating finally being able to do whatever one pleases, but rather rising up to take responsibility that is commensurate with the authority given.
As strange as it may seem, the freedom you seek so much means that you are answerable for what you do from now on, first to yourself, then to society, to the government and to God. Now that is a bit scary and if I were you, I would regard this time as the last frontier before the hard knocks start. This is the time when I would think critically about the path I want to take in life.
Being a man has always been hard throughout the ages and you, my son, are a man born in the 21st century, which only adds to the complications. The 21st century has radically redefined our role as men and removed all the social support, while still requiring us to perform as men of old.
Society is going to demand your strength and, indeed, you will need to be strong to make this world a better place than you found it. You will be required to exhibit great courage and perseverance to eke out a better life, not forgetting a lot of resilience to take the hard blows that life will throw your way.
Your work will demand all that you are for you to make it, without offering you any guarantees in return for your sacrifice.
Then, after all that, you will be expected to have reserved enough strength to support your family. Let me just say that to be born male is one thing but to become a man is something you will have to fight for, for the rest of your life.
You will have questions – hard questions without answers – yet others will look up to you for those answers. The words ‘I don’t know’ will in some situations not be an option.
These questions still haunt me today and, truth be told, what has given me solace is the knowledge that whereas I may not have all the answers, I know many other men who are in a similar situation. In addition, you will have to make hard decisions; decisions that will sometimes cause the people you love the most to hate you.
Behind the scenes
Now let’s talk about sacrifice. Allow me to let you in on what goes on behind the scenes in order for you to be able to go to school comfortably, find food on the table every day and even have designer label clothing thrown your way once in a while.
We, your parents, make sacrifices! Sometimes we have given up things that would have been of much value just to see to it that as far as it is within our power, you do not lack good things.
Sometimes that entails us staying up late into the night trying to balance the numbers. We do this to make it easy on you; now you better brace yourself because your turn to sit up late into the night is coming.
My son, I do not wish you a hard life – it is hard all by itself. All I wish is that you would be prepared; that you might spend your time well knowing that ‘winter’ is coming.
I wish that you would reap the fruits of good decisions that you must make today, that you would find the right answers to your life when the questions start streaming in, that you would live the freedom you’re about to get to its fullest, and that you would end up becoming the man that you should be. Happy birthday.
With love from Dad.