Several weeks ago I posted the remarks I made to my daughter at her wedding reception. A few of years ago, I wrote a heartfelt blog about my wife, and I have also written about my father and mother. To date, however, I have not written anything to or about my son. My firstborn. In the spirit of fairness, and in part because he recently sent me a short text expressing his appreciation for me, I feel it is now time to do so.
What follows are words I penned, in letter form, and hand delivered to him on July 2, 2008 – his 18th birthday. He is now 28-years-old. But my words to him remain true.
I can hardly believe you are turning 18-years-old today. It truly does seem like yesterday that your mom walked in to our small apartment in Tempe and told me I was going to be a father. I can still remember being somewhat stunned, even frightened, as I pondered the awesome responsibility of fatherhood. I felt then, even as I do now, that I was wholly unqualified for the task. I know there have been times when I have failed you at this task. I nonetheless hope that I have not been a complete failure. I suppose, as the old saying goes, only time will tell.
Despite my failures, whether real or perceived, I pray that I have been a good father to you. I furthermore pray that overall I have been a positive influence on you over these past 18 years. Believe me, I have tried each day to be the father you want and, more importantly, the father you need. Throughout these 18 years, I have gained some wisdom (believe it or not), albeit limited. So, on your 18th birthday, I am writing you this letter to share with you some of the limited wisdom I have gleaned. It is my sincere hope and request that you will read this letter in its entirety, and honestly ponder its content.
The age of 18 defines you, at least statutorily, as an adult. Yes, according state and national laws, and even the U.S. Constitution, you can now willingly join the military; you can make many decisions on your own with no consultation from your mother or me; you can even vote for our local, state, and national leaders. Yet, while the law defines you as an adult, I want you to know, if you don’t already, that the law cannot define manhood. Manhood transcends age. Indeed, some adult males never achieve manhood. Conversely, some adolescent males, perhaps unwillingly, achieve manhood prematurely.
So what does it mean to be a man? There are many facets to manhood. I would just like to share with you some of the more important characteristics that I believe define manhood. Some people may disagree with the characteristics I describe. That’s okay. I am not looking to please them. My goal is to honor God by teaching you what is right.
First and foremost, a man loves God, and understands that he is nothing apart from God. A man recognizes his need for a savior, and asks Jesus Christ to forgive him of his sins. A man spends his life trying to emulate the character of Jesus Christ. He studies God’s Word, both alone and collectively with other believers, and especially with other men.
A man seeks after a godly woman. When he falls in love with a godly woman, and believes she is the one God has chosen for him, he marries her and makes her his wife. A man chooses to love his wife daily, and remains faithful to her until death. He honors her, cherishes her, tells her he loves her, and willingly lays down his life for her, just as Christ did for the church.
A man loves his children and strives to do what is best for them. He comes to understand that this encompasses not only giving gifts, but doling out discipline when it is needed. A man never fails to let his children know that he loves them, and does so unconditionally. A man makes it his goal to be an example of godly principles for his children.
A man also understands that God created him as a worker, and that he should derive joy from his work. Thus, a man diligently and persistently asks God to lead him into a career that he will enjoy, and that will allow him, either directly or indirectly, to impact others. Once this career is revealed, a man unfailingly strives to be the best at his profession, no matter the circumstances.
A man understands that worldly possessions are on-loan from God. As such, a man is a good steward with all his earthly possessions. A man is charitable; he loathes selfishness and selfish behavior.
A man understands that knowledge and wisdom are not synonymous. A man seeks knowledge at every opportunity; a man seeks wisdom continuously. A man strives to be honorable in all his pursuits, and reveres truth above all else.
Zack, please understand that the characteristics I have just described comprise only a subset of the many that define manhood. In my mind, however, these characteristics stand as paramount.
Now, as I conclude this letter I want you to know one last thing. I fully admit that I have made many mistakes as your father, and that I have not always reflected the characteristics I have described to you in this letter. Moreover, I am certain that I will likely make many more in the future. Nonetheless, it is my solemn prayer that you have learned, and will continue to learn, what it truly means to be a man. More so, I pray that you will become a man.
Happy 18th birthday, Zachary! I love you and I am proud of you!