Happy Birthday, I Know You Are Not Special
A letter to my son on his 9th birthday.
You are nine today. Mazel Tov!
The last of the single digits; one number shy of double digits, forever.
So, I gotta be straight with you.
Look, as much as I love you, you are not special; not as much as you would like to think you are; certainly not as much as the myth that your dad and I have perpetrated to you and to the world.
The truth is that the outside world is a son of a bitch and you are a number.
The truth is you will be nothing more than a series of numbers throughout your lifetime:
A student ID number
An employee number
A social security number
No matter how much I try to enhance your childhood and/or helicopter you and/or let you fail and/or fall on your face and/or get frustrated with you, you will still grow up to be an adult. You will venture out among your generation whilst trying to find your way. You will be lost. You will be off searching for meaning. You will be narcissistic and you won’t understand why the world can’t see you as the unique and beautiful snowflake that your mom and dad see in you in your daily funny faces and your very bizarre jokes.
I am a nihilist by nature. I often joke with your dad about which of the things we have done that will eventually land you in therapy. I watched “The Breakfast Club” the other day and it reminded me that we may already be on the path to becoming the parents that John Hughes once prophecized in my ear through the Brat Pack’s lips.
Pretty bleak birthday card, right? Well you should be used to this by now. I am always warning you of life’s dangers at the happiest of moments and at the most inopportune of times. It is my life’s preparatory course. But bear with me — you only have another 40 years of this.
The truth is you are a number to everyone.
To me you are 6:10 am, 4lbs 13oz, 4/3/05, 9 years
The truth is, as unfair as it is and as much as you would like to be, you won’t be special to everyone. You will simply be ANYONE. But hopefully throughout your life, you will find your tribes. The ones that tell you the truth, the ones that will have your back, the ones that will get you into epic trouble, and the ones that will make you laugh. And hopefully you will find the significant others that get you and your need for classic rock, TV commercial reciting, and varying other things. These are the people who will know you as SOMEONE. And vice versa. They will be your respite when the EVERYONE ELSES make life unbearable.
I have already seen the inklings of the grown up you. The one that sits next to a girl at the school dance until her friends arrive, just so she doesn’t have to sit alone.
The one that screams at the kid to apologize for pushing the other kid.
I have been pushing you since the day I met you. Your dad and I push you to do the things that suck. You didn’t want to go to the head table alone but I made you. You wanted a cookie but you were too embarrassed to ask. “No one is gonna give you anything unless you ask for it. So you can sit here with regret or you can make something happen. I am not always gonna be there to help you through the tough stuff.”
You whimpered all the way to the table, asked for a cookie, and wouldn’t look at me for the rest of the event. You were pissed and shot me eyeball daggers. I will deal with the fleeting hatred if it shows you what you are capable of.
• • •
I promised I would never lie to you about important things. So I am writing down these truths for you to read when you are ready.
The truth is, you know more about being a kid than I know about being an adult parent. Truthfully, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.
The truth is that I sometimes paint the world as far too bleak when I should be reveling in the moment. Your dad already knows this about me. I am desperately trying to learn how to find the balance.
The truth is that you don’t need to be special to everyone. Just your tribe. All you need to be is authentically you. Don’t lie to yourself.
The truth is that you will need to work hard. Anything worth doing takes work.
The truth is that you will need to be strong. There are a series of head tables and cookies for the taking in this life. You have to be strong enough to ask for them or figure out a way to earn them.
The truth is that you will need to be independent or you won’t survive in this life for every long.
The truth is that you will need to pay your dues. Everyone does.
The truth is that we love you. No matter what. I say it now and I mean it always. That being said, you will never be too old for hugs and kisses. Deal with it.
• • •
I drove you to school today. Your little voice sang “Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe along with me and the radio. You were belting out that tune as strongly as any person should sing on their birthday. The drive and the song made me think about you in kindergarten. One of the first things they have you memorize is your phone number and your house number.
The number you are always welcome to return to.
Happy 9th, Buddy.