Dear Ferris,

It’s your birthday, so I’m sitting down to type a note, just for you, as I do every year on this day.

As all of you kids get older, I find these birthday posts a little harder to write. I try to remember cute stories and anecdotes from the prior year and look for photos to go with my thoughts. But the “cute” stories are likely ones that would embarrass you now (heck, even the everyday ones would at this point) and finding a clear photo where I can see your eyes behind that thick tuft of hair that hangs over your forehead, or one where you show your teeth is, well, next to impossible.

It’s not that I have nothing to say or write about; it’s that the reflective thoughts I have can’t be summed up in simple stories anymore. You are becoming more complicated and nuanced every day.

It’s an interesting space that you live in as a 14-year-old boy — one that I don’t envy, to be honest. Developmentally, you are right where you should be for a middle-schooler — perhaps a little ahead of the generations before you because the world is a much more grown-up place now to experience childhood.

It’s a world where the awkward, silly, stupid and bad mistakes that have always happened to kids your age are now recorded, posted, commented on and preserved for eternity. I remember coming home from school and being able to wall myself off from my classmates, friends and enemies in that safe space. If I wanted to talk to a friend, I had to call them from my home phone and they had to be in their home in order to speak to me. You don’t have the luxury of that escape in a world that is hyper-digitized and constantly connected.

It’s world where people are less tolerant of each other, and therefore less tolerant of children who are not theirs. Instead of tapping into the universal human experience we all shared as teens, and now share as parents and adults, the grown-ups around you may seem distant, judgmental, unsafe. As adults, it is easy for us to divide ourselves over parenting approaches, political beliefs and opinions on how we think other people should be raising their children. This is a space that really doesn’t involve or include you — but it affects you.

It’s a lot of pressure for a child and I’m aware of it — particularly for a child who has always been empathetic, intuitive and aware of what others are feeling towards you. You may look and sound more like a full-grown man with every passing day, but you are still a kid. My kid. And it is still my job to protect and defend you.

It’s not all bad though. As a result of your omni-connectedness and empathy, you’ve formed a friend group that is vast and diverse. In some of them, I see a desperation to tone down their own greatness, just like you. In others, I see a silliness that allows you to keep engaging in that childlike side of you that you often try to hide. In others, I see sadness — and I know that you do too. Just this year you lost one of those friends suddenly and tragically, and I saw you rally the others around her memory, articulating your feelings to us, your parents, so clearly that I was reminded again of that fresh feeling of pain that accompanies new grief.

Through all of this, I’m learning that the process of parenting you is more about listening, even when it isn’t what I expect or want to hear, and less about fitting you into the box of what I think is best for you.

In you, I see so much potential, so much goodness, so much greatness. Sometimes I want all of those things for you so badly that it clouds my interactions with you but I’m trying to change that. I’m trying to create a safe space in our home and in my relationship with you where you can say what you truly want to say, and explore the things that you really want to explore, and become the person you are destined to be — all on your own. I will never stop cheering for you but at 14, you are grown up enough to advocate more for yourself. I’m here to support that.

So happy birthday Ferris, my only son and oldest child. I look forward to this year — and all you’ll bring to it.

Category: Birthdays