By Steve Beard
Dear John Paul:
For 13 years, you have been a steady and reliable source of pride and joy. No dad could be prouder than I am. I have been grateful to God for every single day of your life and now your mom and I acknowledge that you have reached a momentous achievement. Our Jewish friends teach that turning 13 marks the occasion of departing boyhood and entering manhood. “Today, I am a man…” is the phrase that a 13-year-old proclaims during his ceremony called bar mitzvah. In the eyes of his synagogue, he has come of age and is expected to obey the Commandments of God. It is not as much a religious birthday party as it is recognition that you have reached a milestone of maturity and responsibility. It is a great reason to celebrate.
Your mom and I—as well as our friends—have always viewed you as mature and responsible. I don’t suppose that anything magical happened when you woke up and had officially turned 13. Nevertheless, this is an important time for me to tell you again how much I love you and how unbelievably proud I am of you. Let this also be the time that I tell you that I agree that you have moved from boyhood to manhood. That is why you will be officially mowing the lawn from now on. Just kidding.
With all seriousness, as is the biblical tradition, I bless you in your emerging manhood and pledge to do everything that I can to make you the man that God has destined you to be.
Thirteen years ago, I wrote a column in Good News called, “A letter to my four-day-old son.” I just reread it and I am fairly confident that I have cried like a whining baby every single time I have read it over these last 13 years. The very simple message I wanted to convey was this: You were wanted and your mom and I are so grateful for the awesome gift that you have been in our lives.
You will be a great man because you have been a good boy. In order to be great, you must first be good—humble, kind, respectful, vulnerable, teachable, and honest. You have been all those things and we love every single one of those attributes and strengths in you.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” observes writer Marianne Williamson. “It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. You playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
You have been given marvelous gifts. When you use them, it gives others the green light to use theirs. Be self-assured, confident, and proud of your heritage—the lifeblood and legacy of honorable men and women on both sides of your family. Your mother and I respect your mind and have given you room to intellectually grow and come to your own conclusions. We trust your impulses and are proud of the decisions you have made. With the love of God in your heart, you can be gentle without weakness, strong without rigidity.
Guard your mind because it has been said that your thoughts can become your words and your words can become your actions and your actions can become your habits and your habits can become your values and your values guide your future. In one way or another, everything gets connected.
During the bar mitzvah, there is a blessing that I pray for you, John Paul. “May you live to see your world fulfilled, May you be our link to future worlds, and may your hope encompass all the generations to be. May your heart conceive with understanding, may your mouth speak wisdom and your tongue be stirred with sounds of joy. May your gaze be straight and sure, your eyes be lit with the Scripture’s lamp, your face aglow with heaven’s radiance, your lips expressing words of knowledge, and your inner self alive with righteousness. And may you always rush in eagerness to hear the words of One more ancient than all time.”
Steve Beard is the editor of Good News.