It must have been hard. Raising me.
You were so young. Just 21, right? Just a kid? A kid with a kid.
I still feel like one of those.
Is it the same for you as it is for me? Did you think about your future and assume it would all just click one day? Magically? When I was in grade school, I knew I’d finally figure it out in high school. When I was in high school, I knew I’d finally figure it out in college. When I was in college, I knew I’d finally figure it out once I got out in the real world. Once I got out in the real world, I knew I’d finally figure it out once I settled down and got married.
And now I’m divorced. Single dad. 35.
And I don’t have anything figured out.
At one time, that might have terrified me. But not anymore. Because I’m beginning to think the older and wiser we get, the more aware we become of how little we ever really know or understand.
We don’t have much control, and we were delusional whenever it felt like we did.
Each day I wake up, I get incrementally closer to making total peace with that: I am not in control. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. But everything’s going to be okay.
You had to say goodbye to me for months at a time when I’d leave for dad’s.
That must have been hard. I have such a hard time saying bye to your grandson for much more than a couple days.
You had to deal with my selfish, me-first, independent, only child nature. I took EVERYTHING for granted when I was a kid, mom. Everything.
Love. Money. Safety. Health. Fun. Friends. Family. Laughter. Innocence. Spiritual peace.
And you, mom. I took you for granted. I still do. You can tell because I don’t call you enough. Because I still am so good at doing the me-first, only child routine, even all these years later.
I think you carry a lot of guilt about my childhood. Questioning some of the choices. Wondering whether you could have done anything different to give me a better life.
It’s been a rough go in my thirties. Everything just seemed to go to hell right then. And it has taken me a long time to find my way. I still haven’t found it. But I’m not just wandering aimlessly anymore. I feel close.
Mom. You’re why that’s possible.
You’re why I get to feel any sense of hopefulness and excitement about my future.
You dedicated your existence to providing me with the guidance, life lessons, kindness and decency, principles, and spiritual foundation that have allowed me to feel alive again.
Without you, I might not know what love looks like.
Without you, I might not understand what it means to forgive, or be forgiven.
Without you, I might not be alive because I didn’t know being alive could hurt so much until one day it did.
Mom, without you, I couldn’t be me.
It was so easy to not like who I was throughout these past years. Self-loathing. You probably know the feeling because I think everyone whose lives don’t turn out absolutely perfect feel it. And I’m pretty sure that’s all of us. Even those whose lives seem particularly charmed.
And you know what saved me?
All of the things that you instilled in me, via genetics or example.
Love and kindness live inside me and the days worse than I’d ever imagined couldn’t kill it.
Friendliness and smiles are my gift to those near me because most of the time I don’t even know how to be another way.
Hope is my favorite word. My favorite idea. Hope. Always.
I’ve taken to saying the following, and I love it because it’s always true and always will be: There’s no reason that today can’t be the day the best thing that ever happens to you, happens.
I am genuinely hopeful, mom. That I can be a better man today than I was yesterday. That I can be a better father. A better friend. A better writer. A better son.
I am ashamed of my failings. And I’m sorry for all of the times I didn’t act grateful for all you’ve done. And I’m sorry for all the times I might seem ungrateful in the future.
But I need you to believe that deep down in the places no one gets to see, that I am trying to do good. To be good. To be a teeny tiny part of making this world better than I find it.
I would never want to be anyone but me, mom. Ever. I’d trade nothing but some poor choices.
So much of the good that lives in me is because of you.
In many ways, I am you.
Thank you for my life. Thank you for dedicating so much of your life to mine. Thank you for teaching me how to love.
You sacrificed everything (nearly your life, mom—I don’t forget that) for me.
And I’m not going to waste it.
That’s my birthday gift to you, mom. And I hope it’s enough.
I love you more than I say.
I appreciate you more than I act.
And I’m still chasing those dreams. The ones you instilled in me all those years ago. And now it’s time to start running faster.
I know this life can be beautiful. Because I’ve lived beautifully. And it’s because of you.
I still care about making you proud. And I still intend to.
Happy birthday, mom.
To many, many, many years.
I love you.