On the Occasion of a Son Turning 21

He’s always been a surprise.

Not that the expectation for something special wasn’t there, but who this young boy I played catch with would become just wasn’t on my radar.  The music piece, in a generic sense, didn’t surprise me; we’ve got singers in the family–some good ones (My uncle, closer in age to a brother, was All-State in high school and continues to sing with some hefty classical folks.).  The athleticism (that none of his current friends really know about) didn’t surprise me either.  I’ve mentioned in previous writing how, back in the days of Pea Patch soccer,  the ease and smoothness of his six-years-old running stride caught me off guard, making breath hard to catch for a moment or two.  But I was an athlete back in the day (a facebook friend just asked me just a couple of days ago if I still played football), so that made sense.   And he wiggled and squirmed like he was supposed to, noticed girls pretty much on schedule, and over the years has had lots of questions that you might expect a young man to have.

So what’s the surprise?

The shape of his heart, and the way it’s wrapped itself around mine.

I’ve written on these pages about my daughter Amy, and how she’s a hero of mine, and it’s even more true these days than it’s been before.  My love for her is unmatched and untopped, and she holds my heart in a way that belongs to her alone.  To you, Amy…(zoom in to clinking of wine goblets).

This piece of writing is trying to describe the shape of that sort of thing as it relates to my other child, the boy who turns twenty-one at midnight, at which point I will raise my glass to him, though he be twenty-five-hundred miles away.

My son.

He got to my deep places when I wasn’t looking.  He’s a spelunker of a kind, quietly ruminating on God’s ways in the world, finding lots of different shadings, shapes, and qualities in those mines.  It’s a little horrifying to think there’s a kid in the world watching you, and the chief prayer is that God will bend his sight to see the good stuff, the stuff he needs, and that God will make him mostly blind to the lesser things, the stuff he doesn’t need.  Daniel helped me build the book shelves back in Kent; that’s when David Wilcox’s music began its gracious work in our lives.   (“Show the Way” is a shared anthem.)  We tussled and played tackle in the rain, played catch with a baseball for hours, and as he got a bit older, he’d come into my office and ask eyebrow raising questions about this whole God thing.   His heart nearly pounded out of his chest the day he was baptized–I’ll never forget the sensation of my hand on his back as we stood before the church together.   I somehow think God noticed that pounding and decided that here He’d found a heart that could stand some big hammering, some big gifts, and a big, living-water kind of life.  And who knows, maybe it was then that God thought, let’s give that heart a voice.

And what a voice it is.

But make no mistake, the singing voice (which I’ll mention in a minute) is not all of what I mean.  A voice is a speaking into the world, a giving of energy into the people around you, a pouring of spirit into the world you walk in, and all kinds of moments require the delivery of the best voice you’ve got.  We all have these voices, and to follow the metaphor, all too often, we are like the folks who don’t like their voice much (too nasal, we think, not rich enough, too screechy or pitchy), so they artificially raise it or lower it or try to make sound like someone else’s.  Or they get too tired to bother or they scream too much cause they’re just so mad, or they just go quiet, thinking what’s the use.

Among vocalists, it’s called “not speaking on your voice.”

One of Daniel’s great desires, I think, is to speak (and sing) on his voice, squarely in the middle of it, wide open, matching it’s timbre, tone, volume, and musicality to the need of the particular moment in front of him.  And as we who’ve lived awhile know, most of those moments are going to be about love–its lack, its presence, its healing, its growth, its discovery, its first offering, its repair.  And lately (let the reader understand) he’s discovered some new things about love, and the joy that particular theme can bring.  But he knows the pain of it, too; he’s an old soul that way, which we love about him.  He can be 14 one minute, and 45 the next.   There have been many days when he’d just as soon not be like that, when he’s been tempted to maybe trade in that old soul for some flatter, simpler version.

But then, that old soul is what comes roaring out in those moments so many of us have experienced, that most the world doesn’t know about yet.  Whether it was “If I Didn’t Believe in You” that first time we all got a taste of what was to come at 15, or “Bring Him Home” at Taproot’s summer camp version of Les Miserables, or “Something’s Comin'” at Roosevelt (one of the hardest songs to deliver in the Musical Theatre canon, in my humble opinion, and he was standing there not just singing it, but actually bringing the art of it), what’s been surprising is not that he can sing, but that whatever-it-is-that-happens-when-he-sings, happens.   They know it at Michigan, they know it ACT, and something tells me the “circle of knowing” about whatever that is, is about to grow some more.  I could make this post really long talking about it, or trying to, but let’s just let God do what He’s going to do with whatever that is, and return finally to the simple fact of Daniel’s person, and his sonship.

To say I’m proud of my children is to state the obvious.  But what Daniel (and Amy, all of this is for you, too) must understand moving forward is that performance and accomplishment and accolade and even his own sense of fulfillment do not have any bearing on my love (and Anjie’s love) for him. I yearn for and long for his spirits and his heart to be free, to be free of the burden of having to measure up to anything that might live in my fatherly head about his life.  My hope for him is that he will rise into the full expression of his voice, his gift, and his life.  That he will be unencumbered by imagined shames.   That he will listen to the voices of promise and hope and possibility rather than the voices of doubt, fear, and cultural comparison.   That he will keep that easy way of moving in the world, the quick laugh that shouts faith to those around him, and the deep sigh that means it’s time to go deep once again.  That he will be unafraid to weep over that which requires it.  That his writing and creation will bless what worlds God gives him, be they large or small.   And that all those who travel with him will be companions well aware of the tenuous nature of love and gift.

That’s enough.

Raise your cup to the days to come, my son.  All those who love you raise them as well.

To Daniel.

Time to fly.

I believe great things are comin’…

2 Replies to “On the Occasion of a Son Turning 21”

  1. Beautiful, Jeff!! How lucky Amy and Daniel are to have you and Anjie as examples of how to live their lives. All the best and here’s to the future!

    1. Hey Pam! So glad you stopped by the web site. Say hi to Uncle Ronnie if you ever see him. (I think you do.) Time goes by way too fast, doesn’t it? Hope all is well…



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