imageL’dor Vador

Jacob.

May 21st 2016.

It is the day that you mark an important occasion, your Bar Mitzvah. And I want to stop on that thought — “mark an occasion.”

My first-cousin Sam, who came from Dallas said it best. “I made sure to be here even though it’s easier to just skip travel because there are so few occasions in life where the whole family gets together and I wanted to be a part of that. And weddings and Bar Mitzvot are much happier occasions than funerals.”

Occasions.

It is engrained in us in Judaism to respect your family and to mark important occasions. And as I think about what has defined my own character all these years is the foundation in family & occasions instilled in me by your Bubbie and Zeide when I was your age.

On today’s occasion you cross a threshold from boy to man and truly become independent.

14 years ago your mother and I were married. We lived in London at the time, right next to Hyde Park. On most weekend days we jogged around the park and jokingly talked about how one day instead of jogging around the park we would be pushing a stroller.

One year later we were doing just that. We couldn’t imagine a world in which we had kids and then in just one day — April 29th 2003 — we couldn’t imagine a world in which we didn’t.

What most parents imagine when they have children are the baby years and the toddler years. You imagine these little bundles of joy as little extensions of yourself. As a parent it’s still about “you” because you can’t imagine a world or a child that is independent of you.

And yet here we are, 13 years after you were born, watching a truly independent human being emerge.

And of course I don’t always like what I see:

  • You’ll soon pass me in height
  • You long ago passed me in xBox skills
  • My ability to still help you in math and science probably has a short shelf life
  • And although it’s questionable, I’d probably concede that you’re probably better at soccer by now

But aside from these small nits, your mom and I couldn’t be more proud of the person you’ve become.

In short we’ve watched you become independent and grow from a little boy to a young man.

They say becoming a “bar mitzvah” is about this — “becoming a man.” When I was in your shoes standing at the bimah I thought this was strange. I didn’t feel like a man at all. I had a high voice, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to be in my life and my world still centered around my parents and family.

Only now, with the fullness of time, do I realize how much of a man one has already become at 13. Much of your personality and your character are set. You may have much book learning in school to do and of course you’ll learn about friendship, love and responsibility but the person you’ll one day become when your own children stand at the bimah is already — you.

And your mother and I are so proud of what we see and so optimistic for your future.

You have always been kind to others and you hated when you observed others on the playground who were mean to others. When your mom and I asked you about your school friends you would usually respond in fairness language like, “He doesn’t play well with people” or “He’s a ball hog.”

You always wanted friends who were kind to other people and that’s what you’ve always been.

Of course one of our favorite stories was when you were just 4 and you told me that a boy was being mean to you on the playground.

I told you — jokingly of course — that we should go and rough him up. You walked up to the boy with me and when we got really close you looked at him and started barking. Rough. Rough.

Your sense of fairness and empathy will take you far in life.

You have always had such a great sense of humor. You love to crack jokes, be the class clown or come up with witty or sarcastic responses. You love to laugh and to make others laugh. Your mom tells me that your sarcasm gene must come from my side of the family.

Jacob, you enjoy life and this enjoyment will lead to fulfillment in life.

You love to compete. Whether on the soccer field in the classroom or watching NFL football games — you like to win. But we’ve noticed and appreciated that you don’t want to win at all costs. You’ve always had a strong sense of sportsmanship and when the game is over you move on rather than dwell.

Losing gracefully is an important skill in life. And as a Philadelphia Eagles fan. You can’t let set backs affect you. Take it on the chin and move on.

Competitiveness with sportsmanship will help you succeed in life.

You have a sense of adventure. You’re always up for trying new things. You love to travel to new places and try new things. We’ve taken so many road trips and vacations together, tried new hobbies from surfing to paddle boarding to seeing Broadway shows or learning about new cultures.

Your sense of adventure and curiosity will lead you to experience life to its fullest.

But mostly I’m proud about your openness to love. I saw it when you were a small child chasing around your big cousins and idolizing them and how quickly you adopted this big-cousin role with the seven little cousins who came much after you.

Nothing will make you happier in life than opening your heart to loving others.

So, Jacob. While 13 years ago your mother and I imagined bringing a baby into this world and giving it all of our love — we were never able to imagine the world beyond a baby in a stroller in a park or a toddler running in a field kicking a soccer ball. Before parenthood that’s as far as the mind can see.

But while I stand here today, watching you become a man, I can finally visualize your future.

You have already become the wonderful human being we had always hoped you would be. We already know that you are kind, funny, competitive, adventurous and loving. And now begins the building of the one new important attribute you will acquire — independence.

Take your new-found independence with pride and enjoyment. Take your independence and make mistakes in life and learn from them.

Use your independence to figure out who you want to be in life, not who others — including your mom and dad — want you to become. As long as you promise to become an engineer.

Use your own independence to be good to yourself. You can only truly be good to others if you love yourself first and foremost. And always be good to others.

Mark occasions. Show up. Be present. Do the harder work of traveling when family gathers and when you’re older put in the time to plan for your own family to spend time together. Occasions are all we have in life.

You are a product of your parents. And luckily for you I met your mom and you got her smarts and good looks.

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But we are products of our parents. Of Zeide. And Bubbie. And Papa and Kay. We pass down our values to you as they did to us and as we hope you will to your children one day. May you get to stand on the bimah one day as I get to today knowing that you upheld this tradition. That you marked this occasion.

Becoming an adult is about accepting your own responsibilities for the choices you make in life. That’s what independence is. That is the moment you are at in your life and once you acquire independence it is a gift you will have for life.

We can’t wait to see what you do with it.

Congratulations on all that you have achieved. And on your transition to a Bar Mitzvah.

We love you.

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A Letter to My Son on Becoming Independent was originally published in Both Sides of the Table on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

 

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