[A friend of mine has a young son. She recently asked me, and other men, to write a letter to our sons who exist or have yet to be born that she could show to her own child, someday. This is my letter.]
If you're reading this, you are now set to embark on a journey into that wonderful, stressful, often-sticky phase we call "young adulthood".
I want you to know that my love for you, my personal stake in your existence, could never be adequately measured.
As you have grown over the last 18 years, all I have ever sought to do is give you the best possible start on happiness in life and to respect and love others as equals.
You are a man in our society, and with that, many will expect certain things of you. There will be a clash of definitions of gender and conformity, occasional explosions of insecurity and hatred, and those social fireworks will always take place overhead.
There will be times when you look to the stars for inspiration only to find their glittering, inspirational brilliance is clouded by the haze of bigotry and aggression associated with our gender.
The smoke from those hateful, flashy embers are momentary; they will fade into the quiet of the night.
But those stars, those brilliant, enigmatic points of light that guide our way, will remain long after the smoke has cleared, long after me, long after you, and long after the final moments of your legacy and that of your children and their children.
Those stars--touch points of character--are the closest we will come to visualizing eternity in life. They are steady and seemingly boundless with strength and glow.
I have given my greatest effort in this life to constructing the constellations of your night sky. They are not perfect, but they are the closest I have come to defining what it means to be a human being and in our culture, what it means to be a man.
I came to the conclusion, long before you were born, that I would be myself. I love my father for the values he taught me, but I decided that my masculinity was my own to define, not to be shaped by expectations of bravado or aggression or a lingering, insecure craving for power to hold over others.
I decided to do what makes me happy and to love others in that pursuit, and if that didn't fit the definition of "manhood" in the eyes of some, that would be their problem, not mine.
You should never be ashamed of masculinity, but you should never fall into the cultural trap of using it in oppressive ways, either.
And you should never be ashamed of femininity; a person's preference of gender or identity or orientation does not define their value.
The man who wears a dress and heels has just as much strength and potential and character as the man who embraces traditional masculinity. The man who cries and sings and dances and loves out loud has just as much worth as the man who is quiet and unemotional.
Women are your equals in every way. Those who identify as women are your equals, too.
Your friends, your role models, your leaders, none of them should be defined by gender in your eyes but by character and integrity.
Always respect their boundaries. Society will tell you to seize what's "rightfully yours", but know society is wrong. The women around you, on the bus or in school or at work or at home or in a dark alley, are never yours to take or harass, nor should you ever permit others to take or harass them, either.
Rape and sexual assault are always wrong and is always the fault of the predator, not the victim. Don't allow society to tell you it's fine to be a predator or sexist jerk who makes women feel uncomfortable. You're not an animal; you're an amazing human being. Respect yourself as one by respecting women.
Because as equals, they deserve just as much happiness and love and respect that I wish you to realize in this lifetime. They deserve to make their own choices in life. Never seek to make those choices for them.
Never prey on those weaker than you, but be sure to respect their strengths and wishes, too. They may not need your protection, but they do need you standing next to them in times of adversity.
Always stand up for the rights of others, even if it means a sacrifice on your part that will go unrecognized.
But never let yourself be preyed upon, either. You have a right to safety and decency and respect and opportunity. A person, no matter who they are, who seeks to hurt you should be met with backbone and resolve.
You're going to make mistakes. In fact, you're going to make a lot of them. And that's good because making mistakes is the only way you're going to learn how to be successful and happy.
Own those mistakes. Prize them as life's trophies. Be mature and classy in defeat. Be quick to apologize and make amends when you've done wrong. Not only will you grow, but people will love you for it.
Most of all, know this: no person ever ended up losing who made sure others were winning. You can never go wrong with putting service to others before self.
I love you, and I'm proud of the person you've become.