Lessons on Manhood Part Three: To my Younger Son on His 21st Birthday

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It’s now a family tradition.

A couple years ago, in an attempt to fill the void left by the loss of your dad, I wrote Lessons on Manhood I Learned From Your Father for your brother and you. The following year, your brother turned 21 and a I penned a letter detailing what he had taught me. Now that you have reached this milestone, I’m proud to to detail the exemplary example you present:

Make your words count: A few deliberate comments are more compelling than an extended tirade.

Keep watch: Discreet observation can be the best educator.

Provide a safe harbor: Be known for the one to turn to when times are stormy.

Fancy f-words: Faith, family, and friends form a firm foundation.

Be brave: A heart of gold inspires nerves of steel.

Stay in the loop: Being out of touch induces ignorant decisions.

Tinker: Working with your hands enriches your mind.

Don’t seek applause: Pride in a job well done is all the cheerleading you’ll need.

Be a wolf in sheep’s clothing: Demonstrate your tenacity with quiet confidence.

Form a posse: A few cherished friends are more valuable than a gaggle of acquaintances.

Develop x-ray vision: Not everything (or everyone) should be taken at face value.

Be loyal to a fault: May it never be said you turned your back on those you love.

Take the bull by the horns: If something isn’t working, make it your job to fix it.

Build bridges: Seek common ground, not segregation.

Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve: Your scars are reminders, not honor badges.

Cross the line: Doing something unexpected is always intriguing.

Be a ladies’ man: Having only male friends restricts your perspective.

Hone your competitive drive: Choosing your battles wisely results in more victories.

Throw away the key: Confidences are not to be broken. EVER.

Chime in: Being a part of a team enhances your identity.

Go the distance: Perseverance forges character.

Cast off your armor: A little vulnerability soothes a wounded heart.

Laugh until joy abounds.

Love till your soul overflows.

Live to make your spirit dance.

,
Mom


This post originally appeared on Medium.com

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To My Son on His 21st Birthday: Lessons on Manhood

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Dear Son,

In my first letter, I related to you and your brother what I had learned about manhood from your father. On this, your 21st birthday, I want to acknowledge the lessons you have taught me:

BE AN INDIVIDUAL: Don’t conform to what other people think you should be.

HAVE A STRONG WORK ETHIC: Go the extra mile. Don’t rest until the task is completed.

ADAPT: Don’t bang your head against a wall that is impossible to move. Acknowledgement and assimilation of a difficulty is sometimes your best option.

BE A FIERCE DEFENDER: God help anyone who harms a loved one.

LIGHT UP A ROOM: Have a contagious smile and infectious personality.

DEMONSTRATE GENEROSITY: Even the smallest gesture can have meaningful impact.

HONOR YOUR HERITAGE: Cultural roots are strong and deep.

BE TRUSTWORTHY: No one should doubt your dependability.

OWN UP TO MISTAKES: Excuses are the tools of cowards.

TACKLE TREPIDATION: Conquering a fear is euphoric.

BE A MENTOR: Teaching the next generation is a gift to eternity.

CELEBRATE JUBILANTLY: Life is meant to be embraced.

HAVE A GOAL: Resolve and determination will keep you on your path.

DISAPPOINTMENTS WILL HAPPEN: Picking yourself back up strengthens character.

BE NOTABLE: A little infamy can be a good thing.

TRAGEDIES MAY BEFALL: Allow your soul to grieve.

POSSESS COMPASSION: Empathy is a scarce necessity.

BE PROMPT: Consider another person’s time as important as yours.

PLAY NICE WITH OTHERS: You won’t always get your way. Deal with it.

CULTIVATE AN ATHLETIC DRIVE: Dedicate yourself to improvement. Strive for excellence.

TAKE PRIDE IN YOUR LEGACY: It’s your most cherished inheritance.

LAUGH until you cry.

LOVE to the heavens.

LIVE to make a mother (and father) proud.

Love,
Mom


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com

Turning 50 is Difficult at My Age

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I was recently at a birthday party where the honoree was turning fifty. A cousin raised a glass to her “half-a-century-old” relative. I turned to my younger sister and glaringly whispered, “If you call me that in my birthday toast, I will despise you for eternity!” She just smiled and gave me a look that said, “It’s on!”

As I approach fifty, I’m revisited by remnants of my youth. Teenage zits reemerge as menopausal acne. The music of adolescence is the melody of car commercials. Unbeknownst to me, someone took my personal timeline and folded it in half before the ink was dry. Souvenirs from my younger days have been spattered and smeared with the present, creating a haphazard Rorschach test. Sometimes, I glide across a faint smudge—the encounter generates a background hum that vaguely prickles my consciousness. Occasionally, I stumble into a solid splotch. These happenstances startle me like a stranger abruptly grabbing my ass, heightening my awareness. I am compelled to pay attention and scrutinize my surroundings.

I’ve always been a bit behind the times. When I was in my twenties, thirty was the new twenty. In my thirties, forty was the new thirty and so on. Now that I am approaching mid-century modern, I’m too outdated to be a hipster, yet too immature for the senior discount. I’m smack dab in the middle.

Fifty, it seems to me, is a point flanked by coming of age and an old wives’ tale. I now find myself situated between:

  1. Daisy dukes and sequined track suits
  2. Thongs and granny panties
  3. Bartles & James and Ensure
  4. Two a.m. chili cheeseburger runs and early bird specials
  5. Fraternity parties and funerals
  6. Moonwalking and walkers
  7. Ten-speed bikes and electric shopping carts
  8. Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful and I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

Fifty does sound a bit half-baked. I have half a mind to look at the glass as half-empty and declare myself half-dead. I’m not half the woman I used to be and half the battle is not going off half-assed as I wait to see how the other half lives. I suppose I should give it half a chance, realize that getting here was half the fun and that it’s not half bad.

I still don’t know the half of it.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com

Today is Your Birthday

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One of my favorite stories is the one your family used to tell me about the day you were born. You were the third of four, the only boy, in a patriarchal, first-generation Italian family. Your father brought your mother roses; no such gift heralded your sisters’ arrivals. One would think this would create conflict, but it never arose. The family revolved around you as the sun-son of their universe.

You were proclaimed the golden child and that was that.

I wish I could have known you as a little boy. On all those previous birthdays when they would drape a blanket over your shoulders, place you in your highchair and pronounce you “king.” Your mother would make you chocolate cake for breakfast and your father would burst with pride. His son, named after his own father, was growing into a fine young man. Years later, we would continue the tradition and name our first-born after him.

It was the first time I saw your father cry.

I caught up to you when you were seventeen. I was your “Christmas present” from a mutual friend. As we stood under the mistletoe, you pointed out the cheesy stuck-on bow the friend had somehow convinced me to wear. We shared our first kiss—my first kiss. Three months later, when you turned eighteen, we almost broke up. Some friends had called me “jail bait” and it made you apprehensive. Even though no statutory offense had been committed, the thought that you could go to jail for falling in love with me sent you, the son of a detective, into a minor tailspin.

I told you to stop being ridiculous and that was that.

You never really liked your birthday. It wasn’t because most people could never get the date right. Even family members would ask, “Is it the 30th or 31st?” You objected to a day being devoted solely to you. Maybe all those years of being the center of your family’s cosmos had created the aversion, I don’t know. Christmas was more your character. You relished its reciprocity.

We were married by your twenty-eighth birthday; living in our one-story, blue-and-white house you had gallantly purchased. I wouldn’t dare to make you a chocolate cake. Your mother’s was sacred. I made you a special dinner—salmon, I think.

Our first son was born the year you turned thirty. Your father’s age was the same when you appeared. The three of you always delighted in the symmetry.

Our second son came into this world just barely into the month you turned thirty-two. He shares the date with his Auntie, but he shared the month with you. We were never able to grow our family more.

We were complete at four and that was that.

The year you turned thirty-four, you donated a kidney to your father. Some questioned how I could allow you to present this gift to him — your dad, my father-in-law, our boys’ Papa — as if I had any say in the matter. They had no idea that it was my turn to burst with pride at the mention of you. You were left with a fourteen-inch scar to mark the occasion.

We received the call when you were thirty-six, during a late-evening, family dinner. The doctor asked for both of us to be on the line when he related what the tests had decreed. We soon realized that after-hour phone calls would be forever ominous.

Your fortieth birthday was celebrated halfway through your treatment. The month before, your medical court had brought you to death’s precipice, and then cautiously, methodically, brought you back to our realm. Your sister had the honor of cup-bearer, offering her lifeblood for the rite. For weeks you had been in isolation, developing the strength needed to withstand our world’s contamination. The doctors conceded to the momentous occasion and allowed you to go into the garden and bask in the sun as we basked in you. We festooned your wheelchair with balloons and the boys took turns sitting on your lap. You overexerted yourself for our happiness.

Each of the five birthdays after that was precious. Resplendent gems that our hearts treasured. We coveted them, but the golden child was waning and that would soon be

THAT.

We held your service five months after your forty-fifth birthday. An elite few were chosen to proclaim their tributes and testimonies from the rose-adorned altar. Over a thousand people came to pay homage.

It was the second time I saw your father cry.


Originally published in @HumanParts @Medium.com