Eighteen years ago I found myself in the same predicament that many young teenage girls do today when I took a pregnancy test and it gave the ill fated result of “positive”. Also like so many girls, I was scared and I knew I would be doing it alone (as far as the father goes). I had at least graduated from high school, but when we are talking about nearly two decades ago, being teenage mom had not become the phenomenon it is today. It was a very “in house”, hush hush subject. There was one thing I was sure of from the day I found out I was pregnant and that was I knew he would be a boy and I knew he would look just like his father. I was right. He had many struggles coming into this world and in fact almost didn’t make it, but he was a fighter like his mother and he has continued to fight all his life. Today, that young man, my son Jesse also turns 18 and as a mother it is such a bitter sweet feeling. I know the world says he is an adult, but to me he is only 18 and has so much more growing to do. Please do not mistake that for me saying I am anything other than extraordinarily proud of the person he has become and will continue to turn into.
I feel having taught, shaped, and molded this young man, having done the same for his brother for eleven years, having watching Jesse’s father walk away from him, having been married to James’ father who has made some poor choices, having been engaged once after that to a selfish, angry, infantile man, and now being married to what I believe is the pentacle of what all men should be, has all contributed to me developing my own list of characteristics of what mothers should teach their little boys to help them become tremendous husbands and fathers. Now as with everything I write, I don’t think my way is the only way or the right way, I just use my experience and hope it helps others. However, I will say if you have ever met my sons and/or interacted with any of the other men mentioned above, I think you would agree I have learned at least a few things.
1. Teach them to love God.
2. Teach them to love themselves.
3. Teach them to know what and how they are feeling and that saying them out loud is okay.
4. Teach them to not only live with integrity, but to know what integrity is.
5. Teach them to be honest and that a person is truly only as good as their word.
6. Teach them a promise should mean something and when they give one, they need to keep it.
7. Teach them responsibility.
8. Teach them that men can do the dishes, the laundry, vacuum, and clean bathrooms too.
9. Teach them having sex is easy, but the emotional commitment is takes maturity and they usually don’t possess it in their teenage years.
10. Teach them how serious it is to raise a child, but that if they make a baby, they need to ensure they are present.
11. Teach them to not place so much value in surface beauty or material things.
12. Teach them to be silly.
13. Teach them the art of chivalry. It is something the world has lost and needs more of.
14. Teach them that when a girl cries, it’s not funny and to make one cry in anger is never okay.
15. Teach them to help others.
16. Teach them it is wrong to take advantage of people.
17. Teach them being a bully is not cool and it’s not funny.
18. Teach them alcohol is not their friend.
19. Teach them to never, ever, ever, ever hit a woman.
20. Teach them hugging is not for sissy’s.
21. Teach them tea parties and dress up with their daughters is okay for grown men too.
22. Teach them the man they are is the man their son will be.
23. Teach them to say “I Love You”, out loud, and often.
24. Teach them that real men do cry.
25. Teach them it doesn’t make you a wimp to leave the guys when a girl calls because any girl who truly loves him will do the same.
26. Teach them to love their mommas, but to know when to let go.
27. Teach them to never settle for less in love, in their career, or in life.
28. Teach them to have dreams other than when they are sleeping.
29. Teach them good, strong, old fashioned family values.
30. Teach them to dance with their wives…and their daughters.
31. Teach them words hurt.
32. Teach them failure and mistakes happen. It’s part of growing up. What counts is not the mistake in which you should focus. The value is in what you take away from the mistakes and failures. However, the first time is a mistake, the second time is a choice.
33. Teach them winning isn’t everything.
34. Teach them to be a good person.
35. Teach them once something is said, it’s said, and “sorry” doesn’t always fix it so think before you speak.
36. Teach them that giving their heart to a girl is not a bad thing, but be sure the girl is going to protect it as he should hers. A person’s heart is not a toy.
37. Teach them their heart will get broken, but it will also heal.
38.Teach them that hate and anger are powerful poisons and forgiveness is the only cure. Let them know forgiveness isn’t about the other person, its for ourselves. However, sometimes we can say or do things that cannot be fixed and for that we must be take responsibility.
39. Teach them accountability.
40. Above all, teach them you only get one life and it’s up to you how you live it. Your choices are your responsibility, no one else’s and you have to own them…good, bad, or indifferent.
Please don’t think my sons have mastered all these things, but I would like to think some day they will. I can tell you it is my goal and I can tell you I have a husband who I believe possesses them all so that is definitely an advantage. I guess more than anything I just want my oldest son Jesse, who as I said turns 18 today, to know how unbelievably proud I am to be his mother and to have him for a son. I made a lot of jokes while he was growing up that I wanted to get him out of high school without a baby or an addiction. Well in six months he will not only be graduating, but he will be doing so as top 10 in his class, in the National Honor Society, with a 3.6 GPA, as having been a mentor, as having been a fully dedicated athlete since the 7th grade, and as having been one remarkable son for 18 years. He has more than surpassed all the stereotypes there are in regards to the sons of teenage mothers, the stereotypes about sons who don’t have consistent fathers around, and the stereotypes about young men being raised by single mothers. He has continued to bypass stereotypes all his life and I have no doubt he will continue to do so. I also have no doubt his brother will also continue to do so. This is because, I REFUSE, regardless of what science says, to believe that genes help determine the person’s personality. I believe it is their environment. The values, the ethics, the morals, and the overall characteristics you put into a person that is going to make them.
Our children are what we teach them to be and what I listed above is what I am and what I hope to teach my sons to be. I hope you have the greatest of birthdays Jesse for this is where your road truly begins and Brad and I are so glad we get to travel it with you! We love you to the moon and back!