Dear Son and the men who shaped you:
I fought tooth and nail to keep you safe and sweet. To keep men from making you tough. I did my best to make sure you loved your grandmas, your sisters, and God.
The first few years were easy. I had such say over your life. But then you turned two and your dad made me wean you. He said you had to eat real food so you could grow up big and strong.
When we dropped you off for boot camp on Sunday, it felt like the day I weaned you. Both of us so sad that you had to grow up. That I couldn’t mama you anymore.
Seventeen years ago, after you were weaned, I let Opa take you out in his big, diesel truck. You came home all quiet with a big bump on your forehead. “What did you do to my son?” I lit into your Opa.
“He fell out of my truck and landed on his head all by himself. It was the boy’s fault. I told him to wait until I got my gun.”
“Dad, he’s two-years-old!”
“Old enough to know better,” said Opa. “That bump on his head will teach him a lesson. He’s gotta learn to be tough if he’s gonna ride with me.”
I didn’t think you’d want to go with Opa again, but you did. By the time you were four, I couldn’t keep you out of Opa’s truck. You had your own gun. Your own determination to become a man. You were Opa’s boy, no longer mine, and I couldn’t stop you.
Opa wasn’t the only one doing his best to make you into a man as fast as he could. Your uncles were leaving their mark on you as well.
Uncle Tim taught you how to ride your bike without training wheels so I couldn’t catch you. The training wheels slowed you down. Once those were off. It was all over. You had the run of the neighborhood.
Uncle Rik taught you how to flip people off on the highway. He wasn’t even trying to teach you sign language, he just flipped off your dad as he passed us on Interstate 5, going to see the Colonel, your grandpa, and that was it. I spent a year teaching you not to use your finger that way. You stopped picking your nose before you stopped flipping people off. Maybe you still flip people off. I hope not.
Your Uncle Pat showed you how to catch striped bass and yellow perch and rainbow trout. “It was all about holding your mouth the right way,” Uncle Pat said about fishing, and you believed him. And caught more than your fair share of fish.
Uncle Pat and Opa also made sure you had the right gun for every hunting occasion. A shotgun for ducks and geese, a rifle for deer and squirrels. Shooting squirrels is still your favorite.
Your Uncle Fred told you and your brothers all about the Army, and said you should serve your country. “But do the National Guard until you graduate college like your dad and I did so you can be an officer in the Army,” said Uncle Fred. And you listened. How could you not listen to a Special Forces Army colonel?
So many men taught you things I didn’t want you to know. Even your dad would say, “Babe, you’ve got to let your boy grow up. He’s got to learn to be a man.” Most of the time, I liked the things your dad taught you. Above all, I knew he loved you.
There were also men in your life I didn’t think loved you. Some coaches who tried to crush your spirit. Maybe they didn’t like your attitude. Or had some other ax to grind. Everyone knew you were good. You knew you were good. I didn’t like your pride either, but watching you ride that bench and cheer on your teammates in spite of it all, showed you had the heart of an overcomer.
I know you’ll overcome at boot camp. You’ll kick butt and take names as your Opa likes to say. I hope you land on your feet every time, but if you don’t, I hope you remember the man I taught you about.
I never thought I would thank the Lord for using all of these men to shape you. Even those coaches who broke your heart and my heart too. Perhaps they taught you far more than a winning season on the field ever could. They taught you character.
And all the years Opa said he was putting bark on you. “Look at the trees,” Opa would say. They need that bark to be strong. That boy needs more bark on him.”
Last night, you said a number of the guys checking into boot camp with you had never fired a weapon. I’m sure those boys will learn, but I’m glad you don’t have to. I’m glad you’re already a crack shot thanks to all those afternoons you lie on top of our horse trailer clearing our orchard of squirrels and gophers.
I also know when that drill sergeant yells at you, it won’t affect you. Your Opa’s been yelling at you all your life. You laugh in the face of Opa’s cuss words. When I add in those coaches who tried to break you, but really made you stronger, I’ll know you’ll be just fine.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank the pastors who prayed for you. Especially Pastor Doug who never gave up on you. Who sent you off with a blessing last Sunday morning.
So to all you men on Mother’s Day, thank you for helping make my son into a man.