Steven Manchester: Sweet 16

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When he was born, my son Jacob entered the world with an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. He was blue—not bluish or kind of blue; he was blue. My knees buckled and nearly pulled me to the hospital floor. The room immediately filled with medical personnel, causing the worse wave of panic I’ve ever felt. But it was their quick response that led to the prognosis, “Your son will be just fine, Mr. Manchester.” The truth of it suddenly hit me and I began to cry. As I started to breathe again, I also realized there was nothing they could do to recover the years that had just been erased from my life.

This past week, my healthy son—for which I still thank God—turned 16 years old. Unlike girls, who revel in the hoopla of extravagant sweet 16 parties, boys are different. Theirs is a much quieter rite of passage. I asked Jacob how he wanted to celebrate. He shrugged. “Whatever,” he replied. Although I usually despise this term of indifference, in this case he was being honest. He really didn’t care how we celebrated the day.

After handing him a mushy greeting card—containing a gift card that confirmed this birthday was different, more special—we ended up at a restaurant that served breakfast food for lunch; it’s a favorite we both share.

As we accepted the giant menus, my only request of him was to bury the cell phone while we were there. No texting or tweeting—just a face-to-face conversation. He respectfully honored the request.

While Jacob began with his usual update—how school was going, what his friends were up to, how he was dreading all the work he faced at school in the coming weeks—I sat back, sipped my coffee and took an inventory. While he talked, I actually found myself taking an account of the most precious task I’ve ever been blessed with—raising this boy.

Physically, Jake is tall and lanky and he weighs much less than he should (as such, we ordered extra pancakes), but he’s discovered that he’s best suited as a runner—which I’m proud to say that he trains and competes hard at.

Jake’s a smart kid. In fact, he thinks he knows much more than he does. Fortunately, I’m not too old to forget I wasn’t all that different at his age. The good news is: coming from his technology- savvy generation, he’s proven resourceful enough to find answers when he doesn’t actually know them. This ability has always been important to me.

As we ate and, one topic led to the next, Jake informed me that it’s not considered disrespectful to return a phone call with a text message. Although this remains a hotly debated topic between us, he was being truthful; communicating online is precisely how his Smart phone generation communicates—period.

Jake’s a gentleman, a trait that I insisted he possess. He recently went to a movie with a girl—“as friends”—and paid for her ticket. I discovered that he even opened doors for her. Thankfully, he’s learned that while some people claim chivalry is dead, a man’s true character still means everything.

As I sopped up yellow yolk with an English muffin, I smiled at my son, realizing: Jake’s kind without bring frail, something I’d like to think he learned by example. He cares about people much more than things. For the most part, he’s polite—at least in my company. He’s not afraid to stand up for his beliefs and can even get loud when he feels passionate enough about the topic at hand. And he’s thoughtful, considerate—as much as he can be for his age.

I’m not delusional. I know my boy’s not perfect. He’s a work in progress, requiring a few more coats of polish. But I also know that a solid foundation’s been poured; a base strong enough to frame a good man.

Nearly two hours had passed before I paid the bill, left a tip and we started for the door. “Thanks for everything, Dad,” he told me. I shook my head. “Thank you, Jacob,” I told him and meant it. You see, I’ve always believed—from that awesome and terrifying day 16 years ago—the true success of my life will be measured against the man he becomes.

We got back in the car and I had to smile. The doctors were right, I thought, Jake turned out just fine. “Where to next?” I asked him. There was silence. I looked into the rear view mirror. He was already back on his cell phone, both thumbs tapping away at an impressive rate—getting caught up on all that he’d missed during his birthday lunch. Maybe I should just text him? I thought, before heading off to our next adventure together.


manchester author photo

Steven Manchester is the author of three #1 bestsellers. His most recent title, critically acclaimed Gooseberry Island, is available now. Please visit his website for more.
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On April 20, 2015
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