05/21/2013 06:20 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2013

Happy 18th: A Love Letter to My Son

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Dear Gabe,

Happy 18th birthday. When you were born, we were so surprised and delighted and amazed. As with all babies, Dad and I had to get adjusted to you. Our first hurdle was that you were human. Dad referred to the pediatrician as the vet on more than one occasion. We often argued about whether or not you needed medical attention. I was always sure you did, but you rarely did, Dad was right.

You loved to dig, to whinny whenever you saw a horse, you knew the names of every dinosaur you would never see and you loved to build things. You loved to draw. You loved animals. You saw similarities between animals and the rest of us: You saw a bit of Uncle Dan in an anteater, a touch of me in a hippo and some of Dad in a tiger.

You were always nice to Sadie, you baby sister, born when you were barely 2 and still in diapers. A baby yourself. She was louder than you and she broke rules and knocked over your blocks and cried and she would even bite. She's still doing many of those things, but you seem resigned to her. In fact, sometimes you seem fond of her.

I'm skipping the divorce. You know how hard that was, you grieved. I'm sorry you had to experience that. You found a way through, but it was messy and painful and you drew angry pictures and listened to loud music and then, like a storm passing, you found smoother waters, and not only that, you had built a boat equipped to manage future storms.

Today you are an adult. You can vote. You can't buy beer yet, but you are an adult. The next phase of your life is an open road. The adults who have created rules and overruled you (your homemade tattoo gun comes to mind) are no longer really in control. Well, one could argue we were never in control, but in charge. You have your own bedtime to enforce, bills to pay and meals to manage. I know you can do all of these things because you've been doing them. OK, we still pay your bills and you have yet to master folding clothes, but I have faith in you.

Here's the most important part, more important than bedtime, food, laundry, more important than anything else: Take time to explore your life, your world and your dreams. Other things, parties, school work and broken hearts have a way of taking over, things that won't be of import tomorrow can preoccupy and divert your attention -- and poof, you've forgotten to check in with yourself, to ask yourself if you like the way things are going, if you want what is happening to happen? Take the time to pause and ask these questions. You can ask them anywhere, you don't need a temple or a mosque, just a bit of quiet. And there's more: You have found some things that you are passionate about and you will find more. Continue to find joy in living, interests in new things, ideas that spark more ideas. Find partners who love and respect you, whom you love and respect. Again, take your time, know yourself, say what you need and want and do so with respect for the feelings of those around you.

Gabe, you are a compassionate and sensitive human. However, you can suffer from an off-putting level of certitude, so check that at the door and learn from those around you and make your points without putting another person down (it's all in the tone). This makes for better exchanges and richer friendships. That's my last parenting directive. I know that's probably not true, but somehow, now that you're 18, it feels odd to tell you how to behave. Though, I suppose Bubby still tells me how to behave. She always fixes my hair and pulls at my shirt, no matter how perfect I thought I looked before seeing her. So, I guess the moral is, that even though you're an adult today, you still have parents who will forever parent you. That may seem like a drag right now, but believe me, ironically, parents become only more important the older you get.

I love you, we love you. The world loves you. The dog loves you more than she loves anyone and you don't even feed her, but you notice when anything is off with her, long before I do. You notice what matters.

Happy Birthday, now go, be free.