Our son Michael is home this week, with his wife Karina and daughter Elena. It’s the first week of class and I’m too busy to enjoy all of them as much as I would like.
But we will make some time. Today is his birthday and we should get to play golf this week. Thursday morning we will make the birthday breakfast, biscuits and gravy—a gratuitous surplus of carbs for our family.
He will share the spotlight with his brother Pilgrim, who was away in Africa on his own birthday. They will invite some friends over, and Friday evening we will grill steaks and have a huge Cobb salad as a family celebration. (We like to spread birthdays out at our house.)
At some point we will talk about the thing we like about each birthday boy— a ritual, actually, with its own formula and fun. “There are many things I like about Michael, far too numerous too mention,” each of us will say. And then each of us will mention just one.
As Michael has grown this is more difficult to do. As a writer, a photographer, a father, a husband, a son, a Sunday School teacher, a son-in-law——the many ways his many gifts are framed makes this task more challenging each year. But thankfully I’m not limited to one here. So here are three:
A sense of propriety. I use the term cautiously, partly because I’ve never been accused of it. And partly because it is sometimes used to connote that which is socially acceptable at the expense of that which is truly virtuous. I don’t mean it in that way.
I mean it in the sense of a gentleman’s respect for the feelings and comfort of others—good manners as a reflection of grace, not habit. Michael wants people to feel respected and valued in ways many men his age have not yet learned to consider. All my sons can do this. Michael can hardly not do it.
He obviously gets this from his mother. You see it in the way he treats his clients as a photographer, his sources as a writer, his daughter as a father, his wife as a husband. He respects their time, honors their expectations, serves their needs. He handles his commitments with care and his words with discretion.
But there is more. There is also a passion for excellence. He attends to details. He does stuff over again. He talked to me this week about the experience of people who use a web site he helped build recently. He wants it to be better, not for his sake but for theirs.
As a young professional, he understands that at some point you have to ship the project, that time and money compete against quality and content. Some days you have to compromise. But it grieves him. And it should. His mother gets some credit for this too. So does his older brother Christian. I will myself rewrite a sentence over and over again.
But none of us do it with the same spirit of tenderness. I watch him with his wife and his daughter, and I celebrate the maturity and responsibility marriage brings to thoughtful, faithful men.
But Michael has a tender heart, much less calloused or compartmentalized than my own. From a young age he could sense the emotion in a room. I can barely sense it in myself. And he acts out of an emotional resonance that results more often than not in confession or compassion. He can say he is sorry. And he can say he loves you.
All of us can. With Michael you never doubt it’s true.
This can cause problems for a boy, especially if you are seen as too sensitive. But in a man it is a rare treasure. And for these gifts, and for others far too numerous to mention, I honor him on his 24th birthday.
I pray that he will grow deeper, not different. And this by the grace of God.
Happy Birthday, Michael.
This is the last in a series this year about the birthdays of immediate family members, not counting grand children. Others in the series include:
To Africa with love, Pilgrim, son
an earnest and gracious heart, Karina, daughter-in-law
Celebrating a son-in-law, John
Happy Birthday, Princess, Margaret, daughter
A daughter-in-law of delights, Ann, daughter-in-law
So here’s to Katie, wife
be that guy, me