A couple of years ago our son Zach turned 21 — the first of our two to arrive at the mythic portal to adulthood.
At the time I struggled with a few things — the fact I had a 21-year-old, what this would mean to his life (and mine), and making the most of the way post as a time for sharing some of things I learned in the 33 years since I hit the storied 2-1 without sounding like a scold.
My intent was good, the sentiment heartfelt, but after his birthday cake diminished to crumbs I didn’t feel I’d come close to hitting the target.
But never one to chary from tilting at another windmill, I just assumed when our daughter Amelia enjoyed her 21st I’d do better. I’d learn from my past experience and the wisdom would flow. Or not.
Part of the quandary is that turning 21 is all about a milestone in terms of the legal community.
Those final hurdles — reaching the legal drinking age and being older enough to procure firearms — have been cleared. We let our young’uns prep for adult life at age 18 when we let them vote, join the military and get tattooed.
But what disjoins the 20-year-old who can’t buy a case of beer on one day from the 21-year-old securing it legally at the stroke of midnight? Other than a flip of the calendar, that is?
Do any of us truly mature by simply turning 21? The answer, of course, is no.
I’m not barnstorming for an earlier age of legal adult status. Based on my own behavior, 30 might have been a better choice. It might be wiser if those circling birthday No. 21 on the calendar were the parents and not the offspring.
Perhaps at birth the new parents should be handed a countdown clock to the new baby’s 21st as a reminder of the time they have to do what they can so a better-prepared adult can be made ready.
Trying to inure maturity along with facile potty technique and the fundamentals of dinner-table mien takes an appreciable amount of energy. It’s understandable larger life topics (accountability, morality, etc.) don’t always make the to-do list in the first 24 months.
Happily, through the diligent efforts of her mom, Amelia was ready to turn 21 when it came a week ago. She’s kind, caring, honest and passionate — all making my task manifest. So here’s my second, and last, “you’re turning 21” speech, and it’s just three things:
This is your time to shine. I have not a shred of doubt that great days lie ahead.
Regardless of your age, the promise I made on the day you graduated high school will never expire — should you ever need me, wherever you are — just whistle and I’ll come running.
Whether you’re 21, 31 or 101, that candle in the window will always be lit. I love you so much. ...
Jim Osterman lives in Sandy Springs. Reach him at email@example.com
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com