A birthday letter to my 15-year-old son

Happy birthday, Isaac. I still can’t quite believe you’re now a fully-fledged 15-year-old. Which means it’s time for me to write my annual letter to you.

Okay, your birthday was actually a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve found this year’s letter particularly difficult to write. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because you are now unmistakably a young man rather than a boy. (It’s hard to deny it when one of your birthday presents this year was a shaver!) And maybe it’s a tacit recognition that I’m struggling more than ever to define my role as a father to 15-year-old Isaac versus being four-year-old Zac’s dad. You’re growing and changing so fast now; it’s hard to keep up.

You today

What do I see when I see you today?

I see shades of the little boy you used to be, which form the foundations of the complex young man you are now. You’re smart, thoughtful and curious. Your early obsession with cars has developed into a keen interest in transport and travel. You enjoy researching places we visit on holiday and planning out our itinerary. I can totally see you on a future series of Race Across the World. At the very least, I know you will pursue your desire to see more of the world without depending on us to show it to you.

You embrace the opportunity to try new food. I’ve spent much of the past three years delving into various European and Asian cuisines. You’ve never once been unwilling to sample something different. You have an open-mindedness about the world around you that is impressive for someone so young.

At the same time, I think this has been the year when you have firmly left aspects of your childhood behind. The books you read, the TV shows you watch; you’re definitely more adult now. You were the first in our house to watch Squid Game. You’ve recently been binge-watching Killing Eve. Gone are the days when Strictly was the most adult thing you’d watch.

Some of this change comes with a tinge of sadness, though. When we went on our annual long weekend to Butlin’s, there was an inescapable sense that you’d grown out of it. We used to leave talking excitedly about returning next year. This year, you barely looked back. It was like watching a snake shed its skin.

Strange things

We share a love of music, and you’ve definitely developed your own tastes. As much as you live in today while I wallow in 1980s nostalgia, music unites us more than it divides us.

On the day I turned 15, David Bowie and Mick Jagger topped the UK singles chart with their cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancing in the Street. The equivalent song for you is Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero.

When Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill – a song originally released when I was 14 – finally reached number one, nearly 37 years later, you were also the same age. It’s ironic that the track’s re-emergence came after it was featured in Stranger Things, a TV series that is as rooted in the 1980s as I am. Life’s funny like that sometimes.

Me, but better

I often look at you and try to remember what I was like when I turned 15. The conclusion I inevitably reach is that you are so much more mature than I was back then. I was a pretty unremarkable teenager: average height, studious, independent – and yet at the same time painfully shy and lacking in self-confidence. Whereas you are taller – about 6’1″ in old money, so you already tower over me – smart, outgoing, a natural leader and a rallying point for your friends. And yet occasionally I see you doubting yourself the same way I always did. It pains me to see it. You’re better than you think you are.

I know I often – too often – give you a hard time, but please know that it comes from pride in your achievements and a desire to see you fulfil your huge potential. I don’t know what you will become, but your mum and I have always had complete trust in you. You will own your own destiny and achieve great things.

Looking forward

This year more than any previous one, I find myself less looking back on the past year and more looking forward to the next couple.

You’re now just 18 months away from your GCSEs. That’s quite scary. In theory, you could leave full-time education after that, although I have no doubt that you will stay on for A-levels.

You’ve written your first CV and have started applying for part-time jobs. I can’t yet wrap my head around you working weekends at our local garden centre or stacking shelves in Waitrose. (Although I can definitely get on board with taking advantage of the John Lewis discount card that goes with the latter. Just saying.)

On our (increasingly rare) walks together, we talk less about today and more about tomorrow. What’s it like to work for a living? What sort of jobs might be of interest? What are your top travel destinations that you want to save up for when you go backpacking or interrailing?

You’re no longer a child at the beginning of your life but a young man on the cusp of adulthood. With your growing independence comes the ability to make your own choices in life. With every passing day, the responsibility for these passes from your mum and me to you. The array of options open to you continues to grow.

They say the hardest part of parenting is letting go. We’re still (hopefully) quite some time away from you fully flying the coop. But increasingly I find I can no longer deny the reality that this day is approaching faster than I would care to admit. Even the prospect of letting go is quite daunting.

Of course, this is all a natural part of life. We’ve watched as a growing number of our friends’ kids have finished school and, in several cases, gone on to university. And we wouldn’t want it any other way. It will be your life – your adventure – to live. It will be your story to write. A big part of me can’t wait to see how that unfolds. But an equally big part isn’t ready for that yet at all. So let’s enjoy the next year together because who knows how many more we will have before you’re ready for the next chapter?



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