Jonathan, my middle child, graduated from high school last May.  He’s 6’3 and 190 pounds, but it seems like yesterday that he was scampering into my bed to escape the rumble of a thunderstorm.

When Jonathan was a child, his imagination was off the charts. Even though he didn’t read until 3rd grade, he was inquisitive, insightful and an impressive communicator. I always figured school would be a breeze  for him. But it wasn’t. At least not in the way I thought it should be. Not because he wasn’t smart or intuitive or creative, but because of my own rigid view of how I thought he should be.

He always loved being read to. When he was able, he became an avid reader himself, devouring several books a week. When he wasn’t reading, he created detailed imaginary worlds accompanied by intriguing story lines. One day, he picked up a computer and declared that he wanted to be a writer, which was fine with me as long as he excelled in the areas I thought were important.

I continued to pressure him to excel in those subjects I thought were imperative to his success. He’s smart, funny, and talented and can change the atmosphere of a room simply by entering it. People clamor to be around him even though he’s somewhat quiet and introverted.

As his senior year approached, I panicked and worked overtime to smash him into the mold I’d imagined for him. But, he just wouldn’t fit. Shortly before he graduated, I was at a low point. I felt like a failure. He was average in math, at best, and had absolutely no interest in chemistry.

When he handed me a letter shortly before graduation, as his words sank into my heart, I realized how misguided I’d been all those years. His letter wasn’t full of mathematical formulas, chemical equations or complex literary analyses. It was full of the things that make him who he is. It was full of the reasons I love him and the life lessons he had learned along the way.

My son thanked me for teaching him these 50 life lessons:

1. How to love

2. How to hug

3. How to say thank you

4. How to say please

5. How to spell tongue by saying “ton-gyou” in my head

6. How to ride my bike

7. How to treat girls

8. How to say “I love you” in sign language

9. How to talk

10. How to take a punch

11. SARCASM

12. How to eat at the table

13. Proper hygiene

14. How to wash clothes

15. How to make eggs

16. How to spell Wednesday by saying “Wed-nes-day” in my head

17. HOW TO READ

18. How to respect authority

19. How to challenge authority when need be

20. HOW TO DANCE (Jan-Brady st‌yle)

21. How to spell

22. How to push myself

23. How to prioritize tasks

24. How to protect myself from being kidnapped

25. How to act in public situations

26. How to greet people 27. How to say goodbye

28. How to think critically

29. Why it is important to think critically

30. How to take notes

31.How to write a 5-paragraph essay

32. How to take tests

33. Why I should be proud to be an American

34. How to tie my shoes

35. How to act when I find myself in an uncomfortable situation

36. How to clean my room

37. How to wash dishes

38. How to say I’m sorry

39. How to forgive someone

40. How to not go with the crowd

41. How to have a relationship with Christ

42. Why it is important to have a competitive spirit

43. How to learn from my failure

44. How to be generous

45. How to be patient

46. How to have a degree of self-control

47. How to never let people walk over me

48. How to write

49. How to be the best person I can be and not accept second best

50. Why I am the luckiest guy on the planet because I have the privilege to call you my mother

Somehow, when I wasn’t looking, he’d developed into a kind young man of character and great focus, and I’d missed it. Sure, I’d caught glimpses along the way, but I could have enjoyed so much more if I hadn’t been blinded by my idea of who he should be.

As I wiped the tears from my cheeks  and looked up into the eyes of a handsome, independent, gentle young man, I realized that he’s everything  I could’ve wished for in a son and more. And, there he was, all wrapped up in one amazing  package. In fact, he’d been there all along.

My years of badgering hadn’t shaped him into the young man I’d wanted him to be. Despite me, he’d become the young man he was destined to be and he had everything he needed to be a success.

This article originally appeared on Grown and Flown.
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