Forget everything I’ve said up until now.
Over these 18 years, as you graduated from binkys to big-boy pants to bicycles to four-wheel drives, the advice to young men turning 18 has changed. (It has also changed for young women.)
It used to begin with, “You’re an adult now; you need to be thinking about work or college or military service.” That pretty much isn’t true anymore.
The rollout to adulthood is different these days. And slower. The advice is less rigid because the path is less clear. According to USA Today, some 47 percent of young adults live at home with one parent or two. For all of you turning 18, the pandemic interrupted your lives, inflation is making single-person dwellings unaffordable, the job market is completely weird, and college isn’t necessary a launching pad to work but a time to continue growing up.
That said, the rite of passage is significant, because this is your moment. Some day you may be telling children or grandchildren what it was like when you were 18. Today you begin to write that story.
Once the day dawns on your 18th birthday, the following are all the things you can do that you couldn’t do the day before (legally, anyway). You can now, without parental permission:
Vote, join the military, buy a pet, get a body piercing or tattoo, change your name, book a hotel room, become a real estate agent, use a meat/deli slicer at a grocery store job, skydive, sign yourself out of high school, be called for jury duty, open a bank account, have sex legally with someone else over 18, get a Costco card, get married, buy a house, drive a taxi, get a license to drive a truck, go to the E.R. alone for treatment, file a lawsuit, adopt a child, create a will, buy a car, rent an apartment, rent an Airbnb, buy spray-paint, buy cough suppressants, or move out of your parents’ home.
Knowing you, I’d be surprised if the first thing you did was run out to buy spray-paint, but I’ve lived long enough to know that you never know. I imagine you won’t be adopting a child. And it’s most unlikely that you’ll buy a house. You can move out of Dad’s house legally, but why in heaven’s name would you? Give up the morning strawberry smoothies? Pass up the exotic stir-frys and the mahi-mahi your dad catches on a regular basis? You may be 18, but you aren’t crazy!
Would you like to know what other 18-year-olds have done? No pressure, but Alexander the Great, who was born in 356 BCE, completed his studies with Aristotle at age 16 and ruled Macedonia. By 17 he had put down a revolt and founded the city of Alexandropolis. Life is different today, for sure, but people standing in the doorway of adulthood have few limitations on what they can accomplish.
Mark Zuckerberg was 19 when he founded Facebook, Wayne Gretsky was a professional hockey player at 19, Pele was 17 when he won the World Cup, and Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize when she was 17. These young people were outliers, of course. Most of us find satisfaction and peace of mind in managing to live quite ordinary lives.
What we all have in common is the need for solid human connections and a determination to do our best in our time on earth.
You come from a clan of achievers who support one another in our interests and relationships and work. Not a bad launch pad.
I was a freshman in college when I was 18, and it was one of the most confusing times of my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do or how to do it. It was the first time, and not the last, that I sought counseling to help me figure out my path. Always ask for help when you need it.
You have the mixed blessing of no required set path, and I confess to being a bit envious. You will educate yourself, travel, enjoy friendships and explore relationships. There is no timetable. You can take any leap of faith that beckons to you. That must be so liberating, and scary.
What I know, as your grandma, is that you have a good heart, an athlete’s determination and a sharp mind. Happy, happy birthday. Enjoy being 18, and don’t go adopting any children or buying any houses, at least until you’re 19.
Copyright 2023 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.