This is #3 in my series (it’s catching on!) of letters in which people give advice to their 16-year-old selves. This is by our friend Michael, who is a lovely person and a terrific photographer. He took the photos at our wedding and did a fun photo shoot with Zoe at the National Building Museum when she was three. 

Dear Michael:

I’m going to make this letter very simple and unadorned with any special old-guy wisdom, knowledge or self-aggrandizing. I’m just going to tell you what I know about your family, and tell you what I think you should do about it.

Your mom does not like being a mom. She would rather have a life that is more under her full control, which is impossible when you’re a mom. Because of this, she gets frustrated and she lashes out at you and your sister. She lashes out because she is not happy. She does not lash out because of who you are and what you do, although it sure feels like it, doesn’t it? It would be helpful if you let her be who she is, but not let it bother you or take it personally, because it is not personal. Despite her challenges, she loves you very much and she will always be at your side. Always.

Your dad sure does like to give advice, doesn’t he? But he doesn’t really seem to want to know what’s in your head, does he? You could be deeply, deeply affected by how he wants you to turn out, or how you think he wants you to turn out. I think that you think that he thinks that the best thing is to not think much at all, or better still, to not feel much at all; most certainly, not to express what you’re feeling. However, you, like everyone on earth, are a very deeply feeling person, and it is OK – more than OK, it’s GREAT – to have your feelings, to think about them, and to share them with people. People will value that quality very much. Much more than what you think your dad thinks a man should be. If you’re right about what you think he thinks a man should be, then he might not be right. But, you might not be right about what you think he thinks anyway. So just do what feels right for you and don’t worry about him. He loves you very much and will always – always – be right at your side.

Your twin sister is right by your side right now. Take as much as you can from her, and give as much back as you can. You probably don’t realize it, but she is giving you everything she possibly can, and she is deeply capable of giving. Lucky you. She will be giving you everything she possibly can for, …forever. Open your eyes. Give back. She is a bigger part of your life than you could ever imagine.

And a note about yourself. You’re an amazing person with a lot to give. You doubt yourself much more than you should. And you stifle your natural ability to think, feel and do, which are true gifts. People will miss out if you don’t just grab yourself and give him a hug and let go of what you think other people think you should think, feel and do. And look around at your family and just let your mom be difficult for her own reasons, and let your dad be the quiet, stoic one for his own reasons, but do all the thinking and feeling and loving that you want to do, for your own reasons. Understand how much you mean to your twin sister, and try to understand how much she means to you. Above all, love them all at face value, and love yourself, no matter who you are.

It gets better, beautiful child. A lot better.