18

Here is a true thing: In the grand scheme of things, I’ve only had three things I wanted to do with my life. The first was to be a writer. The second was to be a good husband. The third was to make sure that any kid I had made it through their childhood without want or fear, and knowing that they were loved. When I was younger, I figured if I could manage those three things, then at the end of my days I could leave this planet with a content heart.

The first of these you know about, presumably, and in general I think I nailed that one. The second of these is a work in progress, but, twenty-one and a half years in, I seem to be doing all right (I just checked with Krissy on this one. She said yes, and was patiently bemused that I asked).

The third thing happened today. Athena is eighteen years old. Legally an adult! And while that number is arbitrary and arguable, as every human is different — there are people I know who I would have considered fully capable adults at fifteen, and people who at fifty I think are not actually grown up — nevertheless it’s a significant milestone. My kid is an adult now. I am literally not the boss of her anymore. And I and Krissy have gotten her there, without want or fear, and with her knowing, with certainty, that she was and is loved.

In one sense it’s obvious why this is important to me. What parent does not want these things for their child? These things are also, to be blunt, not particularly laudable; if you have the means and circumstances (I’ll get back to this in just a bit), you should be doing these things as a matter of course, and even in difficult circumstances you should be striving for them. There are no medals for being a decent parent. It’s a baseline.

But the thing is, I didn’t have a childhood free of want or fear, and while I never doubted I was loved, at certain times and in certain circumstances, everything else was up in the air. Here at the age of 47, I don’t feel the need to put my own parents up against a wall and read them a litany of their failures raising a child, in part because I know more about their lives than I did when I was younger, and in part because after a certain point I think you just have to let it go and realize that somewhere along the way who you are becomes your own responsibility (and fault), not your parents’. Parents are human, they are who they are, and you, in whatever fashion works for you, celebrate, accept, forgive or try to understand them. Or you don’t. It’s up to you.

So my childhood was not always an easy one, and also to the point, my parental role models were uncertain at best. What sort of parent would I be? What would I be able to do for my child? Who would I be to and for my child? How would I parent along with my wife? I’m not going to lie, and again, I’ll be blunt: I was terrified I would just plain fuck it up, in all sorts of ways.

But here we are, on Athena’s eighteenth birthday. She’s a terrific person, and one of my favorite people, not just because she’s my kid, but because of who she is, and who she’s always been. All her life, there are very few people I have wanted to hang around with more, to spend time with, to have conversations with, both inane and sublime. She’s not perfect, which is fine because I’m not perfect and neither are you, but as I have said so many times and am saying again now, there’s no doubt she’s perfect for me. She is, simply, the child I always dreamed I would have, of whom I live in wonder of her existence, amazed that Krissy and I made such a person, helped her grow and placed her on the path she’s making for herself. I love her with such an immensity that I — whose job is to put things into words — stand mute before it. Try as I may, I can’t make you feel all the love and pride and honor I have just to know her, to be part of her life, and to see her be who she is, and become who she will be.

I think you probably get it anyway.

We are fortunate, and Athena is fortunate. She always had two parents, and the same two parents, parents who both worked hard and got lucky in many ways, who during the course of her childhood always managed an upward trajectory, and who were always in love with each other and unafraid to show it to each other, and to her. Not every kid gets all of those things. It’s not to suggest parents are inherently to blame if they don’t. Sometimes not only do divorces happen, but they’re necessary. Sometimes a parent can work hard their whole life and never catch a break. Sometimes a bus goes up on a curb, or cancer happens, or a job goes away forever, or there’s a war, or any one of a million things that makes it hard for parents to give their kids the childhood they wanted to give, and that every child should have. I know it, better than most.

I look back on the last eighteen years and am thankful that during them — during the part of my life where a small growing person was reliant on me and my wife — all the breaks went our way. And while I’m aware that my hard work and the hard work of my wife matters for this, and that luck truly does favor the prepared and those willing to make an effort, I’m also well aware of how much was out of our hands as well. Thank you, universe.

I’m also immensely thankful for Krissy, every step of the way through Athena’s childhood. Krissy and I made a good parenting team because we make a good team, period: We have complementary skill sets and parenting styles, and a willingness to work together. This was something we talked about even before Athena was born — everything from what we’d do when Athena, as all children innocently do, tried to set us against each other to get what she wanted, to what we’d do when she and I fundamentally disagreed on something as parents (the answer, in case you’re curious: I ceded final decision authority to Krissy, on the grounds that she is both the more sensible and cautious of the two of us. Nothing ever got to that point, as it happens; turns out we agree on most things, and the things we don’t have been relatively trivial. Still, good to have a plan).

But more than that, the fact is my wife is just an amazing mother and human. From the earliest days I saw how she was as a parent, and I was inspired to keep pace, for her and for Athena. Did I manage it? Not always, because I’m me, and between the ideal version of John Scalzi, Parent and the actual parent who is John Scalzi, there is a gap. I screwed up, did stupid things and occasionally threw up my hands and retreated into my office to play video games. But with Krissy, and because of Krissy, I kept at it.

Ultimately, neither I or Krissy will be the best arbiter of how we were as parents. Athena is and will be. But I can say that I look at my daughter and I think: We did it. We got this human through childhood and to the door of her adult life, whole and healthy and filled with the possibilities that the world can have for her.

Athena will never not be my daughter. She will never not be my child. I and Krissy will be here for her and with her, for as long as we can and for as far as the world will allow. That’s never in doubt. But here on her eighteenth birthday, it’s her life now. And one part of my life — one of the best parts — is over. The part where I got to have her as my little girl.

It was a gift, and a privilege, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything in this world. It was a thing I wanted to do with my life. It has made me complete.

Happy birthday, Athena. I love you.

110 thoughts on “18

  1. Note:

    I suspect there will some temptation to talk about current national events in this thread. Do me a favor and don’t, please. Although if you wanted, say, to wish Athena a happy birthday, I would be okay with that. Thanks.

  2. Happy Birthday to Athena, and congratulations to you and Krissy for getting her to this point in one piece!

  3. This piece made me want a child very badly, even though I’m unsure I’m capable of meeting the baseline. Haven’t had a lump in my throats from your writing like this since the Redshirt codas.

  4. Happy Birthday Athena!

    And congratulations John and Krissy. Turning out good people is really the only affect most of us can ever have on history.

  5. That is so cool. One of my friends just turned 18, whereupon he immediately hopped on a train to Far Away, because he hates his parents. One of the parents has been lecturing me about how good they are and how stupid he is. And it’s just so nice to get a reminder that Not All Parents are like that.

    I think it says so much that, in your post about how glad you are that your kid is healthy and whole, you talk about ways you think you could have done better, and in her letters about why her kid is stupid and ungrateful, the other kid’s mom hasn’t even hinted at the idea that she may not have done an ideal job.

    The contrast, it is very telling.

    And a helpful tip for everyone: If a parent is telling you about their parenting, especially about problems their kid is having, and they don’t even mention ways they think they fell short? No matter *how* compelling their story is, *they are probably abusive*. They may not mean to be, but they are. There may be an exception out there, but I have never once seen one.

    … Ugh, that got darker than intended. Back to the central point: Congratulations to all three of you on a difficult task accomplished, and Hap Birf to Athena.

  6. Aw, gushy dad bits. My eldest turned 18 last spring, and just finished her first semester of college. I’m right there with you. The parenting plan my spouse and I had originally was “let’s hope they don’t grow up to be an axe murderer.” Fingers crossed, we’re doing pretty good so far.

  7. Happy Birthday Athena – hope you weren’t expecting no one would notice. But I expect by now you know that won’t happen.

  8. Congrats to her on the birthday, I hope she enjoys all the responsibility of being a legal adult and the fun that goes along with it. With my oldest turning fifteen next summer, this blog helped give me some perspective.

  9. Happy Birthday, Athena! May the rest of your life be filled with the love and support you’ve had the first 18 years. In response to this post: As a new father of a 3 year old (we adopted after fostering him since he was 4 months old), these are also my goals and for the same reasons. I can only hope that in 15 years, I can make a similar announcement to the world.

  10. Congrats Athena! Happy birthday! My kids are still fairly young, 10 and 3, and I still worry every day that I’m screwing this thing up even as I struggle to do the best I can and the best I know how to do. I can’t imagine anymore noble personal goals than the three you set for yourself. Job well done :)

  11. Happy birthday Athena! My best wishes of health, happiness and success in everything she’ll set her heart towards. I’m sure you’ll guide her well in that regard John. I love that you named your child after a Greek goddess. I’m curious, Is it why you chose the name? (a love for mythology?) I also love Greek mythology and it’s recurring theme in the space opera genre I write in. Cheers and congrats on succeeding your life goals. You’re truly an inspiration (to me and I’m sure many!) and I really love this blog, your outlook on life and your dedication to it (I wish I could do one a tenth as good, but with my attention deficiency, it’s hard for me to be regular in that regard). Every day I’m looking forward to new posts in my mailbox (and the whatever always jumps out of my unread emails first) and since I’m a cat lover (my 17 years old Nebelung female Daisy says meow BTW :D, she must want food LOL) I also appreciate the cat pics ;). Cheers and happy holiday season to you, your friends and your family.

  12. First and most importantly, Happy Birthday to Athena! May it be joyous, and may the quantity and splendor of your birthday presents never be interfered with by your Christmas presents.

    Second, John, you don’t address this point, but I’m guessing that by celebrating your daughter’s majority in this way that your and Krissy’s goals as parents has been to raise an adult. This is not always the case. There are the “helicopter parents,” whose laudable desire to protect their children from harm leads them to shield them from the experiences they need to develop, leaving the children inequipped to face the outer world alone when they go out. I am guessing that you are not that kind of parents.

    Thirdly, from what little you’ve told us about your own childhood, I would guess that the insecurities you faced were mostly not your parents’ fault. Poverty I know you faced: that, I’m sure you’d agree, is rarely the fault of the poor. Was there divorce as well? That can be terribly traumatic for children, but sometimes it’s the least bad solution for a tragic situation that’s nobody’s fault. I’ve more than once thought, reading your accounts of your childhood, that against this background your mother worked miracles to provide you with a good education, and setting that priority high was great parenting. I can’t say more than that, because I don’t know any more, but that’s the impression your accounts have given.

  13. How beautiful to let us see your love for your daughter like this. As a father of three daughters who all made it to eighteen and beyond, your words went right to my heart. And of course: Happy birthday, Athena!

  14. Happy Birthday, Athena! And congrats to you, John and Krissy, for reaching this milestone in your family life! And John…. everything you said, yes! As someone whose “kids” are now in their late 30s, I fully agree that, indeed, they are *always* your children–and furthermore, on some level, will always be your “little girl” (or “little boy”, as the case may be). It is one of the gifts – and challenges – of being a parent, to balance your intimate knowledge of their early years with your celebration of and respect for their adult selves. Enjoy the continuing journey!

  15. HAPPY BIRTHDAY ATHENA!
    As a parent of a 3.5yo and a 1.5yo I am trying to live up to similar ideals. Not easy when part of me wonders if I have what it takes.

  16. Seebs, thank you for that bit about abusive parents. That description fits mine perfectly. I’ll spare the details, but they were pretty awful on multiple levels, and I turned out rather fucked up for a long time. Through 20 years of therapy to get my head on right, they made token gestures to admitting some blame, but they never really did accept the full measure of it. Our relationship has been strained, at best, because of this for a very long time.

    Fast forward, and four years ago, after our latest period of not talking to each other, they beg me for contact again. As we were at the time waiting to be chosen to adopt, I figured OK. May as well let my future kid have grandparents. Things were basically fine for almost four years–they did play grandparents pretty well–but then we had a reboot of one of our big disagreements (politics; I’ll avoid details, so we don’t sidetrack), and it suddenly became clear to me: They’d been lying to me the whole time. They’d been pretending to be nice people who genuinely cared about me and others, when they were anything but. It was (and is) hard, but I had to cut them out of my life–my son’s life–and this time for good.

    I hate doing this, but I also realized that I had to, for my son’s sake. One of the ways my parents failed me was by not protecting me from toxic relatives. I therefore am obligated to protect my son from them.

    I know very well I’m going to fuck up as a parent. I already have here and there. But I WANT to do a good job, and because I didn’t have a good example of that, I’ve worked very hard to learn how. My son is a handful (he has mild autism; the cleverness of a five year old and the judgment of a two year old) and it’s very hard sometimes, but I refuse to fail him the way I was failed. That he has a terrific Papa (and we have a solid, 20-year marriage) as well certainly helps. Whatever the cost, though, I’m going to do my absolute best to help him become a good person who feels loved, protected and supported. I will do the same for his baby sibling (we’re in the adoption waiting pool again.) The biggest part of that will be acknowledging my failings and learning from them. I’m not perfect–no parent is–but I can at least keep trying to do my best with the resources and knowledge I have.

    If my kids turn out even half as great as our host’s terrific daughter has, I will consider that work as a parent a success. :)

  17. We only get to see Athena through the narrow window of what you’ve shown us over the years, but what we’ve seen through that window is a remarkable person. A happy birthday to her and congratulations to you and Krissy for bringing the world this remarkable woman.

    And I’ve news for you. No matter how old she gets and how her accomplishments might overshadow your own (that’s what we always hope for) she’ll still be your little girl.

  18. Happy Birthday, Athena, from one December birthday to another. Your dad’s done an amazing job, making sure to celebrate your birthday apart from the other celebrations of the season :)

  19. Shawna: You might want to read Issendai’s very excellent writing about estranged parent forums. (Search engines should turn this up easily.) It might help you unpack stuff. And good luck! And good on you for protecting your kid, and for being the sort of person who can admit mistakes. That’s the hard part.

  20. Happy birthday, Athena. And congratulations, John and Krissy, for having ushered her this far. (Much of what you say goes for me too, with regard to my own kids. They’re splendid; how did that happen? Oh, wait).

  21. I think you more than made up for taking the last 2 days off here on Whatever. And now if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna hug my 9-year-old daughter and get a tissue.

  22. Happy, happy birthday, Athena! Hope it is seriously awesome. (And John, you did better than you give yourself credit for in expressing how much you love her . . . sitting here with tears in my eyes, so happy for all three of you that you have had, and will continue to have, this life together.)

  23. Happy Birthday, Athena! “May you live as long as you wish, and love as long as you live!” –Robert A. Heinlein. And as Spider Robinson wrote, “Please consider yourself free to do anything you want (not involving former food or former people), that doesn’t hurt other people [or yourself, or the planet] unnecessarily.” Finally, “Live long and prosper.”

  24. Happy birthday Athena!

    I can’t say with any confidence that I’ve been a good parent to my three adult daughters, but they are fine people and they’re all still speaking to me, so. (Their father has been an unequivocally good father, which has probably helped make up for my shortcomings.)

  25. Happy Birthday to Athena!

    As a parent to a child who is a few years closer to the 18th than the 1st birthday, it’s always good to see other perspectives. I’ve got a really awesome kid, and seeing examples from others — even distantly — helps me stay on track.

    If I had to name one practice that has helped me raise such a great kid, it’s apologizing. I’ve made it a habit to let the kid call me out when I’m wrong (and let me tell you, having a 4 year old call you on your broken promise can be really tough), give her a full and considered apology, and then work to not do that again.

    I’ve also been really lucky. It’s hard enough raising a child on easy mode; to those who are more challenged than I am, I wish all the strength and wisdom they can have.

  26. Well said, John. As a parent I know how hard this can be and it doesn’t stop at 18, but we’ve been fortunate with having great kids who’ve grown into wonderful adults.
    Happy birthday, Athena!🎈

  27. Happy Birthday to Athena!

    This post brought back found memories. I was one of those divorced parents — divorced at the urging of my pastor, as well as my family — after my first husband deserted us. I didn’t bring up my three children alone, my family actively helped, but without a husband the burden was on me. I think of those years as happy years, and from what my children say, they do also. In 2017, all three children will be in their sixties; they lead productive lives. The two oldest between them have produced 3 children, and — so far — 3 grandchildren. So they’re fully functioning adults. And, Yes, they’re still my children and always will be.

  28. Happy Birthday Athena!
    Wish I had your skill with words, John; you’ve said pretty much everything (in general terms, not specifics) I wish I had said to my daughters on their 18ths. Instead they had to settle for a hug and a dad joke…

  29. Beautiful. You are all very blessed. Next year our girls turn 30! Best thing we’ve ever accomplished. You are much more eloquent than I could ever dream of being and managed to speak many of my truths too. Thank you for sharing this lovely post.
    Happy Birthday Athena!

  30. Happy birthday Athena! Well done mom and dad.

    (May be a doing/during switch needed in the essay above?)

  31. Happy Birthday, Athena! Mele Kalikimaka to all!
    Our succession of cats has convinced us we would rather not be responsible for the full-on raising of a small human bean, except in bursts when we get asked to babysit. Too many chances to go wrong, there.

  32. Happy Birthday Athena!

    And Congratulations John and Krissy !

    I am glad there are people like you guys in the world.

  33. My wife (okay, fine…”I”) have been struggling with the decision whether to try and have a child for the last few months now. Am I ready? Do I want to change my life in such a major and irreversible way? No kidding, reading this sealed the deal for me. Thank you!

    Happy Birthday, Athena!

  34. Happy birthday to Athena! And congratulations to you, John: you’ve brought a tear to my eye with this reflection on your life, your daughter, and the meaning of it all once again.

    Whatever the meaning of life really might be, you’ve found yours. Keep on going!

    Happy holidays to you and everyone. May the new year to come be joyful!

  35. Happy B-Day Athena.

    And a brilliant, perfectly uplifting post, Athena’s dad.
    Thank you sir, for brightening my day.

  36. Happy Birthday, Athena. And congratulations to all three of you.

    For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure kids start making important decisions by about six weeks, and from then on raising a child is a team effort by the entire family, child included. So my diffident suggestion: Athena, take credit for the person you are and the parents you helped create, while being just as grateful for the parents you started with. Luck favors the prepared child as well. And I’m always so impressed by your dad’s grasp of the duality between will and circumstance. Even in a generally good life, there are a lot of weeks and months when it helps a lot to remember that. It’s even better to have a family member who can articulate it well.

  37. Happy birthday to Athena! And a message for you from a child of parents who tried their best in difficult situations and weren’t perfect: I don’t agree with all of their choices but I love them for teaching me to think and question authority (even their own). If you’ve accomplished that, she’s going to go far.

  38. I am all sniffly/teary reading that, sir. Thank you.

    Athena, please accept my felicitations on the occasion of your 18th birthday! From the glimpses of you that we see through your dad’s eyes, you are a remarkable young woman indeed, and I suspect that adulthood will bring you both huge challenges and spectacular successes. May your life be filled with joy, laughter and love, well-leavened by silliness!

  39. Happy Birthday to Athena! Isn’t it a wonder to look at your child, and think; “Hey, the kid turned out okay, after all.” All three of ours turned into wonderful human beings, all different, each their own person, and each one dearly loved. Was it always easy? oh, heavens, no. There were challenges. There were ugly moments. But in the end, we are a family, and always will be. I’m proud of each one of my girls, in their own unique way. As I can see you are proud of Athena. All the best to her as she moves on to her future.

  40. Athena: Please continue to feel loved and always know you will have a home no matter where you go. Parental advice (knowing you’ve already received this from your excellent Dad and Mom): trouble usually starts by whom one’s friends are. Don’t let your friends choose you; make sure you always choose your friends.

    Mr. Scalzi: A bittersweet time, and my heart goes out to you. Be confident Athena will always be your girl. And thank you and Krissy for giving the planet another sane and responsible citizen.

    Reading your thoughts reminded me of a 3-way conversation I once was a part of. A Father was speaking of his anguish in coping with his teenage son who did not choose his friends wisely, was rebellious, and even struggled with drugs. A Man said to him, “I don’t know why you put up with him! If he was my kid, I’d throw him out!” The Father replied, “Well, I’m glad he’s not your kid. He’s my son, and I still see a lot of good in him.” I was not surprised to hear that his son recovered and now is experiencing the joy of raising a daughter himself.

    Finally, to quote the immortal words of Alice: “These darn onions!”

  41. Happy Birthday to Athena!

    In the little glimpses that this blog gives us into the Scalzi family dynamic, I have often perceived similarities with my own family growing up. My mom worked in finance, and is an incredibly smart, practical woman, who takes no shit from nobody, not ever. My dad worked from home, and as a result was the primary caregiver. John’s sense of humor and intelligence remind me a lot of him. I was the apple of my father’s eye. and although the dynamic of our family ran far more heavily to loving snark than heartfelt declarations, I too was a child free from want and fear, a child who knew unequivocally that she was loved.

    All of which is to say, that I very much appreciated reading John’s thoughts for his daughter here. You see, I celebrated my 40th birthday just last week, and for the first time there were no birthday good wishes from my Daddy. He passed away unexpectedly in September, part of the great suckfest that has been 2016.

    So thank you, John. Your words to your daughter remind me just how lucky I have been.

  42. Happy birthday, Athena! Remember, just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you can’t have birthday cake for breakfast.

  43. Congratulations John! You’ve ably articulated one of life’s great blessings. One word of caution: I too never though my 19-year-old would stop being my daughter, but they did. And because I love them, I’m learning to navigate gender-fluidity, learn how to use the “singular they” pronoun, and catch myself muttering, “At least it’s not a facial tattoo!”

  44. Happy Birthday Athena! Congratulations to you and your parents; it’s not easy to work together to create a fine human being.

    I know you’ve been politically aware for some time. Please keep up the good work, and don’t forget to register to vote. It’s you, and people like you, who will someday build a better world.

  45. First off, Happy Birthday Athena! And many more.

    As for you John you’re way too lucky. I had my own luck in the parents fate tossed my way. Even though there are times I think they messed up, I’d not be ME without them. Even though my father died just a few weeks after I turned 18, his quietness and ability to listen to people when they really needed to talk has stuck with me. Mind you his ability to get flaming pissed off and toss something across the shop also stuck. Probably not one of my better traits, but then it’s better than the urge to choke… and the anger gets spent quickly. Glad it isn’t often.

    As for my mother, I could never thank her enough for her urge to learn about people from other cultures. While some of my co-workers past and present only want mirrors of themselves around them, I’ve been comfortable is quite a few settings where I was “the other” minority. On the other hand she had a dislike of going to the doctor unless she was dragged. I guess stuff like childhood polio can do that. Sadly, I picked up her attitude, even though I try to fight it… sometimes.

    As for the parts that are just me? Well, some of that came from friends good, and friends shady, the U.S. Army, and just being to damn stubborn at times. I’ve had a few friends tell me I’m scary to see when I’m angry despite me trying to use my poker face. Some friends and family who’ve told others that pushing me is a dangerous game and if I ever let loose…

    But, on the other hand, I’m a huggy beast and will give hugs to anyone who needs one for good or bad. I listen well enough that I have a whole collection of secrets I’ve been told that would make for a good “found diary”, mind you not so good for the secret sharers, who know I won’t blab.

    I guess what I want to say is that Athena seems to be lucky to have you and Krissy for parents. She’ll carry some of the good and bad of both of you. I think she’s been given a very good set to work from though. In the end, Y’all are lucky to have each other. I’d be happy in her place.

  46. Happy Birthday, Athena! We got to see you at nerdcon this year. John, having gotten 3/5ths of my brood to 18, I completely understand the feeling of joy, relief and pride from getting them there. Congrats on a job well done.

  47. beautiful, thank you. Happy birthday Athena !

    my wife and I both came from stable loving families (“remember, as far as anyone knows, we are a perfectly normal family”). It has been one of the sadder things in a sad life to find how exceptional this is. Well done ! to you and Krissy for providing that stable loving environment for your daughter – it should be the baseline, but it’s really a high bar – needs luck, hard work, and courage.

    My older boy turned 18 last year and went off to college. I keep getting compliments on him and have to disclaim any responsibility, what he is is what he made of himself, and quite possibly despite my parenting such as it was. He wrote on a Father’s Day card a few years ago, “thanks for not walking out”. Now that’s a low bar, but at least I managed it ;-)

  48. Adulthood, Athena, go for it! My two sons are now 34 and 37. Their mother and I are truly proud of the young men they have become. Congratulation John and Krissy on a job well done with Athena.

  49. This made me cry. Actual tears, reaching for a tissue, nose-blowing crying. Sniff. So lovely! Happy Birthday, Athena!

  50. Happy Birthday, Athena, and thank you for inspiring your father to occasionally to stop playing computer games and write us another story.

  51. Happy birthday to Athena from another member of the Christmas birthday club (46 tomorrow!). Congratulations to all the Scalzis on this momentous day.

  52. Happy birthday, Athena.

    Our eldest daughter turned 18 a few months ago. I still can’t quite believe it. She is of course the most wonderful young woman in the world, along with her two younger sisters. Just as Athena is also the most wonderful young woman in the world.

  53. So, did you do the traditional “wake up the kid with birthday cake” this morning? Or does that not happen now she’s all grown up? Anyhow, Happiness to your family!

  54. Congratulations! As the mother of a twenty-year-old, I remember the joy of seeing a child reach maturity. It does give one the sense of “my job here is done” but as I have an eighty-year-old mother and an eighty-four-year-old father who still love and support me, I know I am blessed to be a parent always — now the parent of an adult. And with a 15-year-old nearing the finish line, I am enjoying these teenage years in a way. I know they are finite and in a loving, secure home, they are more a struggle for individuality than anything more. My parents gave me the gift you gave Athena, and I am just humbly passing it along to my own kids. Love is the key to joy.

  55. How beautiful– both Athena and your words about Athena and parenthood. Happy birthday, Athena, and all the best to your parents, too!

    I’m just at the beginning of my parenting adventures, and your words are inspiring and heartening. Thank you so much for sharing your own experiences with the rest of us.

  56. Happy birthday, Athena!

    Here’s to all the happy memories of childhood. May you never forget them! And here’s to the fun parts of adulthood. May you get to experience the ones of your choosing!

  57. Happy Birthday Athena!! Hope you have a fun and interesting life. Have enjoyed what your father shared, and look forward to the grumblings of him once you move away to college.

  58. This is one of your special talents as a writer, Mr. Scalzi…you captured the same feelings that I have about my daughter; you could have been writing about her and me.

  59. Very well said, John. (No surprise there, as you excel at saying things very well.) Happy birthday, Athena! (I will shortly go wish it on Twitter, too.) You’re very lucky to have two such wonderful parents. It will serve you well in the world.

    My father didn’t write like you, John, but he was so eloquent verbally, and as an only child, I always knew I was loved by both my parents (and grandparents!). Dad passed away six years ago, and my mom (87) moved in with us three years ago. I have two adult children (23 and 27) still living at home, though I suspect the older one will move out some time in 2017. We all get along, and having my mother here has, I think, made me a better parent these last three years, and given my kids a special perspective on aging. They consider our home a safe space, where they can talk to me or their dad (married 32 years) about absolutely anything, without embarrassment or shame. My parents raised me that way (my in-laws not so much, but hubby is an amazing man in spite of it), and I was determined to raise my kids the same. Much of what you’ve written, John, is very familiar to my experiences, both as a child and as a parent.

    @TheMadLibrarian: Hau ‘oli Makahiki Hou! I learned both phrases in 1986 when we spent a week on Maui (with Christmas in the middle), and used it as a greeting for the first time yesterday when I was leaving Costco. The clerk verifying my receipt said Mele Kalikimaka, and when I responded with Hau ‘oli Makahiki Hou, he smiled very wide, hugged me, and said Aloha!

  60. Happy birthday to Athena! May you have many more wonderful and happy years ahead of you! <3

  61. Happy birthday, Athena, from someone born exactly 40 years before you.

    John, I have sent my dad your essay, because the greatest gift he and my mom gave me and my brother was to choose one another to be our parents, and then to love us fiercely and capably all these years. I figure on the 58th anniversary of his becoming a parent, it’s about time I told him how much I appreciate what they did for me.

  62. Happy birthday Athena!

    And I certainly understand many aspects of your post as well, John. I would say I only had two main goals, be a good husband and a good father. I also had relatively little, for many complex reasons, to draw on from my childhood. I’ve never blamed my parents. They had their own struggles and challenges, but I knew I started from a deficit. I found recommendations for different books and read, the good ones multiple times and found different things that seemed to work with each child. And I also leaned heavily on my wife’s instincts. Her childhood was also far from perfect, but more stable than mine, and she’s always had better instincts.

    It wasn’t without challenges and I made many mistakes along the way, but I tried to learn from them and improve. Earlier this year over frozen yogurt, my youngest (now 20) told me she feels like she won the parent lottery. I think she’s exaggerating, but it’s still a wonderful thing to hear your adult child say.

    For a lot reasons, I’ve struggled with my youngest becoming an adult, mostly because I’ve never been an adult without minor children. It sounds like your transition to that phase of life will go much more smoothly.

    Congratulations to all three of you!

  63. Happy Birthday, Athena, and congratulations, Krissy and John. Your lovely post made me want to suggest that you consider gathering all of your Athena-related posts into a private book for your family. Your future descendants would love it.

  64. Happy Birthday, Athena!

    My daughter, Caterina, passed her sixteenth at the beginning of this month (with a weekend vacation to New Orleans!), and is doing pretty well, various things considered. I haven’t been the dad yours has (deep bow of respect in your family’s general direction), as her mother and I haven’t been together for the majority of her life. I don’t know if it would have been better for her or not for us to have stayed together, but I do know that she knows she is loved. It has been a real pleasure to experience her starting to cross over the adulting threshold, watching her grow solid and serious interests, structure her arguments with more than mere conviction and become unafraid to share her stories and experiences with those interested in hearing. Now if only I could get something more eloquent than a shrug about late and incomplete school work…..

    May you continue to move upward and forward on your personal journey, and enjoy many more birthdays full of love and free from want.

  65. Happiest of birthdays, Athena! Your parents are awesome. I’m sure you know that, but it bears repeating.

  66. Happy birthday, Athena! (And nice job choosing your parents, by the way!)

    And, John and Krissy, congratulations. I can imagine few more satisfying moments in a life than this one. I hope your joy in this milestone makes this a particularly rich and wonderful holiday season for all of you.

  67. Happiest of birthdays to Athena! Congrats to parents as well…All of us who have been observers admire your warm and loving family dynamics. All the best for a brilliant future!

  68. Happy birthday, Athena!

    My son turned 18 several years ago. On his birthday, I did what my parents had done for my 18th birthday – I took him out to lunch and then took him to register to vote. I can’t think of a more meaningful way to celebrate reaching the age of majority.

  69. Nicely said, John. My children are a bit older than Athena, but just the other day I overheard a conversation between them and it struck me, really struck me, that they have matured into full-fledged adults, and that I like the people they’ve become. It’s a damn good feeling.

    Happy birthday, Athena. Well done, Krissy and John. I wish you all the best as you move into the next phase of your lives as a family.

  70. Happy Birthday to Athena, who is, by all accounts and evidence, a fantastic human being.

    Thanks to John for writing very much what I’ve been feeling as my eldest daughter approaches 17 – I’ll likely refer to this exact post as she reaches 18, since it spells out almost exactly my fears and solutions on the same matters.

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