Thirteenth Birthday (a poem)

Thirteenth Birthday


A Catholic man took his son for a walk one day. He said,

“It is your thirteenth birthday, son, and this is the day I must make

An awful confession to you.

Shortly after your birth, on a day when you were too young

To consent or even understand what we were doing,

Your mother and I made a decision on your behalf.

We had you baptized.

We could not wait for you to be old enough to make

This choice yourself because

By then it would have been too late to begin the work

Of raising you as a baptized child.

So we made this choice for you,

And for thirteen years, we have tried to make good on it.

You are now a young man, and

I owe it to you to now

To explain why we made this choice and

To offer you the freedom

To unmake it.”


From the corner of his eye, he could see his son gazing

At his face as they walked. He continued speaking.

“There is an old humanity, what some called civilized humanity,

The society into which you, like your mother and I, were born.

Old humanity is bound together by a lie,

A lie to which all agree and which none may ever question.

Here is the lie:

It is you alone that matters most in the end.

Your life is all about you.

Do you understand what I’m saying, son?”


The boy shook his head. “Not yet,” he said.


“A fisherman catches a fish and values it only for

Its taste at his table or its monetary value at the market.

A landowner counts the trees on a mountain and

Values them only for the money they will bring him

When he reduces them into lumber.

A student learns her lessons and delights,

Not in the truth, but in being thought smart

By others.

A father loves his children because of the benefits

They bring him, and his children love him for the

Same reason.

In each case, a thing has value

Only when it is reduced

To the profit, pleasure, prestige, or power it brings

To the human self, the selfish human.

To be self-centered is not wrong, son. It is where we all begin.

But we are meant to grow beyond our little selves

Into a bigger community.

Still, civilized humanity rolls along comfortable in its lie,

And that is the problem,

A refusal to grow.

So we had you baptized

As an act of resistance,

Hoping to give you a choice to opt out

Of this small and popular madness, and opt in

To a deeper current, a wider life.

Now do you understand what I am saying?”


The boy said, “I’m trying, but not yet.”


The man slowed his pace of his walking and speaking.

“There is also a new humanity. I think of it as a re-wilded humanity.

It lives for love of the whole, not love of the self alone. Instead

Of seeing other creatures as enhancements to the self, it values

The self as an opportunity to enjoy and enhance other creatures, and

In so doing, to enhance the whole, which includes

Oneself as a part.”


For the first time, from the corner of his eye, he could see

On his son’s face a flicker of understanding. He continued.


“Baptism is a ritual by which we offer our

Selves to be part of the new, re-wilded humanity, the humanity

That lives for the whole, in love.

Your mother and I, as your parents,

Could not raise you as part of the old humanity

Because we no longer believed in it.

We saw its lie and knew its end was self-destruction.

So we raised you to live as we are seeking to live,

As people of love, as people of the wild beloved whole,

As a new humanity that follows the Way of Love

As taught by the Galilean peasant, Jesus,

And by all true prophets.”


The father stopped walking and faced his son.

“This is a hard road, my son. It is far easier

To live in the old humanity, to buy into the popular lie,

To live for self alone,

To play the game.

The challenge of this new way

Of life is great. If you decide now to abandon

Our way, I will love you no less. You are my son, and

You are free.

You are free.”