18 Men & 18 Letters on an 18th Birthday

December 16, 2015


My son turned 18 years old today. For a boy, that’s a tangible step toward manhood — a special occasion that is worth honoring and celebrating. It should be a Big Deal.

About a month ago, I invited 17 other men to help me make it a Big Deal. I asked them to write a note/letter to Sean and gave them some ideas to get the juices flowing:

  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were 18?
  • If you could go back and talk to your 18-year-old self, what would you say?
  • What advice would you give to a young man on his 18th birthday?

I can’t claim ownership of the idea. It was mentioned by the father of a young man who was on a video that I watched a couple years ago while taking a men’s class at Bethel Church. As soon as I heard it, I knew I wanted to do it.

So I sent out letters before Thanksgiving — yes, actual snail mail letters! — to 17 other guys, a few from the McGee/McGann family and the rest good friends. Some are friends from all the way back in college, some are much more recent friends. Some of the men know Sean, and some don’t. Likewise, Sean knows and has met some of them … and some he doesn’t know at all. Some are Christians, some aren’t. Some are conservatives, some are liberals. They ranged from 30+ years old to almost 80.

I asked them to write as little as a paragraph or two if that’s all they had time for, or as much as several pages if they felt so inspired. Most wrote several pages. A couple also sent back gifts, which was incredibly generous. But the most important thing, in my opinion, was the time that they gave to share their wisdom and experience with the next generation.

All 17 men accepted the invitation, and all wrote wonderful things for Sean on his 18th birthday. Below are 18 of my favorite pieces of wisdom/advice, which I’ll present in random order and without attribution, because I didn’t think to ask the men for permission to make their words public and associate their names with those words.

1. Don’t try to emulate or become what someone else is, be the best Sean McGee you can.

2. Don’t believe you’re entitled to anything. You must work for it. Everything.

3. Fortune favors those who are prepared.

4. Always remember there is RIGHT and there is WRONG.

5. The older I get, the more I realize that The Beatles knew the secret to life: “All you need is love.”

6. Don’t worry about your future, but do care about it.

7. Make use of every single moment you have.

8. Somewhere along the line I woke up one day and realized that life was a choice. A choice to be happy instead of sad, a choice to do rather than not, a choice to have deep and meaningful relationships that could uplift me rather than not.

9. Put down your damn devices. Be with yourself. It is difficult. It is good for you.

10. I didn’t find what I was supposed to do with my life until I was 37. You’ve got time. Try everything.

11. When you are approaching 40 and looking back on what you’ve accomplished so far, be able to say to yourself, “I have no regrets. I’m proud of where I am and what I’ve accomplished.”

12. With your adult life unfolding in front of you, you have the great privilege to pick a track to run on. I would encourage you to really pick a course that goes along with what makes your heart jump. If you have passion for something, you’ll fully engage in it and become great at it, and people will pay for greatness.

13. Make good choices about what you’re going to do, of course, but pretty much say YES to opportunities to travel, learn new things by having hands-on experiences, and by helping others. Those things will shape you into a smarter, kinder and more compassionate person in the years ahead and they will help you learn to adapt to the changes in life you’ll surely experience.

14. Make it a priority in your life to treat women as equals, not objects. Show respect by saying NO to places, products and temptations which denigrate women, which cast them as toys or servants or trophies.

15. Reading good books is important and feeding your mind with positive thoughts will help you in your life. I am sure you have heard the saying “garbage in, garbage out.” Well, feed your mind with good things and good things will come out.

16. Don’t take the easy way out when faced with tough decisions. The hard way is almost always the right way.

17. Do admit that, even though you’ve been brought up going to church, you have doubts. God made us and lived in our shoes as Jesus, and knows our difficulties and doubts. It’s no use pretending we have it all figured out.

18. Draw outside the lines, laugh, cry, serve others, make great friendships and live the best life you can ever live.

Gentlemen: Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving your time and energy to help my son have such a memorable 18th birthday. It means the world to me.


  • Reply Phil R December 17, 2015 at 4:07 am

    Was honored to be part of it.

  • Reply Matt McGee December 17, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Was honored that you agreed to do it, Phil. Thank you.

  • Reply Brooke Bishop March 20, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    In looking for inspiring input to impart to my 18 year old, in a few days, this was an article I am very grateful for. I will send questionnaires out to male friends,

    Thank you for the meaningful help,
    Brooke Bishop

  • Reply Matt McGee March 20, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    That’s wonderful to hear, Brooke – I’m glad you found it and are inspired by the idea. I hope it’s a big success for your son’s 18th.

  • Leave a Reply