As I rocked my baby boy tonight, studying his face as he drank his bedtime bottle, for some reason my mind began to envision the day when he would look at his face in the mirror and be dissatisfied with what he sees. I know that as a human who will eventually go through puberty, this day is inevitable. I also know that as an Asian boy in a Caucasian family who was born into a homogenous society but now lives in one that is anything but, puberty is likely to be more complicated than it is for the average boy. So my mind began to formulate thoughts about what I would say to him.

“Nathan, I want you to know two things. One big thing, and one small thing.

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First the small thing:

You are free to change things about your appearance and I will fully support you, help you, give advice, admire you, and give an honest opinion as you experiment with the many ways you can change the way you look. If you want to shave things, pierce things, color things, dress in all black or like an athlete or like a cowboy, or something else, I will do what I can to help. It is not wrong to use the way you look on the outside to show people who you are on the inside and it is not wrong to want to put forth a public face that is a bit more polished and refined than it would be if left to nature and the weather.

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Second, though, is the big thing.

I want you to know that the face you see in the mirror says things about you that you can never change about yourself. You can disguise them, adorn them, alter them, or hide them, but the truths that lie behind what is showing on your face cannot be denied.

Your face tells the story of where you come from, who your birthmom and birthdad and their ancestors are, how they look, and how the parts of them united and were passed on to you in a unique mix of features that nobody else on the planet can ever have.  The almond eyes, wide nose, straight dark hair and cinnamon skin let everyone know you are Korean by ethnicity, Asian by race, and Human by God’s design.

To the trained eye your face shows signs of the trauma and loss you experienced as a tiny newborn, a stroke being the least of these which says a lot. There is something about the eyes, the mouth, looks and gestures that are so much a part of you now that nobody can piece out what wouldn’t be there if life had not thrown you those curve-balls. It’s important to grieve those losses. You don’t have to stoically pretend that because brokenness can be redeemed and scars can be healed means that you didn’t have a right to a different story.  

I imagine there are ways you hold your face, look at people, and behave when concentrating that show people that you are a Hithersay, a Wright, a Burns, a Brannon, and on and on back through the generations. Who you live with affects you deeply which is important to remember as you make your way in life. And the way you move your mouth as you talk is because you speak English daily, not Korean or Spanish or Farsi.

As your mom I shudder to consider what scars are on your face, but since you had two scratches on your sweet baby face as I kissed you goodnight, I bet there are a few. I hope your scars show that you tried something, that you were brave, and that you survived. Even if they show that you were weak, foolish, or made a terrible choice, they are there. Those scars tell a story and I hope that it’s a good one and that it’s funny and that you learned your lesson.

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It may be hard to tell at 13 or whenever it is that you are reading this, but your body is aging and soon enough it will be easy to see that on your face. Fifteen or twenty years down the road will seem like a long way away considering you probably haven’t even lived that many years yet, but the funny thing about life is that the first few years take the longest and the rest seem to just zip right along. Before you know it you will have sun damage, wrinkles, fine lines, and maybe some grey hairs. About the time you can rejoice that people rarely card you when you buy a drink you will start to see the reason why when you look in the mirror. It will be easy for people to tell what you look like when you laugh or frown or concentrate because the lines won’t go away when you’re relaxed or asleep. Never be ashamed of a single laugh line, and don’t be stupid enough to deny that the reason you have worry lines is because you worry. Own it all and learn from it. By all means, my brown boy, put on some sunscreen when you are outside to protect your skin. Drink plenty of water and get enough sleep. But most of all just live your life. You can delay the signs of aging, but you cannot prevent it. We’re all dying from the day we are born.

And lastly, I want you to know that no matter what happens to your face, what it looks like, or how it changes or you change it, I love it. I love it because it is in your face that I can see your eyes and know without asking what is really going on. It is in your face that your mouth can move and give words and sounds that let me understand the thoughts and feelings inside of you. It is your face that allows the breath in and out that keeps you alive and in my life. And it is your face that tells this beautiful story that is all yours that I have the pleasure of watching from the front row.

So, look in the mirror and take stock. What you see is more than an asset or a flaw. It’s more than just eyes, a nose, and a mouth between two ears and covered in skin and hair. It’s a medium for storytelling. It’s all yours. Own it, never deny it. If you decide to change something, hide something, or decorate it, that’s fine. But, all of that is for the public and because we have things like mirrors and cameras; you should never buy into your own PR. At the end of the day the you that is living inside that face is what matters, not what it looks like.

I love you,