It was three years ago that Lieutenant Commander in the Navy, Bashon Mann found himself approaching his 40 birthday, feeling completely lost. He was a recently divorced father of two girls, ages six and nine, and he knew that he wanted to be present for them, but he wasn’t sure how. It was a real question for him because divorce was never in his plans. His own parents were still together and living in the same house that he grew up in.
Around the same time, he noticed that his Facebook friends were doing fun things to commemorate their 40th birthdays. Things like, “40 of my best friends” or “40 days of no meat.” Mann got the idea to do something creative that would incorporate his girls. He would write them 40 letters in 40 days. Each letter would focus on a lesson he learned from his life. Hopefully, it could serve as a guide for them when they got older.
Mann began writing the letters and sharing them on Facebook and a funny thing happened. People started following. “It was a shock to me because these were just experiences from my life. I didn’t expect people to be that interested,” Mann says.
Ironically, the positive feedback gave him the confidence to dig deeper, and he became more expressive. The letters, which started out entertaining, began taking on a more serious tone. He was writing about topics he wanted to cover with his girls- like the time he got in front of the church to sing a solo, but forgot the words, and what he learned from lying to his family and friends to cover up his failures- but he was also chiming in on current events that he couldn’t ignore, like the murder of Treyvon Martin. No matter the topic, people couldn’t wait for the next letter.
One day, he was leaving a military conference and a co-worker came up to him and grabbed his arm. “I need to speak to you,” she said. “I just want to thank you for writing those letters. They changed my life.”
Mann was floored.
The woman went on to tell him that he had no idea how many people he was helping, and he needed to do more with the letters. Make them a book so that she could give it to her niece who doesn’t have a father. It’s the type of book that she would want her, or any young girl, to have.
It wasn’t the first time that Mann had been told to make the letters a book, but it was the first time he was able to really hear it. He could no longer ignore that the letters were having a real impact on people and if they could mean that much to strangers, what might they mean to his own girls? He realized that all of the mistakes that he’d made over the years, every wrong turn, wasn’t in vain. He now had something that he could pass on to his daughters as something they could use so that they wouldn’t have to make the same mistakes. Through these letters, through a book, he could be with them at all times. And through these letters, he realized, he’d found that part of himself that was missing. He found his value. Talk about a 40th birthday gift!