Elton John has just celebrated a milestone birthday, turning 75 on Saturday, March 25.
To mark the occasion, Sir Elton penned a deeply personal essay for Time, in which he shares some of the wisdom he’s accumulated after three-quarters of a century.
He recalls being “told to fit in” as a child, instructed “to do what others expected even when it didn’t feel right.”
READ MORE: Elton John Reveals He And Husband David Furnish Tried To Adopt A Ukrainian Orphan In 2009, But Were Refused For Being Gay
Now, he explains, he’s come to the realization that “Being true to myself is what gave me my voice, and helped me face my greatest fears. I’ve forged deep friendships, found the love of my life, and became your Daddy. Whoever you grow up to be, just be you — fully and completely you.”
The rock icon also addresses Florida’s controversial “don’t say gay” legislation.
“Imagine if it were illegal for your teachers to talk about our family. No telling stories about us at school. No reading books about boys with two daddies. And for kids struggling to understand and accept who they are, this bill could prevent them from getting the help they need,” he writes.
“This is really happening. As some parts of the world become more accepting, others are becoming more divisive and dangerous,” he continues, explaining how the bigotry behind the bill “is sending us backwards, and damaging all of us, no matter how we identify.”
READ MORE: Elton John Marks International Woman’s Day By Sharing Support Of Urgent Action Fund In War-Torn Ukraine
He also highlights another “life lesson,” advising his songs to “build bridges, not walls,” and concludes with the following advice: “Be yourself. Push the envelope a bit, and ruffle some feathers where you need to. Remember that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Take care of one another — and try to be part of something bigger than yourself,” he writes. “And never forget how much your Papa and I love you.”
Elton John’s letter to his sons can be read in its entirety below:
Dear Zachary and Elijah,
Do you remember the first time you saw me on stage? We were in Las Vegas in 2018, and your Papa brought you to the show. You were amazed by it all, the lights and the costumes and the crowd. Afterward, you both said: “I didn’t know Daddy could do that.”
Once upon a time, I didn’t know I could do it, either. You’re 11 and 9 years old now, and when I was your age, I could never have dreamed where life would take me. Looking back over the past 75 years, there is so much I am proud of, so much I have learned. As you are the two most precious parts of my life, I want to share some of those lessons with you.
When I was young, I was told to fit in, to do what others expected even when it didn’t feel right. Now I realize I can only be me. Being true to myself is what gave me my voice, and helped me face my greatest fears. I’ve forged deep friendships, found the love of my life, and became your Daddy. Whoever you grow up to be, just be you—fully and completely you.
I know being accepted for who you really are in the world isn’t always easy. And in my 75 years as a gay man, I have seen so much positive social change. It used to be that LGBTQ+ people were seen as “wrong,” or “the bad guys.” We still have a ways to go, but, your Papa and I felt safe enough to bring you both into this world. We believed you would be welcome here, as the children of two daddies.
And yet, even when we held you and our hearts swelled with love and pride, a part of us was still scared. Would other kids tease you because you have two dads?
So we read you bedtime stories about families that looked like ours. Your favorite was The Family Book by Todd Parr. You both immediately understood its simple message. “There are lots of different ways to be a family,” it said. “Your family is special no matter what kind it is.”
By the time you started school, you knew that we were different. You knew that different was okay, and most importantly, you knew you were loved. Some of your classmates asked the inevitable questions, but you and your teachers answered them honestly. You had a chance to grow—and so did your classmates.
Every child in this world deserves that chance. But as I write this letter to you, the government in Florida wants to stop kids’ teachers from even “saying gay” in their classrooms.
Imagine if it were illegal for your teachers to talk about our family. No telling stories about us at school. No reading books about boys with two daddies. And for kids struggling to understand and accept who they are, this bill could prevent them from getting the help they need.
This is really happening. As some parts of the world become more accepting, others are becoming more divisive and dangerous. It is sending us backwards, and damaging all of us, no matter how we identify. There are at least 68 countries across the world that still criminalize LGBTQ+ people, according to Human Rights Watch. Your Papa and I could be arrested, just for being ourselves. We must never forget how lucky we are.
Which brings me to my second life lesson: build bridges, not walls. I’ve played to billions of people in my career and had the joy of meeting many thousands of them. Most people—gay, straight, Black, white, rich, or poor—all want some basic things in life: to be safe, respected, loved, and free. But we live in a world today where too often, instead of embracing diversity, we shut it down.
Through my commitment to the fight against AIDS, my eyes have been opened to this in ways I could have never imagined. For decades, people living with HIV and AIDS have been shamed, stigmatized, and harshly judged—or even worse, ignored.
Thirty years ago, I set up the Elton John AIDS Foundation, to bring essential HIV testing and treatment to millions of people, and to help people living with HIV challenge the stigma they endure. In country after country, we have brought the AIDS community together with governments, big pharmaceutical companies, the church, and media. By opening a dialogue, we have opened hearts and minds, and turned the tide on the AIDS pandemic.
We still have work to do—including, right now, in Russia and Ukraine, where this devastation is hurting vulnerable people and preventing them from getting access to the services that could save their lives. As someone born in the aftermath of World War II, I never thought I would see such conflict in Europe again. It is heartbreaking. It must stop.
Read More: After Fleeing Ukraine, LGBTQ Refugees Search for Safety in Countries Hostile to Their Rights
No child should have to live through this. I want you to grow up in a world free from conflict, where you can fulfill your dreams, whatever they may be. And I want every other child—every other person, everywhere—to have that same opportunity. I’ve seen how we can make progress by acknowledging our differences and learning how to have compassion and empathy for each other.
That brings me to my final lesson: Give back. Service to something bigger than yourself is the most rewarding thing you will ever do. This world is unequal and unfair, and it’s on us to make it better. That’s why I have given so much to my music and my foundation. And their impact has given me so much joy in return.
I have had an incredibly fortunate 75 years. I’ve had my share of adventures, and I’ll tell you about some of the wilder ones another time. But know this: the most rewarding journey in my life has been the one I began 12 years ago with your Papa, when we decided to start a family.
David Furnish, Elton John, and their sons Elijah and Zachary attend the 23rd Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party on Feb. 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for EJAF) Getty Images for EJAF-2015 Michael Kovac
Zachary and Elijah, you two are the greatest gifts I have ever been given. You have filled my heart with love and my life with purpose and meaning in ways I didn’t think were possible. You are my proudest achievements, and I love you both so, so much.
When the lockdown put my tour on pause, my world got smaller, and I started to see life in a different way. I’ll always love to travel and play music for my fans, but you showed me I could have just as much fun at home with you playing UNO, or going to Pizza Express.
Now let me share some final words of advice, because one day they might just ring true:
Be yourself. Push the envelope a bit, and ruffle some feathers where you need to.
Remember that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.
Take care of one another—and try to be part of something bigger than yourself.
And never forget how much your Papa and I love you.
Love, love, love,