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May 22, 2009

Ask DadCentric: Do You Act Your Age?

Billy_madison Welcome to another installment in our venerable Ask DadCentric! series. This week's question comes from me, who has been dealing with his own (I turn 40 in nine days - yippee skippy!) and his loved ones' mortality as of late. I came across a post by our old friend MetroDad; following a trip to The Hamptons, he realized how much he hates Twitter (understandable if one does not use it as a marketing tool to help drive traffic to one's various writing endeavors so that one's kids can eat) and declares that "forty year old dads should just not be on Twitter" (which is a relief - I can Tweet away for a few more days, then join MetroDad in The Hamptons, where we can both yell at the damn kids who keep playing on Alec Baldwin's lawn.) Twitter aside, as an almost 40-year-old, I've become painfully aware of the chorus of voices, peers and friends and total strangers, who repeat the same tired refrain: "Act your age...act your age..." Yes, despite my long-haired tattooed backwards-baseball-cap wearing appearance, I do the grown-up stuff ("retiring" from a 10-year career as a well-paid technical recruiter to build a new career as a writer and social media consultant while raising two great kids). I also own (and regularly make use of) 4 surfboards and a skateboard, decided to start playing rugby at 37 (of course, my right knee decided to quit playing rugby at 37.25), and never fail to laugh at shit like this.

Clearly I don't act my age. (And yes, I'm absolutely OK with that. I fully intend to go Into That Good Night riding fakie and giving the goat.) So I posed the question to my fellow DadCentricians: do you feel the need to "act your age"? If so, why? If not, why not? Here are their answers...

Black Hockey Jesus: "The only recent decision I can think of where age seemed to matter was the other day when I saw some pictures of myself in my 20s. I thought "My hair looks awesome. I should let my hair grow again." But I nixed the idea pretty quickly because old guys with long hair are kinda lame. "Look at me. I'm old but I still rock.", etc. Apart from that, age (or acting it) doesn't usually bear on my decision making. I tend to understand myself as a variety of persons - the self as a choir of persons, so sometimes I'm 6 and other times I'm 60. And we all kinda agree to let each other have his (or her) time in the sun. Except for the long haired 37-year-old. Grow up, dude."

The Holmes: "There are those people who will try to tell you that some activities, habits, diversions, ideas, or inclinations, while fine for children, are just plain inappropriate for adults. Wrong even. Sinful. Perverse. To them I say, you simply don't know the joy of being able to keep your pants dry while relieving yourself sitting in traffic. I mean really, why shouldn't a fully grown potty-drained adult be able to wear diapers without shame? Do we not all dispense waste? 

In all adult seriousness, I don't often get hassled to act my age. The exception to this is when my wife calls me an infant while we're arguing, which she likes to do after I say something that sounds like a 5 year old's argument. She spits the word like an Indonesian spitting cobra. "Infant." This is supposed to shame me into arguing like the grown man I purport to be, but it usually just shames me into huffing out of the room for a minute until I can think up a clever retort, which I storm back into the room with, only to have her easily deflect it, which only deflates me further and makes me beg for mercy. 

As to why nobody else ever tells me grow up, I'm guessing this is either because A) I hang out with a bunch of other immature people, B) I'm actually mature enough to know when it's okay to act like a child and when it's not, C) I'm actually very mature and very lame and never do anything childish except when arguing with my wife, or D) I'm completely oblivious to everyone telling me to grow up. I'd like go with a combination of A and B." 

Two Busy:  "Yes. No. I don't care. In that order.

Do I feel a need to recognize that with the life I've created comes certain responsibilities? Yes. Not that there isn't a wee, terrible beastie inside of me that sometimes whispers awful things in my ear about how much easier this world could be if I'd just... (insert nightmarishly self-serving thing that would destroy my family, friendships and/or what passes for a career. Any nightmarishly self-serving thing will do.). But I'm also fairly pragmatic by nature, which means that even when it sucks, I accept that there are things that I've got to do because they're the right thing to do. A long time ago, the Buddha told me that all life is suffering. Which, granted, is a pretty negative way to look at the world... but: a) I'm really in no position to argue with the Buddha and b) It all depends on how you define suffering.

I don't think of responsibility as suffering, which from what I've seen is a root cause of unhappiness with many friends and colleagues who've struggled with the realities of adult life. Maybe it's because I was born a thirtysomething suburbanite, and it just took my life a while to catch up. I'll have to ask the Buddha next time I run into him at the bagel shop. But if acting my age means stepping up and doing the right and responsible thing even if it's not the fun, easy or pleasant thing to do? Generally, I'd say yes.

That being said... acting my age requires acknowledging my age. And while I'm not unaware of the slow chronological stalk that each day separates me incrementally further and farther away from the boy I once was, that awareness is completely overwhelmed by my ongoing and (generally) successful efforts at reducing it to little more than a subliminal hum. I don't ever - evereverever - think of myself in tems of "I am a 30whatever man." Seriously. Never happens. I'm blissfully ignorant of my place in the time-space continuum, and I intend to stay that way. So... in that sense, no.

But really, when you ask the question, what you really mean is: Do I feel a need to match up to someone else's expectations of what a guy my age - living where I live, marrying the girl I married, raising the kids I've spawned, trying to get paid the way I try to get paid - should be doing? I don't care. I yam what I yam and that's all what I yam. Is that cool with my family? Yes. Is that cool with my friends? Yes. Is that cool with my kids? Yes. Is that cool with you? I hope so, but if not... it's your problem, not mine. Look, my life is a clusterfuck in about two dozen different ways, and I've got enough regrets to fill a swimming pool. But those belong to me, and they're there because that's where my life - and my wife's life, and my kids' lives - have placed them. Everyone else? 

I. Don't. Care."

Whit: "Acting one's age is highly overrated.  I prefer to act my shoe-size, which, ladies, is a 12.  See, one sentence in and I'm dropping innuendoes.  That's what I'm talking about. 38 is fine for paying taxes and having the oil changed on the family truckster, but it kind of stinks as a reference point for appropriate behavior.  I tend to work blue. That's not to say that I can't be as grown-up as the next guy, it just means I still feel as young as I did 10 years ago, give or take a liver. Some idiot once said you are only as old as you feel.  That's as true as it is wrong.  If my back and knees had any say I'd be walking in the mall every morning and eating dinner at 4pm.   Luckily, I have two little sparks that keep me fired up, and they insist I stay young.  I could pass for 33, easy."

Croutonboy:  "What the hell does "act your age" mean, anyway?  That's one of the societal, open-to-interpretation comments that drive me ape-shit.  If I have an age, and I'm acting in a particular way, then by definition I am "acting my age."  It's like whatever temperature it is in the room you're in...isn't that "room temperature?"

In short I act, in the manner I think is appropriate for me at that moment in time.  Generally that's a mix of having fun and getting shit done, because unfortunately now that I'm responsible for keeping a tiny human being alive I can't leave my sword-swallowing props around the house like I used to.  It's not that I don't do important, "adult" things, too, like paint a bathroom or clean the dishes...I just balance it.  If I want to play a video game (something my wife describes as "juvenile") I do, because it's fun for me and don't I deserve a little fun every once in a while, you harpy???   I don't think of tequila as a food group like I used to, but that won't stop me from occasionally tying one on with the guys (or ladies) if an incredibly rare opportunity arises.  And god dammit if my daughter wants to have a farting contest you'd better believe I'm in, because who the hell else is gonna teach her to fart the theme to "The A-Team" if not me?  Those are life skillz!!!

It's one thing to be "young at heart" and another to be irresponsible.  In my experience people who label something I'm doing as immature or not "age-appropriate" aren't catching that distinction.  My "age" is the sum of my experiences, interests, and personality, not just some chronological data point (although my knees and back are very effectively arguing that point).  I hope by now I'm smart enough to make wise choices and avoid situations that could get me in trouble.  I'll man up when I need to, because I need to and that's what men do.  If I'm playing with toys at the mall or crying like a baby at the execution scene in "Robocop" then it's because it's who I am, and at that moment the consequence of not doing it is more dire--more inexcusable--to me than the consequence of doing it.

And yes, I TP'd your house. Are you gonna call the cops, or are you gonna TP me back.  Which would you rather do....?"

Kevin (with some assistance from Mrs. Kevin): Since my husband admittedly sucks at self analysis, Kevin asked me -- My Love a.k.a. Mrs. Uncool a.k.a. She Who Funds His Life of At-Home Dadness -- to help him with this question. Does he act his age? Definitely not. Well below his age - frequently. But he balances that out by acting like his mother, make that “ a little old lady” other times. Kevin is prone to sophomoric lapses, such as turning everything I say into a double entre or leering plea for my loving. He's persistent about that, no matter how fat I feel or crappy I look, and it's sweet in its own way, but it is like living with Beavis at times. (Yes, I have walked in on him with his T-shirt over his head yelling, "I'm the Great Uncoolio. I need TP for my bunghole." He claims its part of his creative process. Whatever.) Speaking of T-shirts, last year is the first time I can remember him NOT buying a T-shirt from the drive-through beverage barn we stay near on vacation every year. "I'm standing there in the store and I realized that maybe it wasn't appropriate for a 40-year-old guy to pick up his kids at school in a new 'Brew Thru Beer Pong League' shirt," he said. It doesn't stop him from wearing them when he coaches the 6-year-olds in T-Ball, but one step at a time.

KEVIN: You haven't met the team. Most of them can't read yet. Now, you need to address my "old lady" side.

MRS. KEVIN: You're not very adventurous...

KEVIN: Outside the bedroom.

MRS. KEVIN: See what I mean? Anyway, he regularly thinks he's having heart attacks even though he's had an EKG, an MRI and all sorts of test that show he's completely healthy. He wigs out about certain things and I think it holds him back personally, but it doesn't stop him with the kids, though, especially when he almost killed himself trying to show them how to use the Slip N' Slide last summer. He even bought our son a skateboard for his birthday and I'm sure he tested it out before the boy did.

KEVIN: The kids make me not want to act my age. Except when they don't listen. Then, I really turn into a cranky old man. As for the rest, I blame my overprotective suburban upbringing. I get panic attacks, you know that. We could fix that with a little Xanax. Apparently, I'm one of the few bloggers not on it at the moment."

Ryan: "I remember sitting alone in my downtown apt. It was pretty empty, almost no furniture. I was sleeping on a couch. I was soaked in the sweat from a hangover and had just stopped drinking with the guys at 7AM and stumbled home from down the street. I remember sitting there being upset with myself that I had lived so strictly as a Peter Pan and had just flat refused to settle anywhere for too long. This was awhile after (yet another) failed relationship that I had sworn I put my heart into but had ended, and then I coasted around trying to “date.” I was lonely, in between production gigs, working at a bar, and so tired of the downtown scene of staying up all night and playing poker and being a jackass with my buddies. I was loaded with “cool” stories about shit I had done. I was so afraid I would just end up being a guy that became a handful of stories but wasn’t really doing anything anymore, but telling them to his younger friends. I was just physically exhausted and could actually feel my body not recovering like it used to. The hangovers were brutal. I was spending money on pointless crap. I was completely alone and answered to nobody. I was fully convinced that this is exactly what I had always wanted my whole life until I had finally found it. I was a 32 year old boy. I did whatever I wanted. I hated my life.

I could remember a time when I would actually feel angry if I thought someone was loving me into staying in one place. I would run off from one adventure to the next, and that was exactly how I ran my youth. From the early days of play when I was first allowed to go off by myself in my neighborhood, to the first couple years into my thirties still running off, it was always about where can I go next, and how I could get into some crazy adventure, and lets stay up all night because fuck tomorrow we are all about “right now.” For me it was just a lifestyle I got locked into. Movie sets and tour vans were a perfect recipe, and then I would return home and have my “normal” relationships and life; until I would fill with wanderlust and kick off again. And just like the fairy tale, it took a woman to settle me down, and I wrote this letter to myself after I had met my future wife, and fallen in love almost immediately and was determined to live my life in a way that would make her feel safe and secure so that I could be around her and her son, and so she would give me a chance. 

I knew I had to grow up. So I wrote this letter just before my 33rd birthday.

“It is that one day of the year when Time stands right in your face, locks eyes with you and says, ”fucking deal with it asshole, you’re not getting out of this.” There is no mercy in this reminder. It curls its fingers, and rakes that nasty hand across your skin, and tears new scars to wear as burdens of another year ticked by. It places new pain into your body, slobs your walk by robbing another step from you. It places it in a rotten aging bag, slung loose, hanging off its shoulder, just enough in reach as you follow behind that you long for it everyday. It is a slow chase… where Time all of the sudden manages to stay just a little ahead of you, no matter what you do. 

When did this happen? 

Reflect. Look back. There I am. Growing up. Standing still. Just waiting for the build up. The growth spurts, and the new needed mass, the little badges of age were welcomed and met with smiles. I used to love it. I was always so far ahead, looking back just waiting for it to catch up to me. I wanted that touch of Time so I could do all the things that we were told was really living. The duplicity of Time to build you, and grow you, just to turn one day, for no real reason and begin to tear at you until it completely dismantles you. With the final and inevitable responsibility and duty to revert you back to a mindless pile of weak bones, that can barely sleep and shit and smile without help from love. 

On Dec 6th right at Midnight on the first tick of that 6th day I am going to give birth to myself. Push myself back out into the world and open my eyes and cry. I have decided that this will be the first day of my adult life. I am going to fold up that silly Peter Pan complex and place it neatly in a wooden box and put it up on a shelf and cherish it with the other knick-knacks of travels and special goodbyes. I have done about as much as I can do as a knucklehead. I think I should give way to some new responsibilities and apply some new rules to these knees and elbows. It is going to take a bit more to motor and I have a taste for the good life. I need to make sure I get myself sharp enough to cut that slice of life I want in my belly. Who wants to fall in love with the asshole waiting to win the lottery? 

It is time to earn. Not just the dollars. It is time to earn the life I have always wanted. I have a heap of stories that will be fun for the fires. I love that. I will never give them over to regret. I am terrified of course. I am standing right here. The opportunities that I have right now, this minute, are all enormous. On the eve of the first day of my new life I am going thru the brochures and the pamphlets absorbing the literature of adulthood, scratching my head, trying to figure out how I got myself here. I really did a great job. I really did. Despite being a boy for so long.

The smile that is right here hiding at the corners of my mouth waiting to take over, will be the same silly child that had refused to grow up. I will never lose him. I am not putting anything to death or saying goodbye to memories or friends. I am just going to be busy building a life, and making sure that I never lose love for lame inexcusable reasons. It certainly takes a walk thru the rubble and the carnage of mistakes to actually take it in, smell it, taste it, take notice so that you do not destroy your Eden. This is the only way to ever learn from life, and not repeat my youth. When all of that pain from self-discovery settles into a hum and I come clean with myself, the person that is still standing is going to be my best foot forward. 

I am so ready life. This is going to be great.”

I woke up on Dec 7th and just started living my life completely different. I made a choice to be a different kind of man. I am sure to keep the promise to stay silly hearted, and keep my youthful passions and boyhood dreams. I still laugh like I’m 8 on a sugar high. I just chose to ignore the whims and impulses that leave others behind for my own selfishness. I think that the biggest responsibility of a man or a woman, is when they decide to live their life to ensure the comfort of someone else. When you start doing that and you do it with responsibility, and heart, and effort, then you are acting your “age.” Pile on all the youthful pleasures and distractions that you can handle, as long as you can still wake up everyday, and get your shit done so that your family functions and thrives. 

By the way, my wife and I were married roughly 5 months later after I wrote that letter to myself, and it has been the first time in my life that I can actually say that I feel calm and happy. She didn’t know how long I had been waiting for that feeling, and on our wedding day she put that ring on my finger; on the inside of my ring she had inscribed the word: “calm.” She totally got it." 


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