Tag Archives: Adulthood

Lonely in a Crowd: The Dangers of Modern Social Isolation on Health & Relationships

busy street in New York City - Shutterstock

It’s not always about what it looks like. It’s not about what YOU perceive to be the ‘correct’ response to a particular life scenario. Modern adulthood, by its very nature, isolates humans from one another, depriving them of support and resources that people crave, need, and which help them live longer, healthier, more satisfying lives. We should collectively try to do something about it. But in the meantime, we must simply look out for ourselves and one another. (Image/Shutterstock)

One of my newest friends and favorite people just moved about a four-hour drive away.

He might as well have moved to another planet, in the context of how much we’re likely to hang out in the future.

He was my partner in crime—both professionally and socially at the office. He sat just a few feet behind me.

Now, it’s just shut-down computer monitors and an empty office chair. Today’s the first day of work where he wasn’t here and I knew he wasn’t returning.

Hearing the news a few weeks ago that he was leaving bothered me. More than you’d think. Like if you’d asked me to predict how I’d feel about a bunch of random life scenarios, I’d have rated my friend at work leaving the job and moving away as being a less-impactful thing than I think it is.

It occurred to me while driving alone several hours on a weekend road trip that I’ve become more sensitive to goodbyes since my divorce. At least the kind you know are forever, or damn close to it.

I think I’m more sensitive to ‘loss,’ and that I’m tired of ‘losing’ people and things that matter.

My wife.

Half of my son’s entire childhood.

My in-laws.

Many of the friends we’d made together as a married couple.

Family. Every single moment from that day to this one that somehow seemed Less Than because everything was just a little bit off.

The future I’d imagined in my head.

Dignity.

Confidence.

Hope.

Yourself. The person you believed yourself to be when you looked in the mirror or sat silently and alone in your thoughts in those moments before sleep.

But also, this is just THAT time in life. For many, many people.

I’m 39-years-old. Many people in my general age range have families and growing children, and growing responsibilities and time demands. They have pets. Demanding jobs.

People living just a few doors down or on the other side of town might go months without seeing each other. They don’t even mean to. It happens by accident. Just because they both got busy.

Habit. Routine.

And friends turn into acquaintances. And then strangers.

People have threats bombarding them from every possible angle—particularly as parents.

Many people my age grew up in a time and place where you could leave the doors unlocked at night.

And now?

Most of us won’t let our grade-schoolers ride bikes outside of our neighborhood.

It feels like kids are learning too much, too soon. They’re the first generation to grow up with access to mobile devices AND prevalent Wi-Fi.

With the wrong keystrokes, and no parental controls, my 10-year-old could learn anything he could think to ask. How dead bodies look. How to do certain kinds of drugs. What happens at an orgy. How to do dangerous stunts that have killed other children. How to use profanity like a comedian to make hundreds of people laugh and applaud. He could read about child rape. He could watch a video of some racist cock trying to convince others that the value of a human being should be measured by their skin tone. Or some homicidal maniac encouraging children to arm themselves and hurt others.

21st century parenting is a total shit-show, but I’m reasonably sure that’s been true for every generation of parents who had to face new challenges without anything resembling an instruction manual on how to navigate it effectively.

BUT.

We are dealing with something on a scale never before seen in human history that exacerbates all of this and brings greater intensity to negative life situations, like a friend moving away.

Everyone is dealing with this—not just parents.

Sometimes, It Takes a Village

Someone with a better grasp on sociology than me may want to correct me, but I’m of the very strong belief that for virtually all of human history until, like, five minutes ago (50 years, at most?), most people in human society, regardless of where they lived—city or farm—experienced life the way people in tribes and villages did.

We didn’t have digital or even amazing telecom infrastructure weaving in and out of every small- and mid-sized town 40 years ago.

People HAD to speak in person, or mail a physical letter to even communicate with other people.

Neighbors knew each other. They frequently knocked on one another’s doors to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar.

If one of my neighbors I don’t know knocks on my door and asks to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar, I’m going to tell them I don’t have any (even if I do) through my locked screen door, and assume they’re plotting my murder.

And I seriously live in a ‘nice,’ ‘safe’ neighborhood where, honestly, I’m probably the scariest person because I’m a single adult male who lives alone and probably in their imaginations collects flea market-purchased taxidermy and eats a lot of Hot Pockets. (*shakes head no*)

Seriously.

Human beings have adult challenges.

They can range from small-appliance repair and the inability to reach something on the top shelf, to emergency childcare or transportation to a hospital.

And I think it’s EASILY demonstrable that back in 1980 when there were 100 million fewer people in the United States, MORE people knew one another and were interconnected on a personal level.

Basically, when life was HARD, on a minor level (small repair) or a macro one (death in family or major illness) the majority of people were surrounded by people who would help shoulder some of that load.

You can still find pockets of this.

School communities.

Big families.

Churches.

Soldiers.

Social groups.

Team athletics.

But many of us? By virtue of our age and life circumstances? What existed for us in our youth going to school, and probably even young adulthood, can disappear gradually and without warning.

Until life gets hard on a minor level or a macro one—and not only are you lacking people willing to help, but perhaps you’re having trouble finding anyone you’d even want to talk to about it.

I’ve shared this before in Could the Loss of Tribe be Jeopardizing Your Marriage, but it’s worth sharing again. I can’t explain any of this better than it’s written in this excerpt from Why Growing Up Is Hard to Do (But Why the World Still Needs Adults):

Isolation and the Loss of Tribe

“For most adults, the period of life they are most nostalgic for is high school and/or college. The longing for this period is usually chalked up to a desire to return to a time when they weren’t so freighted with life’s responsibilities. Surely that is part of it, but I think the real reason we miss our youth is often overlooked: it was the last time in our lives when we experienced a sense of “tribe.”

In high school and college, most of us had a group of great friends we saw on a daily basis. Many of us ran with a “gang” of guys, that sometimes joined with a posse of gals, forming a coed tribe that was enormously fun to hang out with.

Then, folks grew up, paired off, got hitched, and had kids. Few adults see their friends on a daily basis; the lucky see each other weekly, and for most, scheduling times to get together isn’t easy. It is then no wonder we get nostalgic for our younger days; it represents the last time our lives resembled the primordial pattern.

In hunter-gatherer tribes, male gangs hunted and battled together. Female posses raised their kids together. Everyone lived and worked together each day with dozens of others. Burden and joys were shared. One’s whole identity was tied up in being part of this tribe.

Today, we have never been more isolated. Many folks don’t even live near their extended kin, and the nuclear family is increasingly marooned on the desert island of the suburbs. Men (and women) go off to work in a cubicle with a bunch of fellow employees they may feel no real kinship with. Many women spend all day enclosed in the four walls of their home, cut off from all other humans, save their inarticulate toddler. Many people, male and female alike, are lonely and unhappy because they are without a tribe.

The heavy and undesirable weight of adulthood is often mistakenly chalked up to the burden of adult responsibilities alone. But the problem is not adulthood itself, but how it is currently being carried. The weight of earning a livelihood, and rearing one’s children, which was meant to be borne by numerous shoulders, is now supported by just a pair. Husband and wife rely on one another for all their emotional fulfillment and practical needs. The strain is more than an individual, or the nuclear family, was meant to bear.

So, (another) reason it’s hard to grow up is that the weight of adulthood feels hard to shoulder when you’re carrying it alone, instead of with a tribe.”

There’s Probably Not Anything Wrong With You

Sometimes people write me, and their focus isn’t on their marriage or romantic relationships at all.

Sometimes, they’re simply looking around and trying to figure out how everything got heavier and darker and lonelier without them noticing until one day they realized they were the last one standing in the room.

They grew up surrounded by friends in school. Perhaps by extended family at regular weekend get-togethers.

They bonded heavily with their closest friends in high school and college.

They stayed connected with many of them after school, because they were still the people with whom they wanted to swap tales and share life happenings.

But then.

Dating.

Marriage.

Daily life.

Homeownership.

Parenthood.

Financial responsibilities.

Adulthood.

Relationship struggles.

Isolation.

And maybe no one understands, right?

Because it doesn’t look and feel the same for them.

They have two friends, and they love their two friends, and you’re being ungrateful or simply not looking on the bright side because you’re not demonstrating the proper mindset or gratitude for the friends you do have.

It’s not even about what you have or don’t have. Maybe gratitude can help. It usually does.

But there are REAL consequences to a person’s subjective perception of how connected or isolated they are.

Ever meet a stay-at-home mother of four kids who soaks in adult conversation like someone dying of thirst in a desert?

Ever meet someone who lives in New York City, but doesn’t know anyone with whom they have a meaningful interpersonal relationship?

Ever meet an elderly man who lives alone, but spends every day out with friends, or traveling, or participating in some retiree life adventure?

There are no rules.

There are not life circumstances that automatically mean someone should, or should not, feel disconnected from the life they long for.

This affects people. Powerfully. It matters.

Maybe thoughts like this have been gnawing at you. Maybe this idea has been painfully pecking at your marriage or dating relationship. Maybe you just feel kind-of shitty and don’t really know why.

And just maybe, it’s because you’re a perfectly healthy and normal human being whose life circumstances has deprived you of things known to positively affect human life and health.

You’re not alone.

There’s nothing wrong with you. Your spouse isn’t rejecting you because they crave social connection or spending time with other people.

You’re good enough. You matter.

There’s just a little something missing. And if you recognize it, and take steps to do something about it, who knows what tomorrow might bring.

Probably something rad.

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When Life Erodes Faith

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

(Image courtesy of saludconabundancia.org)

Maybe it’s different when all you know is hopelessness.

When warlords kidnap your children and force them to murder.

When mosquito bites or severe weather or missile attacks annihilate your village.

When all you ever know is poverty and illness and violence and death.

Maybe then, life is so bleak that you never really care whether you live or die. Maybe death and an eternity of nothingness sounds like sweet relief when nothing good ever happens anyway.

That’s not how it was for me.

Even though my earliest memories are living in a trailer park.

Even though my parents divorced when I was 4 and I didn’t get to see my dad very much because he lived 500 miles away.

Even though we never had a lot of money to do a lot of things other kids I knew were doing growing up.

Everything was great. I didn’t just feel loved. I felt special. I think it’s because my mom and grandparents were trying to compensate for my parents’ divorce by telling me how great I was all the time. Over and over again, my family would recount the story to me and anyone who would listen about how I wasn’t even supposed to be here.

The doctors told my parents I wasn’t going to make it on the day of my birth in 1979. The nurses took to calling me “the Miracle Baby.”

The unlikely human.

That’s me, I guess. I can’t remember much before about age 4, so I’ve never been particularly moved by the story.

I was showered with love and affection from my mother’s rather large extended family. There was no shortage of attention.

“Do you know how special you are, Matt?” my grandmother liked to ask me.

When you’re a child, you believe everything you hear, especially from parents and other trusted adults.

They told me things. My parents and other adults. And they could never lie or be wrong because when you’re little, it seems like they’re never wrong.

We believe fantastic stories.

Santa Claus. Delivering presents to every little boy and girl in the world in one night. Magic.

The Easter Bunny. I never imagined an actual bunny. More like a guy in a large bunny outfit. And that somehow didn’t give me nightmares.

The Tooth Fairy. I pictured someone small and Tinkerbell-like. But she had full-size money.

Mythical beings. I believed all of them to exist at varying points in my life.

When you accept these things on faith, and you grow up going to Sunday school classes followed by 12 years of Catholic school, it’s really not that hard to believe that Moses parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah survived inside a whale for three days, or that the entire world was once flooded and everyone died except for Noah and his family who survived on a really large hand-built boat with a bunch of animals they rescued.

When you’re a kid, you just think: Sure! Noah and his incestuous family repopulated the Earth! Makes sense to me!

I used to get uncomfortable when I’d hear people ask questions that challenged any of my beliefs. You’re supposed to just BELIEVE! Like me! Trust me! I’m right! My parents told me and they’re never wrong!

Then my uncle died in a hit-and-run car accident and his murderer was never found.

Then I was a student leader on a Christian retreat in high school when total chaos erupted because my friend was accused of raping my other friend in one of the dorm rooms. So, either I’m friends with a rapist, or I’m friends with someone who lies about being raped.

Then my mom left my stepdad after 20 years.

Then we lost my father-in-law and my wife was never the same.

Then she stopped being my wife because I apparently wasn’t THAT special, grandma.

Then I sort of stopped caring whether I died because—honestly? Fuck this.

It’s totally unsettling when all the stories you ever believed about life and yourself turn out to be wrong.

Not lies.

Not fake.

But, wrong.

You find out secrets about people you know and then you can never think of them the same and you wish you didn’t know the secrets.

Your friends get divorced and everything feels a little bit tainted and broken after that.

People die. And you use to think: I’m sad that you’re gone, but I hope you have an amazing time in heaven and that I get to see you someday.

But now, you just think: I hope they’re there, but what if they’re not?

What if this is all there is?, and you scare yourself because now you know that you don’t know. Now, people talk about heaven, and in the back of your mind, you secretly think: I want you to be right, but I don’t want you to know how unsure I feel about that.

The loss of innocence that happens, usually incrementally, between childhood and adulthood is a quandary. Better to have everyone go through the shock-and-awe process? Or maybe, should we be doing a better job of preparing children for some of life’s harsh realities?

Protect and preserve their innocence for as long as possible? Let kids be kids? Or try to make it so the adult transition is less of a brutal mind job?

You have to be an adult before you learn there are no easy answers.

The sun shone through the gorgeous stained-glass window. St. Matthew’s name is at the bottom. There’s a purple flower I can’t identify just above the Star of David.

The priest was speaking from the pulpit. About faith.

Per the Gospel reading, Christ had resurrected from the dead. But Thomas was doubting the story his friends and fellow Christ followers were telling him because people just don’t come back from the dead. Doubting Thomas needed to see for himself.

Per the story, Jesus shows up. Lets Thomas touch him. See his wounds. Hear him speak. And, of course, Thomas believes now. Physical evidence of the greatest miracle ever told.

I use to feel sorry for Thomas because he couldn’t have faith like me. But now, I just totally get him. A sobering and depressing realization.

“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” Jesus said to Thomas and all within earshot.

But now I’m sitting in the pew, no longer knowing what I use to know.

I’m not saying I don’t believe it. I’m saying: I don’t know. And I need it to be okay with everyone that I don’t know because that’s what’s true, and truth shouldn’t need defended.

The priest talked about how when people don’t eat intelligently and don’t take care of their physical bodies, they tend to get sick and die.

When you do eat smartly and build your body up, you tend to feel youthful and vibrant and prolong your life.

Then he transitioned to matters of faith.

“This is why we PRACTICE our faith,” he said. We always get better at things when we practice them.

The only way to have a strong, youthful, vibrant, unwavering faith? To practice it, he said. When you neglect your spiritual health, your faith erodes, he said.

Withers away into nothingness like our dead bodies in the ground.

I was reading a space encyclopedia for kids with my son. A pretty thorough explanation of our solar system and what we currently know about the universe.

As best as science can tell us, everything we know to be physical matter—that is STUFF, like planets and stars and comets; all physical objects—makes up about 5 percent of the known universe. That’s it. Five percent.

“26.8% of matter is ‘dark’, we know it’s there because on large, cosmic, scales stuff moves around faster than it should and because the way that galaxies strew themselves across space is consistent with the existence of vast amounts of slow-moving gravitating ‘stuff’ that never turns into stars or planets or anything, just stays as diffuse, invisible, incredibly antisocial particles,” wrote Caleb Scharf, director of Columbia University’s Astrobiology Center, in Scientific American.

We don’t really know anything about those particles, either.

The largest percentage of stuff in the universe is called “dark energy.”

“Something is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. It didn’t used to. Until about 5 or 6 billion years ago the stretching of space following the Big Bang was in decline, but then something started to counter that, another unseen component, perhaps a type of vacuum energy density that fills up space as space itself grows. What exactly is it? We do not know. We have lots of ideas though, which is great, always good to have ideas about 68.3% of the universe,” Scharf wrote.

It’s possible that life is meaningless and that how we spend our time and how we treat others doesn’t matter.

But it doesn’t feel that way. No matter how right or wrong my parents were, it very much feels to me like our choices matter.

I look around and see an astounding amount of beauty. Spring has sprung where I live. Color and life returning as it does each year. Rebirth.

A cycle that feels entirely too intricate to me to have just happened by chance.

I really look.

I don’t see random chaos.

I see order.

I see creativity.

I see design.

Scharf said it all.

What EXACTLY is it? We don’t know. We have lots of ideas, though. Which is great. It’s always good to have ideas about the universe. About all that stuff we can’t explain.

Hello, God. It’s me, Matt.

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Admit It: You’re Just Making This Up As You Go

It's one of those secrets no one told us.

It’s one of those secrets no one told us.

I was just a young hormonal Catholic school boy sitting in church on Sundays begging God to forgive me every time I thought about having sex with one of the girls I saw.

Why am I thinking about sex in church!?!?

I used to think I was so bad.

I used to feel so guilty.

I used to look around at the backs of all the grownups and think to myself: It must be great being an adult! You can control all these thoughts and FINALLY be a good, disciplined person!

I was just a young, helpless virgin with no one to talk to about it. I wonder what THAT feels like!

I’d watch my mom and stepdad living their lives. They NEVER sinned!

I’d sit at the dinner table at my friends’ houses, quietly studying other families. They’ve got it all figured out!

When I was a kid, I didn’t know the secret.

I didn’t know everyone else was wearing a mask, too.

When I was a kid, I thought everyone’s lives were amazing and had every reason to look forward to adulthood when I wouldn’t make mistakes and feel guilt anymore.

I didn’t know everyone was having marital problems, having sex with other people or wishing they were.

I didn’t know the secret until I was well into my thirties: We’re all just making this up as we go.

You Are Not Alone

At least one of you (and probably many more) can relate in some way to all that young, hormonal, confused kid stuff. At least one of you thought you were going to reach adulthood and have the great “Ah-ha!” moment we’re all waiting for, and at some point it finally dawned on you that it never actually comes.

You don’t just wake up feeling like an adult one day.

You always just feel like a scared, confused kid, and realize with horror—maybe after having children of your own—that you ARE an adult, even though you don’t always feel or act like one.

And I just want you to know that you’re not weird.

I just want you to know that you’re not the only person who doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.

I want you to know that it’s okay to be scared. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

That it’s okay to be confused. Because things didn’t turn out the way you thought they would. Because not even you are who you thought you would be.

And that it’s okay to be sad. Because you wasted all those childhood years looking forward to these shittier, adult years, never once stopping to think: “Holy shit! I’m a kid! No one needs me for anything! All I have to do in the entire world is hang out with friends all the time and learn stuff! I better enjoy this while it lasts!”

We were all in such a hurry to grow up.

So we could have FUN!

Because we thought drinking beer and having sex and getting into bars and trips to Vegas and having a job with a paycheck would be better than playing playground kickball and freeze tag and passing notes in class and sneaking kisses behind the school.

Because we thought having our own money would be better than our parents just giving us some.

God, we were stupid. And by stupid, I really just mean ignorant. It wasn’t our fault.

It’s natural to want to drive a car. And stay up as late as we want. And go to whatever party we want. And wear whatever clothes we want. To be cool.

It’s natural to be curious. To want to try new things. And to do things we’re not supposed to.

The forbidden fruit, and all that.

It’s natural to want what we can’t have.

I’m not into Buddhism. But Buddhists wisely recognize that we DO gain value in our lives from our pursuit of things we want, even though acquiring or achieving those things didn’t bring us any palpable happiness or perceived value.

That experience brings us value. The garnering of wisdom from chasing and getting, followed by the lack of long-term fulfillment afterward.

That knowledge is valuable. Because it gives us wisdom.

We didn’t fail because our lives aren’t like we thought they would be.

This, in a lot of ways, was inevitable.

Behaving like human beings and suffering the consequences was inevitable.

That’s what’s real.

I think that’s part of really being an adult. Really being human.

I think it’s one of the many fragments of that “Ah-ha!” moment we’re all waiting to experience, but end up collecting one little realization at a time.

When the light bulb clicks.

When it dawns on us that we’re not the only one.

When we see a quote from Socrates and realize: Hell. I already figured that one out for myself.

“The only true wisdom is to know that you know nothing.”

It feels good to admit it.

It feels good to grow up.

It feels good to realize all those other boys in church were thinking the same things.

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How to Stop Procrastinating Later

procrastination-flowchart-2

A husband I know got into hot water with his wife after letting the family’s insurance coverage lapse several months ago.

“How could he be so irresponsible? How could he let that happen to his family? What if something happened?” my friend said to me.

I just shrugged. Because I do things just like that.

I am a world-class procrastinator. I think I currently rank No. 2 in the world, just behind my five-year-old son. I’ll check the rankings later.

My friend thinks I’m a good person and totally responsible. She thinks I’m a good sounding board for discussing her marital frustrations.

I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago. There was a huge “URGENT!” stamped on it in super-duper-emergency red.

The exact wording of the letter from my insurance agent escapes me, but it was VERY close to this:

“Dear Matt,

“Because you are an irresponsible degenerate piece of shit who can’t manage bills like an adult, your insurance policy has been cancelled. We sure hope you haven’t been driving around with lapsed auto coverage, and we have our fingers crossed that your house doesn’t catch fire or get swallowed by a sinkhole.

“But if it does, you’ll deserve it. Because you’re an asshole.

“Life tip: You and your son’s health and wellbeing, along with your house and car are the three most-valuable things you possess. So maybe think about growing up one of these days and taking care of your shit.

<Cue Samir from Office Space> You are a very bad person, Matt.

“Sincerely, Your Insurance Agent”

Yeah, tell me something I don’t know, Insurance People. You should see what I can do to a marriage.

One of the best ways for me to overcome procrastination is to create an emergency.

I respond FABULOUSLY with focus, energy and determination when I’m facing an emergency. I had insurance coverage restored within 24 hours of realizing I had a problem.

You may be wondering: “How the hell could something like that happen?”

I have a three- or four-month supply of unopened mail on my home office desk.

I still have unopened birthday cards laying on my dining room table. My birthday was three weeks ago.

THAT’s how.

I am capable of putting things off in ways you haven’t even thought of yet. And maybe I’ll tell you about it someday if I ever get around to it. Start holding your breath… right… now.

AWOLprocrastination

Procrastination is not a good thing. I’m making light of it because I don’t see the point in flailing about all dramatic-like, AND because this offers you a peek into the guy my ex-wife wanted to leave.

I do want you to know who I am.

One wonders why I wouldn’t want to clean up the sins of my past that lead to the single-worst thing that has ever happened to me. Perhaps there’s a psychological explanation for why I am the way I am. And perhaps I’ll look into that one day. You know, when I get around to it.

I am a negligent person.

Some of you may remember the post where I explored the hypothetical ramifications of my grandmother marrying a Liam Neeson movie character. At the end of that post, I disclosed that my grandmother had been in an accident which forced her to have a variety of surgeries. She was in and out of the hospital for several weeks.

My grandmother is the sweetest woman on the planet, and I think about her often, and did pray earnestly for her recovery.

I called her yesterday for the first time since the accident in January. I left her a message because my grandparents weren’t home. When my grandma called me back last night, I ignored the phone call because I felt “too busy” to answer.

Hopefully, I’ll be disciplined enough to return her call today. Start holding your breath!

I only recently discovered PsyBlog. It’s awesome.

Last month, PsyBlog author Dr. Jeremy Dean wrote a nice post titled 10 Foolproof Tips for Overcoming Procrastination.

If you’re interested, please give it a read.

I’ll list the 10 here, but you’ll need to read his post to get the full context for a few of them.

1. Start easy

2. Start anywhere

3. Beware excuses

4. Up the value

5. Procrastination personality

6. Turn up

7. Think concrete

8. Don’t rely on memory

9. Avoid over-thinking

10. Forgive yourself

There’s a lot of good stuff here that very much applies to my life.

Because I do make excuses. To others and myself.

Because when I “Up the value” (an emergency!) I get shit done.

Because I do have a procrastination personality.

Because I have a subpar memory for task management and short-term things.

Because I over-think EVERYTHING.

And because I have a lot of trouble forgiving myself for… gee, let me think… pretty much every bad thing I’ve ever done.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I would feel less stressed.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I could get in great shape again.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I could make a good book.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I would feel spiritually balanced.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, every facet of my life would improve.

This is great! I have something to focus on! An identifiable shortcoming I can do something about!

It’s going to be so gratifying to work on this stuff and grow and evolve into the person I want to be!

But when to start!?!?

Eh.

Maybe later.

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The Greatest Generation

willow-tree

After my parents came back to the house to tell me which one of them I was going to live with, everything’s a little fuzzy.

I just know the judge picked mom.

So, I said bye to dad—see you in several months!—and mom drove four-year-old me 500 miles east to her parents’ house back in Ohio.

I have memory flashes of sleeping and bathing at my grandparents. We lived there for a while. Celebrated my fifth birthday there.

My first life-reset.

My grandparents lived on a 43-arce farm in the Ohio countryside. A big, white farmhouse with black shutters.

A huge concrete porch where I spent countless hours playing. Barbecuing with my grandfather. Staring at the majesty of the vast night sky.

A red barn. Where I was chased by angry chickens. Where I would sometimes sneak into the hayloft to read books. Where I killed, cleaned and filleted untold numbers of fish caught by my grandpa and I.

Huge grassy expanses for unlimited running. Fields full of arrowheads and exotic-looking rocks to be found after the soil had been tilled. Tall maple trees I used to climb.

There were pear trees. Cherry trees. Apple trees. They attracted bees.

I was never afraid of them.

The flower beds were full of some of the biggest spiders I’d ever seen.

I was never afraid of them, either.

The surrounding fields and forest, highlighted by a gorgeous fishing pond and a one-room, non-plumbed cabin with a picturesque weeping willow tree represented my playground.

My new home.

Even when we didn’t live there, we lived there.

I spent more weekends there than not throughout my childhood.

That was a good thing.

My grandfather owned a mom-and-pop furniture and flooring store in the small town. A business started by my great-grandfather.

My grandparents have eight children.

My mother is the eldest of them. I am the first grandchild by several years. My mom’s youngest sister is only four years older than me.

What that means is I grew up in a big-family environment even though I am an only child.

Salt-of-the-earth kind of people. Barbecue chicken and hamburgers on summer nights. Fish frys. Chicken and dumplings. Hot dog and marshmallow roasting over an open fire.

These are the people who showed me how to love.

These are the people who taught me about family.

These are the people most responsible for me being whoever and whatever I am today.

My grandfather included me on his fishing trips. On his excursions to watch his beloved local high school football team vie for state championships. Running errands on the farm.

He taught me patience when the fish weren’t biting.

He showed me what it looks like to handle a life where so many people are pulling you in so many directions.

He has been a loving and faithful husband for the better part of 60 years.

As a child, I got lost two times.

Once, when I ran off to go see Santa at a relatively large shopping mall during the holiday shopping season when my mom wasn’t looking.

The police found me.

The second time, when I wandered off into the woods in search of a large waterfall like one I’d seen in a book or on television.

That time, my grandfather found me.

My grandmother often included me on trips to see her parents—my great-grandparents—about 45 minutes away.

My great-grandfather was a chess champion. And a very kind and gentle man. I can’t remember one visit where he didn’t do something very gentlemanly toward my great-grandmother. He ALWAYS helped her with her coat.

His funeral was my first experience with a family member passing with whom I was very close.

My great-grandmother could run in her 90s. Not, like, jogging. But I remember seeing her run from a doorway to a car in the rain. Things like that. One of the most-amazing women to ever live. She always had cookies. Always. Cookies.

Thick German accent.

My great-grandparents were so magnificent, it stands to reason that my grandmother would turn out so wonderful.

And that’s what she is.

I’ve shared many afternoons with just her.

We used to play Yahtzee and Boggle together. Boggle is one of the games that helped me find my love of words.

She hopped a plane with me on my first flight to visit my dad, once everyone decided me flying back and forth made more sense than driving back and forth.

Despite her unhealthy crush on Liam Neeson, my grandmother is a picture-perfect model of love, patience and forgiveness. For her husband of nearly 60 years. For her eight children. For her 19 grandchildren.

My grandmother had another surgery on Tuesday. Her legs are in bad shape after they were run over by a car.

While she was still knocked out from the surgery, my grandfather, who has had open-heart surgery twice, was admitted to the hospital due to chest pains.

Apparently his heart is only operating at about 20-25 percent. Every day we have him is a blessing at this point, mom says.

The Greatest Generation

Former NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe Americans born during The Great Depression who grew up in poverty, and then went on to fight, or contribute in some way to the war effort during World War II. My mom’s parents just missed the window, born just a few years after the generally accepted span between about 1914-1929.

I’m not going to get in the business of ranking generations of people.

We are all dealt the hands we’re dealt. We have no control when or where or to whom we are born. Whatever that reality is represents our individual “normal.”

Some people never knew a life with electricity and running water.

Others will never know a life without iPhones and self-parking automobiles.

Every generation’s job is to do the best they can with the resources available to them. So that the next generation can do the same.

There is a lot of neglect and apathy in this world. But I sure do see a lot of people choosing good. Choosing the harder path for their children and future generations.

More than a century ago, my great-grandparents were like me. They gave life to my grandmother. Who gave life to my mother. Who gave life to me. Who gave life to my son.

And maybe he will give life to my grandchild someday.

Everything is gone.

Youth. The time together. The big-family environment. My great-grandparents. The farm. The fishing trips.

Innocence is gone.

But everything is not lost. The stuff that really matters tends to stick.

That stuff that lives inside us.

In our memories. And stories. In our personalities.

In our ability to love. To share. To connect. To be generous. Charitable. Forgiving. Hopeful.

It won’t be long now. Until I have to say goodbye to them.

Maybe this year. Maybe in a few years. But not long now.

The people responsible for getting me through my first life-reset after my parents’ divorce.

And now I’m going through life-reset No. 2.

My own divorce.

And everything’s mixed-up. Inside-out.

There’s no rock anymore. Nothing steady to lean on.

The world’s asking me to become my own rock. So I can be a good father. A good son. A good friend. And someday, a good partner.

The world’s asking all of us to do that as we slowly lose everything on which we once relied.

So we get strong. Because we must.

And we hold one another up.

We do it for ourselves and each other. And we do it for our children.

Because our ancestors mattered.

They gave you your grandparents.

And they gave you your parents.

And they gave you yourself and an opportunity to do something great.

Maybe that’s some great big thing that everyone’s going to see and hear about in our media-saturated world.

Or maybe it’s not.

Maybe it’s just making the world a better place.

Maybe it’s just raising a child who will bring a child into the world who will bring a child into the world who a hundred years from now will change the world.

Maybe that’s why you’re here.

Maybe that’s why I’m here.

Like my grandparents.

Like yours.

The greatest generation.

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Why Kids Are Happier Than You

They're smiling because they know how to do something you don't.

They’re smiling because they know how to do something you don’t.

Kids are smarter than you.

When kids aren’t crapping their pants, exposing themselves in public or throwing temper tantrums because they’re not allowed to have candy five minutes before dinner, they’re smarter than you.

Not about everything.

I can run circles around my five-year-old son in academic contests.

“Hey dad! Do you know what 71+14 is!?!?”

“Yes.”

He’s always so impressed when I give him the answer even though I could have answered “93,” and he wouldn’t know the difference.

“Hey dad! Do you know how to spell ‘antelope’?”

“Totally.”

And even if I spelled “rhinoceros,” I’d probably get away with it.

He’s a sharp little dude. But he’s got a ways to go.

But I watch him.

He plays.

Smarter than me.

What’s great about this is even if you’re not a parent, you can remember doing this, too. Or you see it in restaurants and parks and shopping malls.

The kids play.

Smarter than us.

They run. They scream. They squeal. They dance. They laugh.

That’s what delight looks like.

That’s what fun looks like.

That’s what happy looks like.

And that’s precisely what all of us want.

Happy.

I Didn’t Want to Grow Up

At least, not once I got to college.

I still played.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I played with Star Wars, He-Man, and G.I. Joe action figures, turning my house into a different universe.

It didn’t look quite like it did when I spent hours mesmerized by The Legend of Zelda or Tecmo Bowl or Super Mario Bros. 3.

But I was playing. Always playing.

After dragging my feet in college, taking five years to graduate due to some career indecision and a whole bunch of partying, I was hired as a newspaper reporter at age 23 in a beach community near Tampa, Fla.

I’d been on a few trips to other places in my life, including Florida, but I was so saturated by the Midwest culture in which I grew up that I truly didn’t know it was different in other places.

When I moved to Florida, I thought it would be EXACTLY like what I had always experienced in Ohio, only it would be 85 degrees and sunny every day, while I drank beer and umbrella drinks on the beach jamming to live reggae music.

It wasn’t like that at all.

It was scary how different everything was. How far away I was from everything I knew and loved. It was time for me to grow up.

But I don’t want to grow up!

I wanted to play.

My girlfriend didn’t like that about me. It hurt her feelings, she said. And it made her question my maturity.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” she’d say.

You can’t get married and grow in maturity and have a happy and successful life if you’re partying with friends all the time!, the thinking seemed to be.

There’s no time for childishness. Not in the real world.

We need to be serious!

And responsible!

And go to work every day!

And pay our bills!

And do chores!

And take care of the lawn!

And keep the house clean!

Ehh. Maybe she’s right, I thought.

So, I stopped doing all those fun things.

I stopped playing.

And we got married.

I replaced the old games with new ones.

With poker. With movies. With music.

But the best times were still those long nights laughing with friends and having buzzed late-night sex.

I wonder if she thinks so, too.

Kids Know How to Play

But maybe you forgot.

I did.

Because I was in such a hurry to grow up. Because I was hell-bent on trying to make the woman I loved happy without ever stopping to wonder whether maybe she had it wrong.

Because how is all this growing up and being responsible working out for you?

Listen, I want you to pay your bills. I want you to go to work. And take care of yourself. And keep your house looking nice.

I’m not talking about neglecting responsibilities.

But, dammit, I AM talking about PLAYING.

Because this is bullshit. This rat-race game we’re all trying to play.

When did we all get brainwashed into believing this shit?

Who made the rule that in order to be an “adult,” you have to go work 40 hours a week in an office and tuck in your shirt and read biographies and not laugh at dick-and-fart jokes?

Because that rule is BULLSHIT.

I don’t want anything in this life but HAPPINESS for myself, my son, everyone we love, and all of the other people out there who crave happiness as well.

And I don’t think I always have to play by all these rules in order to achieve that. I’ve been playing by these rules for the better part of the past 15 years.

And what do I have to show for it?

A stack of bills, a stamped dissolution of marriage document, a part-time son and doing a bunch of things alone that I used to do with my wife.

It’s Time to Start Playing Again

We’ve gotta play.

We must.

I think this is one of the ways we’re gonna save ourselves.

Don’t you remember all the fun you used to have? And now you’re not having fun anymore. Sitting around doing “adult” things all time.

You know what? Fuck. That.

These rules are bullshit, and a bunch of us got brainwashed somewhere along the way. As if this was the only way to capture the “American Dream” or the spouse and 1.8 kids and the house in the suburbs.

I let other people make me feel guilty about the things that made me feel happy.

And now I feel shitty all the time UNLESS I’m doing all the things l love to do surrounded by people I love and who love me in return.

I’m so tired of feeling shitty.

And you must be, too. You must be. It’s so exhausting wearing that mask. Trying to play the role of mature adult and doing what you think everyone expects you to do rather than what you actually want to do.

I know what you want to do.

You want to feel happy.

Just like when we were kids. Running outside. Free. Innocent.

We squealed.

We danced.

We laughed.

We had fun.

We were happy.

Those kids are pretty smart. Yours. Mine. The ones we see lighting up the darkness.

I think I’m ready to start playing again.

Wanna play too?

A special thanks to T at “This Is Not My World” for inspiring this post.

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