At 6:42 this morning, I turned 43 years old.
I don’t think 43 is supposed to be a significant birthday. It’s just one of those in-the-middle ones. It is pretty solidly “middle age,” though, I think. Once upon a time I teased people who were, say, 56 and claiming “middle age.” “Only if you live to be 112,” I’d cackle, like I’d really zinged them.
Yeah, however funny that ever was, it’s definitely getting less so.
Actually I’d love to make it to 86. That would be an extremely solid finish for a life not lived with, shall we say, the utmost care for its first half. My sons would be 55 and 52. I always said I didn’t care how long I lived so long as they were making their own ways, and those seem like “surely by then” ages.
But it is about time for my midlife crisis, don’t you think? I need a convertible. I need a new, expensive, ridiculous wardrobe. I need a “soulmate” who isn’t my wife. I mean, she’s my soulmate, right? What defense could I possibly be expected to mount against such?
I’ve said for years that I was no risk to have one of those midlife crises. Speaking from a prime age for it to happen, it still feels rather unlikely. I am having one of a sort, though. My midlife crisis is one of conscience.
I spent the first part of this week with Aaron at Camp McDowell Environmental Center. It’s a trip the gifted program at his school takes every year in the fourth grade. I had a marvelous time with Nathan two years ago, and was so blessed to be able to go back with Aaron this year.[sws_pullquote_left]We tell everyone around us what’s important to us by the choices we make. So we better make good ones. [/sws_pullquote_left] In some ways, Aaron humbles me more as a parent than Nathan ever has. They’re both fine boys, and I enjoy a marvelous father-son relationship with each of them. I’ve just always had fewer ready answers with Aaron — not about how the world works, but more how to give him what he’s asking for when he reaches out to me emotionally.
Nathan’s very much a roll-with-it kid. It’s like he’s always implicitly understood that the things determining our path are not always of our choosing, and that’s just part of the deal. Oh, we’re turning left now? Okeydoke, Dad.
Aaron leans more toward the absolute. Things are fantastic, or they’re pretty terrible. He’s a happy guy just walking around; his path is just narrower.
So guess what? That means that some parenting techniques that work with my older son must be retooled or discarded completely with my younger son. That’s a pretty basic idea, but it’s one that has occasionally given me fits.
This week, away from quotidian grind and plunged into extended high-quality time together, I picked up on some communications from him that I’m sure have always been there, but that I’ve allowed to get lost in the noise. They’re subtleties that are greatly diminished or even borderline nonsensical when you try to describe them, so I won’t. I just hope you know what I’m talking about.
I was blessed to finally be receptive to them, and I’m inspired to carry their lessons into our day-to-day lives.
So what’s the midlife crisis? Well, there’s a big puzzle piece that has fallen in for me this week. This is the sort of thing I need to be around for. This is why it’s important for me to take good care of myself, today and forever, no matter how I’ve neglected my health in the past. This is an important bit of clarity I couldn’t have brought into my relationship with Aaron had I not been alive.
Whatever your religious, spiritual, and/or existential beliefs, I think a great many of us agree that this life is short. If we’re fortunate, we burn brightly, but none of us burn very long. While we’re lit, all we have is how we treat each other. We tell everyone around us what’s important to us by the choices we make. So we better make good ones.
I remember Andy Rooney mourning his 60 Minutes co-correspondent and good friend Harry Reasoner. Reasoner smoked cigarettes to the end of his 68 years because they gave him so much pleasure. Rooney ended that segment saying that he was angry with Reasoner “for being so careless with my affection for him.”
I was 20 years old when Harry Reasoner died. I understood intellectually what Andy Rooney was saying. I don’t think I understood it emotionally or spiritually until this week.
For some of my most important choices, I’m barely in the equation at all.