There have been many significant events in my life that signaled to me that I was growing up. Getting my driver’s license, voting for the first time, being able to legally buy beer, getting married, and buying a house all come to mind. Those were definitely milestones on the path, but the big one was, of course, having kids. Or so I thought…
Up until recently, having children of my own was the most obvious (and most pungent) signal of my inevitable maturing. There is an in-your-face responsibility that comes with having kids. They tend to get louder and louder if you’re not taking care of them correctly, like an alarm clock that will not let you be late for work, no matter how many buttons you hit in an attempt to shut it off. Whatever you were planning on doing with your life before having children is suddenly a moot point. If it doesn’t fit with the new directive of caring for the child, it is not in the program. I figured that surrendering to that new reality and embracing it was the final step to adulthood. Not so.
The responsibility of providing for a helpless child is a big-time kick in the pants toward becoming a full-fledged responsible adult, but it is not the final step you must take to complete the transition to 100% adultness. I realized recently that there is one more step required.
Having a 401k, you ask? Hosting Thanksgiving? Buying life insurance? Writing a will?
No. The final step on the road to adulthood is not something you do, but rather, something you don’t do. You have arrived at your final destination of maturity and responsibility when you are able to look at your son’s Razor scooter, and not try to ride it.
When you can walk past an unattended skateboard, look at it, and say to yourself, “No thanks. I have to work tomorrow, and that’s going to be more difficult with a broken arm.”
When you can say that, you have arrived.
This last step towards a man’s adulthood has a definite age component to it. It happens around the age of forty, give or take a few years depending on the guy and his IQ-to-pain threshold ratio. In that regard, I am lucky that I had children somewhat later in life. I am almost forty, but my oldest son is only six and a half. They don’t really start owning incredibly dangerous wheeled toys until around age four or five, so I haven’t had too many pre-forty years with access to lots of ulna-snapping contraptions.
I pity the guys that had kids in their twenties, because the years in between thirty and forty are the most dangerous years of a man’s life. A young man in his teens and twenties will do incredibly stupid things, but this is counteracted by the fact that he has reflexes like a cheetah, and his body is made entirely out of rubber and steel. By his early thirties, the bones, ligaments and tendons have already begun to weaken and degrade, but the fear of becoming old, combined with the false ego of “not being old yet” form the perfect storm of stupidity versus degraded coordination and resilience.
Many are the thirty-eight-year-old men who have not been able to get out of bed the next day after doing nothing more than dancing at a wedding.
“I have shooting pain down my leg, my back is killing me, I can’t twist my neck to the right, and don’t even get me started on my rotator cuff.”
“Well, honey, you did dance for over an hour.”
When that man finally heals up from all the dancing and wakes up one day to realize that he likes being able to walk more than he likes trying to prove he can still jump the curb on a pair of rollerblades, he has made it into the club. Some would call that growing old. I call it growing up.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I promised my son I would teach him how to do a wheelie on his bike. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’m only thirty-nine. I’m not old yet.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen
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