6 x 6 = 36

36!?!?!?

That’s the official start of the downward slide right? If 35 is the hump day of your Thirtysomething existence, I’m not quite so sure that 40 is the blessed weekend you look forward to. And spare me all this revisionist talk. Green is the new Black? 40 is the new 30? Please!!! If 40 were the new 30, would I have annual prostate exams in my near future?

That said, I can’t help but feel that this slope gets slippery by the second and that try as hard as I might, there’s no stopping kinetic motion once it gets moving. As a wise sage once said, “You Get Busy Living… or Get Busy Dying.” Having passed my half-life a full rotation of the sun ago, it looks like the latter marks my new marching orders. Sorry Tangina, I’m heading for the light.

How’s that for upbeat and cheery on your birthday? I have to admit that I’m being a little melodramatic purely for comic effect. Sure, it can hit you a little hard when you actually verbalize your age, but there’s that old saying that you are only as old as you feel. And, for the most part, I feel pretty good. In fact, sometimes I think I feel (and act) a little too young. More in a moment.

As we get older we start to take stock of our position in life on a more frequent basis. I’ve often written on this site about how I will, from time-to-time, get into a reflective mood where I look longingly at those roads not traveled. As you know, I am a HUGE movie fan and somewhere back in that rearview mirror, along this winding road I’ve traveled, rests the off ramp to film director or screenwriter or some profession employing the creative bent that really gets my juices flowing.

But, as I’ve often remarked, you take the do-over, reverse direction and suddenly the other good tidings that came your way erase from existence. And as I gaze upon my present position – my lovely wife Andi, my beautiful daughter Aria, my inspiring son Colin – I realize that we choose these roads for a reason and the destinations they take us to can prove to be more rewarding than we ever dreamed. Sure, there are choices I wish I made when I was younger but I wouldn’t change any of the choices I did make for it brought me to here, this place with this family – this life – which I wouldn’t trade for anything.

I don’t know about you but from time to time I feel wracked with guilt. As I’ve said before, I trust the hell out of all of ya’ that frequent this site so I have no problem laying some truths bare. This is the Internet, after all. The warmest, most welcoming land on Earth. (Or is it “a wretched hive of scum and villainy”???) I don’t know. I get that confused some times.

Anyway, the guilt comes from the way my mind works. Here I am, 36 years old. A caring father to two amazing children. A loving husband to a beautiful wife. A doting owner to two precious lab pups – Abby and Chatham. An owner of a modest home perched on a decent stretch of land. A dedicated employee (and recently promoted Vice President – one of MANY) to a sizable financial services technology company (which shall remain nameless so they don’t track me down in cyberspace). And with all of that, comes the fair assortment of stresses and responsibilities – the household chores, the yard work, the bills, the appointments, the child raising and educating and nurturing, the relationship building, the vet visits, the doc visits, the swim lessons, the gymnastics classes, my own gym visits (not as frequent as they should be). All that and much, much more. Of course, most of these things are handled in tandem with my wife who performs Herculean tasks to keep our ship running smoothly on a daily basis but you get the point and most of you share similar pain. This world throws a lot of work at us.

And I’d like to pat myself on the back (and throw a collective pat your way) for doing it all and not drowning in the rising sea of responsibility.

So where’s the guilt come from?

Despite the fact that I man up and tackle the tasks as they come (as a husband, as a father, as an employee, as a home owner) – at the end of the day I may be 36 but I still think like an 18 year old. I get hooked on certain serialized television shows (The X-Files begat Alias which begat 24 which begat my current obsession, Lost). I’ve been gaming since the early 80’s and have migrated from the Atari 2600 to the NES to the Sega Genesis to the Sony Playstation (and it’s successor) to the XBOX and Gamecube to the current generation of XBOX 360 and Wii (and my mouth waters at the PS3 and Metal Gear Solid 4). On the web I’ll bound from grabbing my news at Boston.com & CNN to EW (Entertainment Weekly) and Ain’t It Cool News for my pop-culture fix to IGN and Gamespot for the gaming 411. I’m even on staff at Adrenaline Vault where I provide frequent game reviews. And as a child of the cinema, I look forward to the latest celluloid treats and while my tastes have matured over the years (I still have to see my Coen Bros boys’ latest masterpiece, No Country For Old Men as well as PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood) I find that I get giddy as a school boy whenever I hear about the latest big-screen comic adaptation (meaning The Dark Knight can’t fall soon enough). And while I’ll enjoy a good novel from time-to-time, I’ll also tear into graphic novels with the same enthusiasm as a scholar deciphering the Dead Sea scrolls. I’m just a sucker for a good story.

And my guilt comes from the fact that I can’t see my Dad’s generation sharing the same passion for some of these trivial pursuits. Now, don’t get me wrong, my Dad is a huge movie fan, reads with reckless abandon, and I’ve seen him jockey a joystick from time to time – although the puzzle games are more his speed. So, I share a lot in common with him. The catch is, he does a lot of this stuff today. His kids are all grown up with kids of their own. He’s got the time.

Now, I guess the guilt would be warranted if I had DSS (Department of Social Services) banging down the door while I played GTA IV and my children were found wandering in traffic. But such is not the case. We’re fortunate. We’ve got a good family structure. We live on a nice rural stretch of land in the middle of nowhere (although we did our time in the city). And, by and large, I engage in my own hobbies once the world has quieted for the night. I’m not a random channel surfer. I’ve got a small handful of shows I watch. I’m a huge Red Sox/Patriots fan (which these days makes me the Devil) and aside from that – I like to play a game, read a book, see a movie. Simple pleasures to ease the stresses of the normal nine-to-five day-to-day.

So why am I wracked with guilt?

Because, I can’t see my Dad, when he was my age, looking forward to the same things I do. I’m chomping at the bit for The Dark Knight. I can’t wait to wrangle my mitts on a PS3 controller and play through Solid Snake’s latest (and potentially last) adventure in Metal Gear Solid 4. I’m kicking myself over the 8-month hiatus we have until Lost returns. And like I said, I can’t imagine my Dad ever had the same thoughts rattling on his brain when he had a five year old son, a four year old daughter and a newborn under his charge some time in the late 70’s. My feeling is his mind may have been full with greater concerns – as in where that next meal was going to come from and how he was going to put one of us – any of us – through school at some point.

Of course, then I remember that things were different for he and my mom than they are for my wife and I. These were generational differences too. For starters, many people in that generation married and had kids much earlier than they seem to now. My wife and I waited a bit (marrying in our late 20’s – kids in our early 30’s) so by-and-large we had the home front established. Now, I’m not a rich man by any stretch but we’re able to make things work on my salary so Andi can stay home and raise the kids at this early juncture. Savings are certainly tight but things are comfortable.

The other thing that I realize is that my generation (call us the kids of the 80’s although certainly we had a juvenile stake in the 70’s) – anyway we didn’t have any major events that forced us to grow up real quick. No World War II. No Vietnam. I guess you could argue the latter days of The Cold War (I certainly recall nightmares following The Day After) but even that curtain fell quickly before I exited High School. With no draft preying on us, there was no real call to grow up real fast (although some could argue that my generation was wracked with divorce – my children alone have 8 grandparents (all divorced and remarried) so you can do the math) and so many of my peers have held on to the entertainments that we grew up with. I can’t let go of the video games. Sean’s got his comics. My cousin Jason has his action figures. With all the world throws at us, we still have our security blankets.

Or maybe I’m just being too hard on myself. There’s a part of me that wins this internal struggle with a pretty sound argument. You should never be ashamed of your passion. They are all forms of art (even the games – play Shadow of the Colossus and just try and prove me wrong) and art will always inspire our species – we of the evolved brain. It’s instinct and it’s who we are so just try and suppress it. It can’t be done. So just because war and strife and high Iran Hostage Crisis gas prices (uh oh) made our parents grow up a bit quicker than they may have liked, that doesn’t mean that we need to feel guilt at finding a niche that helps us feel better on a day-to-day basis. So long as those kids are fed and the grass is mowed and the tax man is kept at bay.

Geez – this rambling manifesto has become therapy in its own right. The point is, and my wife can attest to this, I carry a lot of self-imposed guilt over the things I am passionate about and sometimes it takes a little inward reflection to realize its silly to beat yourself up. So long as you hold yourself up as a moral person, that you accept your responsibilities, that you enjoy your family and crave your life with them and your friends and every other good person you’re fortunate to come in contact with, then why begrudge those elements of your life, those unique interests that make YOU, so intrinsically… YOU.

So, I guess at the age of 36, as I begin my descent towards that dark decade ahead, I really aught to just completely chill out and enjoy it. What the hell, we only get one life. We might as well enjoy every last moment of it.

Wherever you are this eve, tip your Corona or Sam Adams or mojito or Cosmo or flask or SunnyD or CapriSun or whatever you call your poison in my general direction and wish me a happy 36th.

After all, it could me much worse.

I could be 37.

See you next year!!!

Comments now closed (15)

  • “Letting the days go by, water flowing underground…”

    As an avid action figure collector and someone who regularly watches all manner of cartoons, I let go of that guilt long ago. I feel pretty secure in my adulthood, but there’s no question I still love many things are have long been associated with being a kid.

    I do think part of it is just perspective– the boys’ toys used to be custom vans, vinyl records and motorcycles and now it’s videogames, flatscreen TVs and “collectible” action figures.

    Then again, there’s definitely a generational aspect to all this. Even though you only have half a decade on me, Ed, it’s right along that generational fault line between Generation X and…whatever the next generation is. So while I don’t understand the appeal of constant texting (like my younger sister), I do feel a bit more comfortable with my love of so-called childish things.

    In any event, I leave you with this quote from author C.S. Lewis (creator of the “Narnia” series):

    “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

  • Ed, I think I may finally have met my match in introspection. I’m 36 too, turning 37 in November and with my kids getting older I’m trying to get a handle on what exactly I want my life to be. So maybe it’s just the biology of midish-thirties. But when I read your lovely wife’s recipe for happiness (wife+mother+singing=happy), it sounded much like mine. It sounds like you have a huge appreciation for what you have, which is key to happiness, but you wouldn’t be human if your mind didn’t go to that old Robert Frost poem from time to time. Don’t worry…live the life you’ve been given the best way you can. Our generation has the ability to dictate what “grown up” means to us, so enjoy that freedom, enjoy your family, and keep on writing!

  • @Kerry: My 8th Grade English teacher had that excerpt from Frost posted on her wall and I remember staring at that poster – a path splitting into two diverse routes through an autumnal forest – and feeling that quote “Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood… and I took the one less traveled by… and it has made all the difference” and just feeling the words tattooing themselves upon my brain.

    So ingrained in my brain are they that in college I started a screenplay entitled – “Two Roads Diverged” – the theme has just stuck with me.

    Every time I travel too far down the road of choices not made, I’m pulled back to my happy life by those that I did.

    Personally – for me – the major do-over that I would wish for is career wise. I fell into my profession post-graduation simply because I needed to earn some scratch, with the caveat that it would be “just one year”.

    Fourteen years later…

    That said, I’ve done well but there is that itch inside that wishes my career were somewhere where my interests lie.

    … but, this Blog has been a nice lifeline. And I’ve always felt that having a reader, just one, is payment enough.

    With that said, I’m feeling rather wealthy today.

  • Yeah, I think it is totally a generational thing. Each generation has had different ideas of how to pass your downtime. Our generation has been able to grow up slower than previous ones. I have a lot of thoughts around this, so in an effort to be short with the comment, I’ll point to that old maxim, “Work hard. Play hard.” (I hate that maxim, but it works here…)

    I think our generation works a lot more than past generations, so because we seemingly have less downtime, that leads to greater scrutiny of how we are spending it. Even if you are working 40 hours at the office, it isn’t just 40 hours a week spent on work. There’s the commute, the take home work, the occassional after hours/weekend support, etc. It all takes away from what is really the important time in life. The time away from work is best (it doesn’t matter if you love your job).

    So, if you feel you are spending enough time with your family, keeping up the homestead and that work is making that happen well enough, then why worry what you do with the rest of the time outside of that? I think we all get more excited about that stuff because we have less time to spend on it and because there are so many more ways to spend it than in the past.

    If you’re happy, then you’re happy. No one should question how or why. Not even you. Just be happy. 🙂

    BTW: Happy Birthday buddy!

  • SHEEESH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I log in to see what’s going on inside my birthday ED, and half way through I want to take my waaaayyyy older self and crawl into a hole!! Your dear ol’ Uncle Ron turned 53 last week ( for fun, please ask him about his Milwaukee pub crawl and drunk-dialing his daughter 2 days ago-and remember, MEN NEVER GROW UP!!)and I allowed him about 2 sentences of his own retrospective.I remember laughing about turning thirty, crushed at 40, and completely and utterly distraught at 50! And I’m still here, sometimes feeling just as joyful and awestruck at my son and daughter as you so eloquently describe for yours…and wonder how did I end up in the job I have…what made me refuse the initial Asst. Curator’s job at the JFK Library… what a gift I have in husband…where will I be 5 years from now…10…15 ( okay, we older folk STOP there!). Pretty much what you are thinking at 36.

    And with that, I will DEFINITELY lift a lovely glass of something this evening and toast your birthday!! Happy Birthday!

  • @ Sean….”I think our generation works a lot more than past generations”
    You are absolutely delusional…whatever you are drinking, please toast your buddy with THAT, because there is clearly nothing stronger on the planet

  • Although – I think what Sean means to say is not so much generational but more along the lines of this era. That in the wireless age, people don’t unplug when they leave the office – that work follows them everywhere as technology has allowed it to. Go back 10 or 20 years and when you left work, you left work. So – these days, it’s more of a round the clock thing for more and more people.

  • I will admit that there might be a point to the techno-connected part of a job, but I hate to burst bubbles, those of us that started out only bringing work home to work on in our briefcase now find ourselves tethered first by beepers, then pagers, then cell-phones,then Nextels, then the ultimate intrusion ( so far) blackberries and laptops. We referred to them as electronic leashes.Family life, or even a well-adjusted singles life, demands that you learn to turn them all off.On the other hand, so many people can now comfortably work from home, in their ‘jammies, holding the baby or walking the dog at lunch!

  • Thanks for bailing me out on that one Ed! 🙂

    He is right, that’s more where I meant to go with that rambling. I certainly don’t believe our generation is the first to work extra hours! I’m saying that it is more of a cultural norm for our generation to work longer hours and/or never really be disconnected from work when not physically there.

    Oh, and Ed, if you want to go out drinking some night and get delusional (sounds like fun), the birthday drinks are on me. We better designate a driver though… :mrgreen: