If you want to feel like a kid again, every once in a while you gotta act like one.
With all there is to worry about as a middle-aged guy, sometimes you just gotta let go. That doesn’t mean embracing your favorite vice more passionately than usual. It doesn’t mean punching walls, or beating drums in the woods, or even going to Vegas. Sometime you just gotta be willing to jump, get airborne, and take flight, even for just an instant. It can mean all the difference for your state of mind.
It’s a gorgeous Saturday afternoon in August at the Elephant Rock Beach Club in Westport Harbor, Massachusetts. Blue sky, sand, teenagers checking each other out, kids boogie boarding. The lifeguards have a green flag up, which means anyone dumb enough to swim out to the rock and jump has their permission.
A massive rock in the shape of an elephant, covered in barnacles and gull scat, sits a hundred yards off shore. Waves crash over the shoulders of the beast, its head thirty feet high, pointed out to sea. The stone is sheared off the backside, sloping not directly down, but gently away from the peak.
The night before, I lost a bet with our visiting guests from Atlanta about the draft position of Boston College grad Matt Ryan. (I bet that he was drafted fifth or later in the 2008 NFL draft—turns out he was drafted third.) The penalty was a big jump—not that I needed any extra prompting, truth be told.
The water is a perfect sixty-eight degrees. I wade in and a four-foot wave hits me in the chest. I dive in and swim freestyle, with my head up to keep track of where I’m going. When I get to the giant elephant, I stick my feet out to the seaweed-covered rocks as the water surges up and down, and I’m waiting for an in-surge so I can stand and push forward to grab a piece of granite.
Once on the rock, I climb up to the top and take one look at the poop-covered takeoff zone to make sure of my direction. Then I pace off ten steps (the outward slope means that both forward velocity and some good fortune with the timing of waves are required to hit water). Then I go full blast. No hesitation.
In midair the world goes quiet, and I have a feeling of pure joy and freedom.
I hit the water cleanly, with a grin on my face, and ride the waves back into the beach.
An hour later, I agree to run forty-yard dashes in the sand with a ten-year-old southern football prodigy, his dad holding the stopwatch. We decide on a best-of-seven contest.
Against the 90-pounder, I’m slow out of the blocks every time. Getting my 225-pound frame in motion isn’t as easy as it used to be, but once I’m going, I’m like a freight train on a downhill stretch. My old man arms are pumping furiously, and every muscle in my body is straining toward the finish line, but I feel like I’m in mid-air again, soaring toward my destination.
On this beautiful August day, as I sprint care-free down the beach, it occurs to me: if you want to feel like a kid again, every once in a while you gotta let go, and act like one.
It turns out we’re evenly matched, the boy and the old man. It’s tied, three apiece, going into the last race. The kid is off to a good start, but he looks back just long enough for me to catch him with my last stride.
It’s a tie.
Okay, now call the ambulance.
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In September, 2009, Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.