Dad Sean just turned 40. He had an amazing independence when he was younger, but he would not trade what he has now to get it back. Here’s why.
It’s easy to romanticize the past. I look back on my teenage years and I remember being a carefree and confident idealist, not an awkward and overweight misfit. My twenties are not a decade of chaos, but a series of adventures and new beginnings. Looking back on my thirties there are no shades of grey; too recent to be past, the truth of the last decade is black and white.
I said goodbye to 29 while sitting in a bar in Hoboken, New Jersey. I was horrified to be turning 30, surrounded by mistakes and certain that I had done nothing more than waste the last 29 years of my life. It didn’t matter that I was the first person in my family to go to college or that I had spent a year studying abroad in England or that I had realized my lifelong dream of living in New York, I was a failure. It was not the best attitude to take into my thirties.
I’m not sure what it was that I was meant to have accomplished by the time I reached 30. I never had any great career aspirations or the desire to be rich and famous or a need to leave an impression, except suddenly I did. I suppose I wanted those things I didn’t have simply because I didn’t have them and if I couldn’t, or didn’t, have them then I’d pass the time stewing in a soup of regret in some dimly lit bar.
There is nothing more self-defeating than regret. Regret is a constant reminder of bad choices. Regret is failing even when you succeed. Regret is yesterday and last week, but never right now. Regret is pointless. In my thirties I stopped having regret. In my thirties I finally realized that every choice, every experience, every everything had helped me to get to this very moment, now. Regret wasn’t my enemy, regret was my friend.
If I could go back to that bar ten years ago I would celebrate. I would realize that being an awkward teenager had laid the foundation to become a confident adult. I would understand that every wrong turn was a new beginning. I would raise a glass to leaving college one credit short of graduation because in that moment I was choosing a path that two months later would lead me to Todd. I would embrace every obstacle because without those obstacles I would not be who I am.
I could look back at my thirties and remember the bad times, of which there were many. I could focus on the difficult years in my relationship with Todd. I could get lost in a maze of ill-conceived friendships and toxic relationships. I could punish myself for time wasted. But those moments and those people led me to now. Without all of it the timing would have been wrong. They gave me my marriage and my house and my job and my friends. They gave me my sons.
These last days of my thirties have been the best days of my life. It’s hard to imagine that me at 29 would appreciate me at 39. I don’t think my former self would understand the joy of quiet nights at home surrounded by family. I suspect he would rather be in a bar slamming back his fourth glass of regret, wondering where it all went wrong. I won’t judge him though. He made me the person I am today.
On the day I turned 40 I had the sudden realization that my life was very possibly more than half over. It was a sobering thought. One that recently woke me from a night of half sleeps and disjointed dreams. My life is very possibly more than half over. And now I am left with this thought early on a Sunday morning. It keeps me awake and the dogs know I’m awake because they have started to do the Dance of the Full Bladder on my full bladder. Todd, no longer snoring, graciously offers to take them outside and make coffee, leaving me alone to ponder my half life.
It’s a good life. I’ve done a lot. I’ve made friends. I’ve made impressions. I’ve seen the world. I’ve kissed a girl. I’ve kissed a boy. I’ve had great romances and passionate affairs. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve been happy and I’ve been sad. I’ve known great joy and even greater disappointment. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve said I’m sorry. I’ve laughed. I’ve been a husband. I’ve been a father.
And that’s what it’s all about. It took me 38 years to become a parent, and yet it seems my life did not begin until the day I first met my son. So maybe my life is half over, or maybe it’s just beginning.
Either way it continues. More living. More adventures. Starting now.
I have the freedom to strive for more. Because I’m awake.
Photo: Flickr/Hans Jorg Allef