Getting older, perhaps not wiser.
It’s going so quick. I would never have thought. Hitting the big 4 — O next year, but still really feel like a twenty-two year old. “Grow up man!” I tell myself. But I have. I’ve got three children, a wife, a mortgage and a dog. Oh yes and a career, sort of… I’ve been full-time employed for fourteen years now. Even when I’m off or my baby has kept me awake during the night, I wake up at 6.30, conditioned by the merciless drum of the nine to five treadmill.
Like many of us, I spend far more time staring at numerous screens throughout the day, than looking at leaves rustling in the wind, clouds drifting through the sky or the beautiful eyes of my baby daughter. My brain is fed continuously — images and information — from around the globe, as I ache to be connected to the human family, marching past the window-sill of my laptop or phone screen, including me, involving me, making me one of them.
All the grown-up things I do — sorting out health insurance, investigating schools to send my kids to, ironing my shirts, feeding my dog, reading articles, involving myself in debates, cooking dinner, worrying about my rotund little belly that struggles to confine itself within the bounds of youthfulness and elegance and making life choices which are not just for me, but my family — how grown up can you be? Should I not also be thinking about my pension? Career progression? Future prospects? Spiritual fulfilment?
And yet, sometimes I feel like a poser. I wear my work mask, my husband mask, my father mask — I wear them pretty much all the time, it becomes hard to recognize them as masks any longer. Maybe I have morphed into all my roles? Have they absorbed me or have I absorbed them? Have I expanded my repertoire — my range of personal dispositions? Am I really connected with the human family which passes me by as the object of study?
The wider world excites me, but also freaks me out if I’m perfectly honest. At times, that human family seems miles away — driven by greed, indifference, stupidity, suffering and anger. I loathe the racism, the corporate greed, the destruction of our planet, the lies, the inequality and the ignorance that seems to dominate humanity. It does not correspond to the smiles and the laughter I see in the real world, on the streets of chaos all around me. In the cafes and bars or the schools that I visit. Or to the smiles of my children, who greet me as I step through the door. They are good, more than that.
When my 8-year old asks me existential questions, he expects me to know and sometimes, I pretend I do, even though, quite clearly, I hardly have all the answers. I suppose this is what our parents did — they were winging it. Call me naïve, but until I was about twenty-six, I still considered them near perfect. Wise, in control, having it all figured out with the world at their feet. Then they came crashing down. They were faulty, weak, petty and vulnerable. Their humanness disappointed me. I was angry at them — liars! Fakers! Posers!
But in time, it made me love them more. They were real.
My children have entrusted me with the guardianship of their world. And although it is perfectly natural, it is also truly terrifying. When something is broken, they ask me to fix it. When they are worried, they look to me to offer them comfort. Will they one day see my weaknesses? Knock me off the pedal stool they have naturally placed me on? Will their world come crashing down when they start seeing the world as it really is or can be? Beyond the playground which it is as a child? Do I shield them from reality as long as I can?
All these questions — they really do press on me. My urge to educate struggles with my urge to protect. My inclination to pass judgement clashes with my realization that children are open, unspoilt and spontaneous. We passed by a cemetery the other day and my five-year-old asked me: “Daddy…. do loads of people come here just before they die?” He thought they did. I was almost too touched to give a proper answer. Then I pulled myself together and mumbled something about people coming together to celebrate life and community and creating a spot they can visit to remember their lost ones who have passed.
I learn everyday as my fortieth approaches quick. Am I getting wiser? My eldest will soon be ten years old. Perhaps he can educate me for a few more years. I certainly hope he can.