I occasionally go to Denny’s late at night to enjoy a bit of nostalgia via a cup of really bad diner coffee. Apparently, so does Grant Andrew, a man with a hedge-thick beard and a voice made for radio work. When he acknowledged me with a tip of his mug, I couldn’t help but ask if I might join him and ask a few questions. We spoke about what he’s been learning recently, and I tell his story here, in his own words.
My youngest son is a senior in high school and so I can see that I’m – not coming to the end of the line – but I’m definitely changing cars. I was a young father. I was a kid, then I had kids and became a parent, and now I have to learn how to be an adult, which is a completely different world.
As I let the reins out on my children and accept that their choices and directions are going to be different than the ones that I might’ve laid out for them, I get to recognize them as coming into their own and transitioning into adulthood in some of the same ways that I’m transitioning into … whatever this is. They’re becoming peers with their parents. What they don’t know – and probably can’t fully understand yet – is that getting a driver’s license or becoming old enough to drink, or any of those cultural demarcations, are just the uniform of adulthood and are not themselves maturity. When I find myself in the company of people who are significantly older, I feel young. My reactions and perspectives and ways of looking at the world are fundamentally different than theirs. So am I old, am I young, or are the both just moving targets?
Here’s what’s really funny to me: My children and I are on the same level in some ways, particularly in the sense that they’ve now inherited the problems of adulthood that are just like mine. If they blow the engine in their car, it’ll cost them the same as it would if the engine in my car blew. The other day, my daughter had two flat tires, which is exactly the same kind of problem that I have and that would derail my day. There was a point in time in which any problem my child had could be solved with a pacifier. Now, not so much. But I also recognize that my perspectives on things, and my experience with them, is vastly different than what they have to draw from. There are still places where I can be helpful to them as they navigate the uniform of adulthood and how they want to wear it, and I also understand that, to someone in their 70s, my approach still could use some honing. I have more respect than ever for the wisdom of years.
Our culture is sort of funny that way. We have these demarcations of age – driving, drinking, voting, serving in the military – and once you hit them, we basically say, “OK, you’re free to go.” At first, you’re overwhelmed with these changes, because they’re just so huge and coming so quickly. “I can drive now!” “I can drink now! My God!” But it takes you a few years before you look around and say, “Wait, I might not have this as together as I thought.” The rush of those little accoutrements fades and you realize that there’s still a lot of work to do and things to learn. It’s like being a Boy Scout. You get these little badges, and that’s exciting because it’s an acknowledgment that you’re doing something right. Then they start to add up, and all of a sudden you find yourself in reach of becoming an Eagle Scout, which is exciting and you feel like you’ve made it. Then you realize that you’re an Eagle Scout, and you might also be an asshole and have to work to become a good person with some character and skills who can contribute to their society. Or not. [laughs]
I guess then, to answer your question, I’m learning that the story isn’t over just because a chapter’s finished. OK, you made it through kindergarten. OK, you made it through puberty. OK, you made it through your first job, your first fender bender, your first heartbreak. At each step you think, “Phew! Thank God that’s over!” only to find out that you’ll get your heart broken again, or you’ll actually wreck the car this time, or that it’ll be something good – you get the job and now you actually have to show up for work. So this chapter of being a parent and having my kids at home with me, is over, but another one’s starting.
Cyle Talley is a stodgy old misanthrope who suffers from reoccurring bouts of genuine fondness for people. Email him at: [email protected]