Note: I’m writing, of course, from the perspective that the Dad in your life is worth listening to and isn’t currently sitting in a bunker wearing a tinfoil hat proclaiming that the duckbilled platypuses are taking over the world using microwaves. Maybe insert the wise older person of your choice wherever I say “Dad.”
As I get closer to 40, I have this false notion that I have a lot of life figured out.
You should have seen me in my 20s. I was flailing around, working in marketing and sales, and pretty much playing house. I was also considerably thinner – looking back, I was a handsome devil. That didn’t last long. But what thinner-me had that older-me doesn’t is a whole list of things he didn’t understand.
The old saying goes that the more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know. That’s true. But that infinite amount of not-knowing is often tempered by experience, which I think can create a false sense of security. Back in my 20s, I bought a house, dealt with a mouse and fly infestation, changed careers twice, learned that I hate homeowner associations, and was rear-ended at a dead stop by a guy doing 50. Every day, I was faced with things I have never experienced before. I think I called my dad daily with one new panic event or another.
Then came my 30s, which are rapidly winding down. I put myself on a steady weight-gain, bought another house because it was closer to my work, switched careers to teaching, and had a kid. When you have a kid, the list of things you don’t know suddenly grows exponentially. But I had more experience. I had been downsized twice by this point and could navigate unemployment compensation and job-hunting better than the people at the Lancaster area Careerlink. I had been a homeowner twice and had a list of people who could fix the things that went wrong in a house. My car was more reliable. The things I called dad about decreased, but I still frequently called. Each new phase with Timmy started with a panicked phone call for Dad to say it was normal. Even though I was calling a lot about Timmy stuff, the other reasons I called Dad for decreased. Mostly, I called to complain about my job.
Then I moved back home. I didn’t have my list of people to call to fix things, so I had to call Dad. Some things, Dad or my brother did. Others, they recommended someone. Still some others, Dad taught me how to do. Each new project that went off without a disaster built up that confidence that I had missed in my 20s.
I’ve heard it said that your 20s are like the first level of a video game, but you don’t get that tutorial that explains the controls. You have to figure them out as you go. It’s true to an extent. I’m sure it’s worse for people who don’t have great parents and parents-in-law to call for advice. I have been blessed with many people I can trust who are further along on the road than I am. I have noticed one thing, though. I don’t ask them for advice as much anymore.
The best part about good parents, parents-in-law, and grandparents is that they don’t stop giving that advice. When you stop calling, they still keep an eye on what you’re doing and jump in from time to time to make you rethink your actions.
Recently, Dad jumped in. I had made a careless mistake – the kind you make without thinking about all the implications and the ways people may feel or misinterpret, sometimes intentionally! In my mind, it was benign. But Dad, further along in the newspaper columnist world, didn’t think so. He reminded me that I don’t really get to be a private citizen when I get space in a newspaper. He told me to stop and THINK about it. Of course, with overconfidence, you go through that whole rationalization – It’s not a big deal! I know what I meant! – and then I took the time to project ahead. To imagine. To see the world from Dad’s more-experienced place.
And he was right. Of course.
I guess you’re never too old to listen to Dad.
As long as I have the opportunity to write this column, I have to remember to think and then rethink. That means I have to step back and listen to the wisdom of someone who has done this sort of thing a lot longer than I have.
(Which is one of the ways I knew that the proper plural for platypus is platypuses and not platypi.)