midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “youth”

Ode to a 33-Year Relationship that Ended Badly

She was a love of my life. We had 33 wonderful years together, from young adulthood well into midlife. But in the end, she got old, and her body, especially the most important parts, just wore out. Things loosened and sagged. Her usual sharp edges dulled. Midlife is unforgiving in that way. And she hurt me, cut me like a knife. I’m still scarred from our relationship.

Ultimately, I just had to let her go. Our relationship had been broken; she was damaged goods and couldn’t be fixed without making wholesale changes. I wish I could say I let her go gently, but that would be a lie. I discarded her like a piece of junk on a scrap heap, and never looked back. I knew she could easily be replaced with a better version that would make me feel safer, happier and livelier, maybe even younger, and eliminate my doubts and anxiety.

Though the ending was brutal, particularly for her, that should in no way invalidate the great times and adventures we enjoyed together, where we essentially operated as one finely-tuned unit.

We first got acquainted as college sweethearts, as I was entering my senior year. We got familiar with each other during those innocent times, spending weekends together in the idyllic small towns, rolling hills and farms of Upstate New York.

Over the next decade, she was a constant companion. We would travel together through the Montana and Canadian Rockies, sleeping under the stars and a light August snowfall; down the rugged Washington and Oregon coasts; amid tropical Florida barrier islands and quaint Vermont towns; and on long, carefree journeys through the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains. We enjoyed history together as well, touring the Gettysburg battlefields. We even competed together in triathlons, when she was in better shape than this last, disheartening year.

At home, she was always a loyal, steady and reliable partner. She was always there to pick me up,  ready to go when I needed to escape for a while, to clear my head, seek a change of scenery or just relax and re-energize.  For decades, I counted on her and returned her loyalty, even as I saw my contemporaries trade in their mates for younger, sleeker models. I admit to having envy, but I stuck by mine, perhaps stubbornly for too long.

Alas, all good things do come to an end. My longtime companion started giving me trouble last spring. Something was wrong with her, just wasn’t herself anymore. She became unreliable, nearly left me stranded a few times. Physically, she was breaking down, severely testing my patience. I took her to a specialist, and his prognosis was dire. The decline was irreversible without a major intervention.

Still, I decided to give her one more chance when others might have justifiably called it quits, taking her to Bethany Beach, DE with me for a summer 2017 of teaching tennis. We survived together for a while, but I was wary and it was touch-and-go whenever we spent time together. In short order, she let me down again. It was the last straw. I’d had enough. The relationship was irretrievably broken.

The grey Fuji Del Rey 12-speed touring bicycle that I had purchased for just more than $300 in 1984 had a drivetrain system that was worn and no longer functioning properly. The drive chain had become stretched and the gear teeth were dulled. If the pedal revolutions became too slow for the gear, the chain would detach from the gear teeth Bike_Fujiand the bike would become inoperable. Going up hills became an adventure, like in the movie Speed, where if the bus slowed to less than 50 mph a bomb on board would detonate. If I had to push too hard on the pedals, the chain would click…click…click…and fall off, leaving me on the side of the road trying to reattach the chain, hands blackened with grease.

The beach terrain is flat, so I thought I could milk one last summer out of my Fuji. On a backroads ride, I slowed too much for the gear I was in, and the chain detached. I reattached the chain, but apparently on the wrong gear ring. When I stepped on the pedal to start the wheels rolling, the chain detached and my leg crashed down onto the

BikeDismount (2)

The pair in happier times

gear teeth, leaving me with six cuts running up my right leg, a perfect imprint of the gear ring. I managed to reattach the chain correctly and ride another five miles home without incident, but bloodied. Months later, I still have the scars.

That was our last ride together, me and my ancient Fuji. I brought it home on a one-day trip back to Maryland and left it, where my wife unceremoniously placed it on the curb for trash pickup. I don’t know if a trash hauler saved her for a new life or crunched it into mangled metal. Either way, I didn’t care anymore. We had a past together, but I was over her. Me and Fuji, we were just so…yesterday.

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Listening

A follow up to my post on Facing the Music (from May 17, 2017, re-posted below), describing my invitation to have an authentic conversation with my young adult daughter Rebecca to hear her perspective on growing up in a family of divorce and the mistakes or oversights I may have made during those crucial years of development:

Time was running short, but I didn’t want to be a typical “all talk, no do” phony dad. I made my overture for an honest conversation just before I went to the beach for three months to teach tennis. Now I had less than two weeks back home until Rebecca traveled to France for a school year to teach English, and she was busy preparing and doing things with friends and family.

There seems never a good time to have difficult, uncomfortable and potentially distressing conversations. They’re easily avoided, and that’s what many people do, DiscussionTimeburying the hurt, anger, disappointment, sadness or other negative emotions until one day they boil over and surface in a torrent, providing release for the emotional-baggage carrier and a knockdown punch for the recipient of the pent-up emotions, unaware of the depth and intensity of feelings. I’ve been on both the unleashing and receiving ends of the bubbling emotional volcanos, and it’s never pretty.

A few days before Rebecca jetted off, we found ourselves together at home, and I broached the topic. Understandably, Rebecca was ambivalent about getting into an emotional conversation about past wounds and frustrations before embarking on an adventure of a lifetime. But she started talking, and I listened and asked questions.

I can’t reveal the content of what we discussed about our relationship and family life, and the complications and challenges Rebecca faced as a child, along with her younger brother, whose parents separated 12 years ago when she was 9 and ultimately divorced. It’s too private.

But I can say that at certain times I could have handled things better, that I was caught up in myself, that I made some mistakes, and that I was sometimes unaware of – or didn’t want to acknowledge – how much the kids observed, heard, knew or perceived, even at relatively young ages. Listening to Rebecca’s perspective and looking back, I can say how challenging it was for me to balance the needs, feelings, happiness, stability and security of my kids with my own needs, desires and emotions, and to try to lean toward selfless rather than selfish.

Divorce and eventual remarriage created some circumstances that ultimately were going to cause some distress for Rebecca individually and in our relationship, no matter what I did or said. The complexities of a marriage breakup and the constantly evolving aftermath can’t be fully grasped by a child, whose experience can be like that of a pinball ricocheting within a constrained environment. I experienced the pinball game as a child, and certainly didn’t understand everything that was going on with my divorced parents, and now so has Rebecca.

The beauty of our conversation was that Rebecca was able to tell me some things about what transpired from her perspective, what she experienced and how she felt honestly, and I was able to listen while squelching the default tendency to be defensive or critical.

We got through it with our relationship intact and expressions of love for each other. I’m hoping our conversation helps set a foundation for our future adult relationship, one in which we can be open and honest with each other without fear that we will be jeopardizing our relationship by revealing our feelings and with knowledge that we love each other unconditionally regardless of any conflicts, hurt feelings or differences that can be addressed and resolved.

So many relationships between fathers and adult children barely break the surface because of the dread of churning what lies beneath and what digging will uncover, or because of an inability, unwillingness or lack of desire to go deeper. Stoicism and emotional avoidance are drilled into males. I don’t want that type of relationship with my kids as they grow into adulthood. I want them to know and understand me, with all my attributes and faults, as I do them. I want us to be able to know and share our emotional selves. The only way to do that is to be emotionally available and vulnerable to them, and to show that I care about and want to know how they feel, and can handle it when they lay it on me.

One takeaway from our conversation is that whatever mistakes I made as Rebecca was growing up, I believe that she accepts my apologies, forgives my transgressions, acknowledges that I have tried to be a good and caring father and doesn’t expect me to be perfect. Our conversation was a good start toward setting the standard and expectation of our relationship for the future. I’m glad we each took the risk of having it instead of avoiding it.

Facing the Music (Midlife Dude Blog Post from May 17, 2017)

As my daughter Rebecca and I were discussing her sociology class on adolescence, she tangentially announced, “You and mom did a good job raising me.”

Surprised by an out-of-the-blue compliment, I asked, “What makes you say that?”

Rebecca explained that she does not view herself as materialistic, implying instead that she values experiences and relationships above things. We provided for her needs and many wants, but we didn’t overindulge, and didn’t replace our caring, attention and presence with materials, she was saying.

As a 21-year-old sociology major graduating from the University of Maryland in four days, she has learned about inequality, justice, race, poverty, privilege, human development and other similar topics, helping her become more insightful and introspective about her own life, and more astute about distinctions among individuals and communities.

I was happy to hear Rebecca praise our parenting, since her mom and I broke up when she was 9. My biggest fear about our divorce was that it would cause emotional and psychological problems for Rebecca and younger brother Daniel.

“So we did a lot of things right,” I said, fishing for more praise.

“Yeah, but not everything,” she said, adding the inevitable disclaimer.

“What didn’t we do so well?”

“There were things I haven’t talked to you about.”

We were headed to an Easter celebration, so there wasn’t time, and it wasn’t the right time, to get below the surface. But I kept the conversation in my memory, committed to return to it.

I did that last weekend, inviting Rebecca to have an open discussion with me as a young adult, reflecting on her experiences as a pre-teen and teenager, the positive and the negative, the gratifying and the disappointing, the supportive and the hurtful.

That conversation, I recognize, will require certain things of me, to be constructive rather than destructive or dismissive:  I’ll want to approach it as a listener, not a talker, and with an open-minded, non-judgmental, non-defensive attitude. Because I know my temptation, like any parent told in retrospect they weren’t as magnificent as they believed, will be to explain or justify or rationalize or correct the record, which would only serve to shut down Rebecca, diminish openness, trust and honesty and invalidate her experiences and feelings. My current training in counseling should help me control such urges.

I would like to give Rebecca the chance to have an open forum with me without fear of reprisal or disengagement. I believe it’s important to transition into our adult relationship with everything in the open, past issues revealed and understood, nothing left unsaid, as the foundation for our future interactions and communications.  It’s the key to an emotionally healthy, genuine father-daughter relationship.

I don’t know what she will say to me. I don’t know if I’ll be surprised. I don’t know what emotions it will trigger. But I want to hear it. I know I had good intentions throughout her childhood, and did my best as a father. But I also know I made mistakes. And I know the fact of divorce created situations and triggered emotions that were difficult, or perhaps impossible, to manage without having an impact on the kids. 

Facing the music about my role and impact as a divorced (and remarried) father in my daughter’s life will increase my awareness and, I hope, strengthen my ability to relate to Rebecca. It’s worth whatever discomfort or ego deflation it may cause me.

What Brown Can Do for Me

What can Brown do for me?

Brown can hire my son and give him real-world, corporate, big-business experience in his chosen  field in college; offer him a sturdy rung on the base of the career ladder; teach him about the discipline, responsibility, accountability, integrity, honesty, Daniel_UPSteamwork and communications that comprise effective work environments; play a role in his maturation; and help him build a financial nest egg before launch into the adult world, all while he is still a teenager. That’s what Brown can do for me – and my 19-year-old son Daniel.

After years of watching United Parcel Service’s (UPS) television ads asking, “What can Brown do for you?” and seeing the brown vans with the brown-clad delivery personnel rolling through my neighborhood, I never expected that the world’s largest package delivery company and provider of supply chain management solutions would be hiring my son as a college freshman to assist with its information technology and data management operations.

For some time as a high school senior, Daniel seemed indifferent about work. But he made a 180-degree turn in his attitude, initiative and motivation, without undue parental pressure or requirements.

He started during his senior year in high school as a restaurant worker, preparing food and grilling in the kitchen and helping customers behind the service counter. To my surprise, he chose to maintain his job after enrolling as a freshman at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC), even though his employer was 30 minutes away from campus. He kept that job for nearly his entire freshman year.

In his freshman spring semester, Daniel, a computer science major, attended a job fair on campus, connecting with UPS, which hired him as an intern. Among the benefits of an internship at UPS are that the position is paid, and it lasts more than a semester, or even a year. UPS’s internship can last throughout a college career, as the company uses its internship program as a recruitment tool for grooming future full-time employees.

Of course, since Daniel is a computer science major taking a full load of computer systems, math, informatics and science courses, and I am a liberal arts major who has worked in journalism, public relations and the social sciences, I have a hard time understanding what he is doing day-to-day.

But this is what I got from his description: Daniel works in the world of Big Data, which Wikipedia describes as “data sets that are so large and complex that traditional data processing application software is inadequate,” and includes challenges such as capturing data, data storage, data analysis, search, sharing, and other functions. As someone who is perplexed by Small Data, I am quite impressed.

As Daniel describes it, he is an application developer who deals in the areas of customer engagement and quality control. He tracks and monitors UPS data centers and deals with code that helps keep track of data. He helps ensure that UPS’s delivery technology is working for its customers. He is a trouble-shooter.

As a father, I am proud and gratified to see my son holding down a professional job, working as a colleague with adults, becoming more independent, developing a work ethic, learning the value of earning a living and of saving for the future, investing in himself, juggling work and school, and evaluating through experience what he would like to do with his career before he is tossed into “the real world.”

Many young adults wind up directionless in their 20s, and squander precious time trying, sometimes unsuccessfully, to identify interests and passions, and how those can translate to making a living, or in working in dead-end jobs in which they have little interest or future. I know a few fathers whose sons have dealt with these challenges, and both the fathers and sons have had difficult times as a result, both as individuals and in their relationships.

So what can Brown do for me? Quite simply, it is helping my son get a good start on his adult life, which brings me peace of mind. And that’s invaluable for a parent.

Nostalgia for the Chevrolet Corvair – and Youth

There’s something about certain cars that causes me to immerse in a wave of nostalgia.

Today while doing an errand, strolling through a parking lot full of late model SUVs, sedans and minivans, I came upon a 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa that stopped me in my tracks.

I’m not a gearhead by any means and know relatively little about cars. But I love certain iconic cars that remind me of my youth, from the late 1960s through the 1970s: the Ford corvair-2Pinto, Ford Maverick and Ford Mustang; the AMC Gremlin, AMC Pacer (introduced to later generations as the Wayne’s World car) and AMC Javelin; the Chevy Vega, Chevy Camaro and Chevy Nova; the Dodge Dart Swinger; the Opel Manta and the VW Karmann Ghia. I collected Matchbox cars as a kid – that may account for some of my fascination.

The look of the Corvair always intrigued me. I don’t know why. It looks almost like a sports car, but not quite. It’s got the unusual four headlights in front, like an extra set of eyes, and four little round red tail lights in back, like flashing doughnuts. Its body seems really flat and low to the ground. It’s just cool. And you rarely see them on the roads these days.

As I snapped a photo and stood to admire the old-timer in a sea of infants, the owner approached and began talking to me. He must have been accustomed to people stopping to examine his car. He told me he owned three Corvairs, including one he originally purchased in 1965. The model he was driving this day was an Aztec rust-colored 1966 Corvair Corsa that he purchased about 25 years ago from a farmer who advertised the car for sale on his property. We talked for about five minutes about the novelty of driving a 50-year-old Corvair today, and how the model gained national attention when consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader went on a crusade claiming the Corvair was unsafe.

Some of my fascination also is plain nostalgia for my youth, when times seemed simpler, when I felt more free, unbound by the typical worries, responsibilities, expectations and pressures of adulthood.

Whenever I see NFL Films footage from the 1960s and 1970s, the slow motion football shots with grass flying and players grimacing inside helmets, with the symphonic music, it immediately takes me back to that more innocent time.

In my early 50s, I have become more nostalgic not so much for my boyhood youth, but for the most carefree time of my adulthood, my relative youth, when I transitioned from my frigid upstate New York college to the palm trees and sunshine of Gulf Coast Florida. I moved back to the Northeast after two years, but frequently find myself reminiscing about the more laid-back, tropical environment I experienced. Recently I’ve been pondering making a return to a similar, more casual and warmer region from the busier, fast-paced, colder Northeast.

Seeing the Corvair brings me back in time, just like my memories of living on a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, which I memorialized in my book, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet.

The Corvair is frozen in time – a decade of production ceased in 1969 – but I’m not. I have to examine whether my yearning is merely nostalgia or something in my gut telling me that something more nourishing for my spirit is beckoning me on the horizon.

Going, Going, Gone!

A week ago I lugged my son Daniel’s mini-refrigerator and cartful of computer equipment to a cramped dorm room at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) and officially became an empty nester. My daughter Rebecca left home for good later the same weekend to move into her new apartment at the University of Maryland.DanAdam2_PotomacHall

Since I’ve been gone all summer scraping together income to fuel my midlife career transition odyssey – except for one-day-per-month visits back home – teaching tennis at the Sea Colony Tennis resort in Bethany Beach, DE, the kids’ flight hasn’t fully registered with me yet. But when I return home for good on Labor Day night, I’ll be faced with the fact that my role as a parent has changed.

My kids have become so much more independent in the last year. Rebecca spent a semester in France and traveled throughout Europe. Daniel became more social, broadened his circle of friends, with whom he traveled to Ocean City, MD for Senior Week and California over the summer, connected with a steady girlfriend, got his first job at which he is advancing and earned college scholarship funds.

They’re becoming young adults, and our relationships will change. I am curious what those relationships will be like.

Since they are attending colleges nearby, they’ll be around on occasion, but now their college residences are their primary addresses. I am going to miss having one or both kids around the house on a regular basis.

I’m thinking the transition may be easier for me than for parents in an intact family. My kids lived with me only half the time for about half of their childhoods, since they were 9 and 7, because of my divorce. I always felt sad when I brought the kids back to their mom’s on Sunday evenings after a week with me, knowing I was going back to an emptier house and that I would likely only see them one time over the next week for dinner. The necessity to adjust to the back and forth, every other week arrangement I hope will help me adapt to this new transitional scenario.

Still, there’s nothing like your kids branching out on their own and establishing their independent lives to let you know you are advancing to new and later stages of life. I taught many kids tennis this summer and met their parents. I couldn’t help thinking those parents were me a decade ago, enjoying family vacations at the beach and doing fun kid things like walking the boardwalk at night and sliding the water park during the day. When I told tennis parent clients that I had kids also, though older at 20 and 18 and in college, I had a hard time believing it myself.

Rebecca has talked about becoming a teacher recently and of possibly following her boyfriend, a chemical engineering major, to some yet to be determined destination after college. Daniel will be pursuing studies in the computer science field at a university known for its strength in that area. They both have promising futures. I’m proud of how they have developed and the people they are. I hope I have had a positive influence on them and will remember some of dad’s “pearls of wisdom” that they probably didn’t want to hear when I offered. I implored both kids to take Spanish; they each took French. I think Daniel already may be happy that I highly recommended dorm life to him when he was considering other college living arrangements.

I look forward to developing and nurturing close and warm adult relationships with both kids. I hope it happens. It will be a two-way street from here on out. Both kids will have to desire that too and give our relationship love and care to help it grow as we all mature.

The kids are gone and one long and crucial part of my parenting journey is over. It’s been a challenge, a great learning experience, an honor and a joy, but also tinged with some tumult, sorrow and readjustment resulting from the family breakup and my second marriage. I am eager to see what the next phase will bring and know I will need to work at staying connected.

The kids are gone. In the coming weeks, I’ll learn how prepared I am to accept it.

Reliving Youth

Tomorrow I leave home for my summer job. It feels like I’m back in college, when I worked one summer in Nantucket, MA and another in Los Angeles. Except now I’m 53.

I’ll be working as a seasonal tennis pro at a large tennis resort in an East Coast beach town. I already had a taste of the resort tennis teaching life for my first long weekend in May. It was a welcome break from the career grind and mundane office environment.

This summer’s job reflects the saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” It certainly was not part of a long-term plan, but born out of necessity to change course, re-imagine life and re-adjust on the fly in response to circumstances.

At midlife, I’m embracing the idea that life does not have to be lived only one way. You can have a grind-it-out, 40-hour per week job, year-in and year-out. Or you can find another way to make a living in this gig economy, while trying to steal back more time, flexibility and independence. And with that, more purpose, meaning and passion.

I’m also embracing the philosophy of minimalism, or at least trying to limit my spending, cut costs, reduce my income needs and live a simplified life that maximizes enjoyment and meaning and minimizes stress. That’s what this summer will be all about.

My full-time employment in public relations ended in October 2015, for various reasons. One was that reality sunk in about the challenges performing a full-time job, working a part-time internship in a new field as a counselor at an outpatient mental health clinic, and taking graduate school classes in counseling, not to mention trying to function as a father and husband. I soon realized that trying to do all of these would be to do them all half-assed, and be constantly exhausted and over-stressed. My job had gone south anyway, so the break was a relief.

But I left that job with no clear plan on how to produce income while I completed the final two years of my counseling program, including two intensive nearly year-long internships. I fell back on teaching tennis, which I had done during previous job layoffs. I was lucky to pick up weekend hours with a Baltimore-based tennis academy. Then the idea occurred to me: Why not apply to resorts that need additional instructors for busy summer tennis seasons, while I was in between semesters with no internship or classes? With the help of a good connection, I landed the Sea Colony position.

I’m looking forward to it. It should be a great summer. Being at the beach in a resort town, working outside doing something fun, working with a team that has a passion for tennis, getting paid to help people improve at what they enjoy, meeting many people, making new friends. Hard to beat that, and sure as hell beats sitting at a desk in a stuffy office staring at a computer screen for eight hours a day.

Of course, it won’t be all fun and games. I need to make money to fund me and my wife’s living, my education and my two kids’ college educations. So I’ll have to hustle and promote myself to line up as many private lessons and clinics as I can, in addition to the many clinics the resort schedules every day. That should be great practice for the when I become a counselor with an independent practice.

A friend referred to this time in my life – a summer teaching tennis sandwiched by counseling internships, classes and part-time jobs with no full-time job as an anchor – as a “reset.” It sure feels like a step back in time for me, all the way to the relatively more carefree and low stress days of college. Make no mistake, there’s some scrambling and anxiousness involved. But I’m grateful for the respite, happy, excited about the challenges, and optimistic about the future. You can’t really relive your youth, but if you can add some youthful exuberance and new experiences to your life – and even some motivating uncertainty — you can recapture some of those feelings. And that’s healthy at any age.

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