Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Ramblings of a Teenager’s Father

Yesterday my oldest daughter became a teenager. She’s been teetering on the edge for a few years, and now it’s official. The dark and brooding years are upon us. May she arise some day unscathed.

And tonight, I’m taking her and a friend to her first real concert: Fall Out Boy. That’s the band I famously called “Fall Out Guy” to another parent in an ill-conceived effort to look cool a few months ago. The mom quickly corrected me, and I laughed because I am so beyond being cool it’s helpless. But I digress.

My wife and I are parents of a teenager. How did this happen? I don’t know.

But her turning 13 and going to this concert reminded me of a few paragraphs I wrote two months ago and then tucked back into my computer documents file unfinished and uncertain. Here it is.

The white dashes flash by to the approximate beat of the Fall Out Boy album blasting from my empty minivan’s speakers. I’ve grown to like FOB in recent months as I prepare for a planned concert I’ll be attending with my daughter at a future day. They remind me of the bands I liked on the periphery of my musical tastes when I was younger. Worth a listen.

I’m traveling alone this night, a rare treat. Heading to the in-laws in Pennsylvania. Meeting my wife there, who has been in Washington working for a few days. The kiddos are left behind, being watched by their other grandparents.
Our trip has a purpose: to help my wife’s parents tie up the loose ends on the selling of the little store they've owned for 27 years.

27 years.
Clearly, my obsession with the passage of time has yet to abate.

I’ve always found it interesting how an hour on the road can creep by when that’s the length of the trip. And yet the same hour can fly by when it's part of a three hour trip. And, when part of a ten hour trip, the hours can click by like the lines in the middle of the road.
I guess time is relative, and you don’t need complicated formulas to see it.

Despite warnings from my elders, I’ve been truly amazed at how the years do click by faster and faster as you get older. The holidays upon us each year before you can blink. The adage “Boy, this year is flying by” said with more earnestness and sincerity each time. 
The whole of my youth stands in my mind as a millennia compared to the decades packed on since college. Yet the memories of both fade.

There’s a line from the Jimmy Buffet song, He Went To Paris, that used to confound me. It’s on the Margaritaville album, which anyone who’s spent time dreaming has listened to in its entirety countless times. Not my favorite song from the album, but it grows on you. The song chronicles the bulk of someone’s life, saying at one point, “And four to five years slipped away.”
I used to think, how can four to five years slip away?

Now I know.  

If nothing else, this dumb blog thing has helped me put into writing some of the precious experiences (and not so precious).  More and more, I think I need to do that, as the potential memories evaporate like dreams you neglect to talk about the morning after.
I joke with my eldest child that my mind isn’t what it used to be. Words don’t come as easily to my lips, and memories from last week slip through the crack before they make it to the long term file. I worry sometimes that I have early onset something-or-other. But I think it’s just life.

Then again, I haven’t written as much lately. Which only I notice, really. So there’s no need to apologize. I have a new job I’m enjoying and use the rest of my free time to eat with my family and sleep.
The other day, someone mentioned they saw something I wrote somewhere, and then cocked their head and asked how I liked the new job. I told the truth, that I like it a lot. I get to do good work.

It made me think about that question we all ask each other, what do you do? It’s a simple curiosity, but it’s also kind of profound how we use it to put people and their lives in a box. But it’s never that easy, is it? 
In the eighties there was an old show called Taxi. For some reason we watched it often and mourned when it got canceled. I remember one thing about it in particular. In their minds, none of the taxi drivers were actually taxi drivers. They were struggling actors, aspiring boxers, and other dream chasers. All except Alex, who’d come to grips with the notion he was just a taxi driver. And that was enough. He was okay with it.

I think about my answers to that question over the years: a journalist, a speechwriter, a chief of staff, a political consultant, a public relations consultant, a freelance writer, an adjunct. I've always struggled with this question, both asking it and answering it. I always just want to say writer. But that's rarely been true.

Maybe I don't like boxes. Maybe I'm just not okay with it.

Like I said, it was unfinished and uncertain.

More recently I went to a writers’ convention that I’ve mentioned before. One of the main speakers talked about legacy. He referenced that same question. What do you do? And he put that question in its place when he said this: Nobody cares about your resume when you’re gone. Your impact on this world is so much more important than just what you do for a living. It’s what you do in everything else that often matters more. And, most important, what you leave behind.

That’s what he said, anyway. It spoke to me as the parent to some amazing kids. Kids who are growing up too fast and becoming interesting, curious and complicated people way before my wife and I are ready. They are going to be my legacy.
Tonight I get to take one of them to a concert.

How did my wife and I become parents to a teenager? I don’t know. We just did. The white dashes keep passing by.

And I’m okay with it.

Like the article?  Here's others you may enjoy: New Year, Few Expectations, One Fish, Two Fish, Dead Fish, New Fish and Kid Quotes from a Family Hike.



Larry said...

I've always been obsessed with time. Over the last year or so,, I've been thinking a lot about the arc of a life - the different stages and even stages within the stages.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the concert and more importantly that your daughter did.

My oldest turns 13 next year.

Cort Ruddy said...

I've been thinking about the arc, too. And how the different stages impact how content we are with it. Good hearing from you.