On the morning of my fortieth birthday, I rolled out of bed and grimaced. My right ankle buckled, my right knee followed and I ended up on the floor, wondering “What the fuck?” Since that morning, it’s been a litany of random bodily failings and a losing battle against physics and eroding joints. Regrettably, I didn’t just roll over and die when I apparently fractured my foot… getting out of bed… after a nap. I did the worst possible thing ever. I doubled-down on the machismo and pushed myself harder physically in the years following because I was stupid. It culminated with me falling off a twelve-foot pull-up bar and landing flat on my back at the local Crossfit cult, er… club.
Nothing physical comes natural for me anymore and I’m certain my foot, knees and shoulders are permanently gnarled due to me missing numerous doctor and physiotherapist appointments over the years. Popping my back on the first try is the physical highlight of my day.
Flash forward to this week and watching my son play shortstop at baseball practice. He’s hopping around, snagging sharply hit grounders and whipping the ball around the field smartly. He’s ripping liners off the batting machine and just looked bored with the whole affair. Things looked natural. A couple of weeks earlier, their swim team rounded out the year with a two-hour 5k swim. Their crew probably swam more lengths in a week than I have in my entire life. These kids are eleven and twelve with inexhaustible energy. I, on the other hand, grunt everytime I sit down and every time I stand up. If you hit a baseball towards me, I will do nothing. And there’s no way I’m hitting anything off the batting machine set to anything above the slowest speed as my brain and extremities simply don’t communicate anymore. I told Brandon this morning, “I’m out. I’m passing the torch to you. I think you’re better at baseball than me.” Without looking up from his iPad, he responded, “Yeah, that happened a few years ago.”
Although my body is quickly failing me, I’m happier and more optimistic about life than ever before. Perhaps as we get older, we start to see things as they are instead of how we think they ought to be. Although everything is noisier and seemingly more urgent with an unrelenting stream of breaking news and once-in-a-lifetime limited-time offers, I found that the older I got, the less of a damn I gave about everything, the happier I became.
At forty-three, I realize this is it. This is it. There isn’t a redo. Say what you want to say. Do what you want to do and don’t give it a second thought. Once today rolls over, it’s done. If you let today go by without finding reason to be grateful and happy, you’ve robbed yourself. For me, it starts with people. Don’t change yourself to suit the people you hang around with. Change the people you hang around with. Do things that make you happy and associate with people that encourage you to stay goofy, young and ridiculous. The happiest people are the ones who know themselves and can laugh at themselves. I’ve seen enough people get sick and die. I’ve also seen enough just straight up die without bothering to get sick. This is it. Whatever time I have with my kid is all the time I will ever have. At some point, he’s going to be his own man, make his own decisions and do what he thinks is right for himself. It’s like they say, “Being a dad to a son is like watching your best friend gradually grow apart from you and having to encourage it.” An older friend once shared his advice with me when it came to his boy; “It doesn’t matter what sport, or hobby he’s good at just so long as he can share it with his dad.” Most parents would think I’m a shitty dad for the thousands of hours Brandon and I have spent together playing, talking and arguing about video games, baseball, cars, and other random shit. Whatever man, this is it. If I drop dead now, I’ve had the time of my life. This is it. There is nothing beyond this very moment.
At forty-three, nothing is disappointing anymore. When everything is in a good spot, you get a chance to step back and see your life as a whole. A good buddy of mine said to me once, “If this is as good as it gets, it’s pretty fucking good.” Now that I’m older, I’ve stopped expecting things will be exactly as I want and that I can change what makes me happy to suit reality instead of the other way around. I’ve accepted that I will meet genuinely kind people just as likely as I will meet people who are full of shit. I may disappoint others just as much as others may disappoint me. I will get ripped off sometimes and sometimes things will err in my favour. How any of us feels about anything is entirely based on our own expectations of how things should be. The more mismanaged they are, the shittier we feel about the result. I’ve learnt the first step towards not feeling bad about everything is not to assume everybody has malicious intent, and that mistakes do happen. Beyond that, it’s about not needing to win every time. The way you see people is usually a reflection of how you feel about yourself. I stopped expecting everything to turn out exactly as I want because the effort and concern required to make that happen with each and every interaction stopped being worth the incremental increase in happiness.
At forty-three, I’ve long stopped caring about who I offend. When you’re young, you worry about what people think of you. When you’re an adult, you stop caring about what people think of you. When you’re an old man, you realize nobody was thinking about you all along. I’ve somehow arrived at the old man stage in my thinking because I’ve seen how effective it is in the pursuit of happiness. I’ve also seen people who have let the opinions of others long dead still hold sway on their lives. Yeah, fuck that. I don’t feel beholden to anybody’s judgement, tradition or dogma. That’s why I’m happy. I’ve learnt the value of a hearty “No”. People despair about having to juggle the expectations and judgments of people they don’t necessarily care to, whether it be the in-laws, colleagues or the people with that one kid nobody likes. Just hit them with a solid “No”. Try it! It’s awesome. With each “No”, you gain more of yourself back. Nobody’s opinion of you is more valuable than your own time and headspace. And truth is, if you value external demands above your own peace of mind, it’s your own doing that you’re miserable, stressed or anxious. I’ve stopped saying “Yes” to almost everything a long time ago and it’s awesome. I get to choose. You can’t help others if you haven’t helped yourself first.
At forty-three, happiness is how I define it. When I was growing up, there were all these social rules and obligations because of tradition and notions of reciprocity. That there were these prescribed paths to success and complicated webs of interpersonal networks you had to navigate. When you become an adult yourself, you realize all that is mostly bullshit. People are not as complicated as we were warned because people are generally good, if not apathetic. Turns out if you want to be happy, it’s pretty simple; decide that what you have right now and who you know right now is awesome. Decide that the next good thing or person in your life is a bonus and don’t assume anybody else wants to live up to your standards of what is right, or good or acceptable. If you don’t like the people around you, go meet new people. If there’s anything I’ve been driving into Brandon, it is that happiness is a choice and that choice begins with the company you keep. Make your decisions based on observations, not intuitions. Nothing has any intrinsic value except how you choose to value it. Happiness is simply saying “Yep… This is good enough” and enjoying it. Whatever enough is should only be defined by yourself. It’s not a dollar amount, or stuff you own or places you’ve been. Good friends don’t give a shit about what things are, only that you are happy.
Getting older is not all bad. When I was young, I thought adults knew everything. Turns out most of them are full of shit. When I was young, I thought there were all these obligations because of tradition, cultural piety and appearance. Turns out that only matters if you beholden your own happiness and dignity to other people’s judgement. When I was young, I thought it was the most important thing to be liked and predictable. Twenty-years ago, I drove up to my wife, then girlfriend’s family home in a cube van and bunch of garbage bags. She had a choice to make on the spot, be a kid at home, safe, and liked or be with me, and figure stuff out as we went. Twenty years later, we are the happiest people we know because we choose what we allow into our lives. None of anything that we were supposed to do would have resulted in our lives being the way it is today. At forty-three, I am utterly at peace and when shit does go sideways as it inevitably will, I will know how to find my way back to peace.
That’s worth a few messed up knees.