Life

51

I turned 51 yesterday.

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I liked being 50. I liked saying that I was 50. I told everybody who’d listen, as a Kindergartner happily tells everyone he’s 5.

I’ve always enjoyed the ages that end in zero. I feel like I’ve crossed some threshold, and I dream about the next phase of my life. What new adventures will come?

My 50s truly are turning out to be a new phase, with adventures unlike anything that came before. I never dreamed of some of the adventures we’re on, most of which I never would have chosen. Frankly, some intensely hard stuff has come my family’s way. We’re pushing through it okay.

But that’s what I wrote about last year when I turned 50. This year I want to write about vanity, specifically mine, and how looking in the mirror bruises it. I’m looking noticeably older.

I remember in my 20s noticing middle-aged men who tried in humorously ineffective ways to look younger and hide what time had stolen from them.

I swore then I’d let aging just happen to me. If my hair were to fall out, there would be no Propecia or Rogaine or Hair Club for Men for me — if the hair loss became serious enough I’d just shave my head. When I went gray, I vowed not to reach for hair dye or even Grecian Formula. If my face turned into used-up shoe leather, fine. Well, not fine, but I was going to just let it be. Aging, do your worst — I would not let your signs rule me. I would find peace and happiness regardless of how I looked.

And then I was blessed not only to keep all of my hair, but also to never have more than a few random wisps of gray. And I just kept looking young, even through my late 40s. When I’d get carded buying beer cashiers would do a double take. Some of them even said, “You can’t possibly be this old.” Man, that felt good.

Those days are over. Cashiers never say anything when they hand me my driver’s license anymore — if they bother to ask for it at all. The lines on my face tell no lies. And after a haircut now I can see right through to my scalp on top. It was a genuine shock the first time I saw that. At the rate I’m going I’ll have a pretty healthy bald spot up there by the time I’m 53.

I expect no pity parties. I’ve had a great run and I know it. It just hurts to see my youthful looks go. It is a daily surprise to see my morning face in the mirror.

But I’m determined to stay true to my youthful vows: I will age boldly and proudly. It looks like my 50s is where physical aging will accelerate, so I’ll have plenty of practice.

I’m going to miss saying “I’m 50!” though. 51 just isn’t as exciting of a number to say.

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Life

I just sold my Ford Focus to my son, Garrett. It has now been owned by three generations of Grey men, as I bought it from my father in 2012.

This car took me, and sometimes my sons, on a whole bunch of great road trips. It was wonderful on the old roads, small and easy to maneuver. That was very important when I needed to get out of a dead-end abandoned alignment! It was also a blast to drive, with good power and fantastic handling.

Here it is at the Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66 in Cuba, MO.

Wagon Wheel Motel

And here it is on an abandoned section of the old Dixie Highway near Martinsville, IN.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

I’m experimenting with short posts, shared whenever I have something quick to say. Welcome to the first one!

Goodbye road warrior

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Life

Seven things I want my sons to know about making their way

I wrote this five years ago, when my sons were in high school and thinking about their futures. I’m thrilled to see how much of this advice they took, and how relevant it remains today.

Now that you’re both teenagers, my job as your dad is changing. When you were little, my job was more about teaching you some basics, keeping you safe, and showing you love. Now it’s about slowly letting go and coaching from the sidelines so you can go in your own direction and hopefully find success and satisfaction.

The day is coming when you will have to make your own way. You are both bright and capable, so you have a leg up. But here are some things you need to know.

1. When you do your best today, more doors will be open to you tomorrow.

How well you do in high school determines what opportunities are available to you when you graduate. This is changing; more on that in a minute. But giving your best effort always pays sooner or later. So give your best to your schoolwork. I’ll be satisfied with whatever your best can deliver, even if it’s a D average.

If you go to college (and I hope you do), better grades will get you into better schools and bring better financial aid to pay for it. You need as much financial aid as you can get, because I can’t afford to pay for all of college.

If you skip college, doing your best now will build disciplines that will carry you into whatever you do after high school, be it the military, vocational school, or just getting a job.

But don’t just get a job after high school. If you don’t have a good degree, a good trade, or the good care of Uncle Sam, the jobs available to you involve saying, “Do you want fries with that?” or “Thank you for shopping with us.” They will pay poorly and you will struggle. There are paths to move up in those worlds but they are hard and slow. This will suck; avoid it if you can.

2. People who express themselves well, verbally and in writing, get ahead.

Srsly. cuz in the real world u will need 2 work with old farts my age and if you use speling and grammer right you will pwn your txtspeak friends. and we will not lol at u behind ur back.

Translated: You will probably start out working for someone closer to my age than to yours. When you speak and write well, we will think you are smart and capable, and we will give you opportunities we won’t give to your less-eloquent friends.

Dad and Sons

Me with my sons, now both in college

3. The world is bigger than today’s pop culture.

Pop culture is great fun. You know I love the pop culture of my generation – I’ve made you sit through all the cartoons I used to watch as a kid (the good ones, anyway) and as we ride around in the car I play the music from my youth.

But there is so much more culture to experience. Try other forms of music, film, theater, and art from around the world and from times before the 21st century. There’s lots to like out there.

More importantly, see beyond pop culture. Know what’s going on in the world. Form opinions about how the world should work, find causes that are important to you, and give of your time and resources to make things better. You will find no end of opportunity to make a difference.

4. Be who you are.

This means you have to find out who you are, which will take the rest of your life. As you figure it out, do not compromise – be that person. The worst pain and difficulty I’ve experienced in my life has come from times when I’ve tried to be someone I’m not.

You have a natural personality type that makes you good at some things and not good at others, and makes you fit easily into some environments and poorly into others. The better you know yourself, the easier it is for you to choose things that you are good at and find environments where you fit.

This isn’t license to be lazy or selfish. You will grow more and achieve more when you push and stretch yourself. I’m just saying that when you know yourself and honor the way you’re wired, you are more likely to find happiness and success on your own terms.

5. Following your dreams is overrated.

I’m lucky. I knew at age 15 that I wanted to make software for a living. Through smarts, work, and luck, I’ve been doing it for more than half my life. And it so happens that living my dream pays the bills just fine. But I’m a rarity.

Except that I thought I’d be a programmer. It turns out I was only an average programmer. But I understand geeks and fit in with them really well, so I stuck with it. And then I was handed an opportunity to manage geeks – and to my surprise, I’m very good at it. I’m really lucky I got an opportunity to find that out. But you could argue that I’m not really living my dream. Whatever. I adapted. I started toward my dream but then let the streams of life take me where they would flow.

Look, most people’s dreams don’t come true. And for most people, if their dreams came true they wouldn’t pay the bills very well anyway.

You absolutely need to have ideas about what you’d like to do with your life. Let them guide your general direction, but always be willing to take a chance on the opportunities that find you – they will find you. The good ones use what you’re good at and are in environments where you fit well. Doing this will give you an interesting life full of meaning and satisfaction.

6. Enjoy the journey.

If you fill your life with meaningful things that you enjoy, happiness will find you.

You will have to take some risks to find those things. The path that feels secure may be less scary, but my experience has been that it’s less joyful, too.

That’s not to say life will always be unicorns and rainbows. Some risks won’t pay off, some random bad things will simply happen, and you will have some unhappy days! But bad times always end, especially when you keep pushing, keep trying, keep rising above the discouragement you will feel.

Here’s the crazy thing: The ups and downs can be exhilarating! Learn to ride them, and to enjoy the ride.

7. You are going to make the world’s new rules for success.

You live in an unprecedented time when the old rules of success are quickly becoming invalid.

For a few generations, the rules have been: Go to college and study pretty much anything. Your degree will lead to corporate jobs that pay well enough for at least a middle-class lifestyle. As you gain experience, you might even get bigger and better jobs that pay more. Along the way, save money for retirement, and when you’re old you can afford to play golf every day.

Those days are pretty much over.

I’ll pay for as much of your college education as I can, and you’ll probably get some financial aid. But you will need to borrow money to cover the rest. Your first monthly payment will be due one month after you graduate. You need a plan that leads to work that pays well enough for you to have a place to live, feed yourself, probably own a car, and make your college loan payment.

The college degrees that lead to jobs that pay enough for all that are in disciplines such as engineering, business, medicine, finance, law, and science. It’s harder to get a good-enough-paying job when you major in history, literature, art, and so on. If you have a burning desire to study them, minor in them while you major in something that leads to good-paying work.

But even then, don’t count on corporate jobs. Their relative security has been fading slowly since the 1980s, and I think that security will fade to nothing in the years to come.

Fortunately, resources are available to you that my generation only imagined, thanks in no small part to the Internet. You can now do so much as an entrepreneur.

Say you want to write a book. Did you know that my first dream was to write stories? I wrote a novel when I was in the 7th grade. (It was terrible!) But in those days, becoming a successful author of fiction was as hard as getting to play for the NFL. Very, very few people got publishing contracts compared to the huge group of people who wanted them.

You no longer have to try to convince a publishing company to give you a contract. Now you can start a blog, create a Facebook page for it, build an audience, and then publish your book yourself and sell it to your blog readers.

Or say you want to make software. When I started doing it, you pretty much had to have a college degree in computer science or engineering and join a software company. Today, you can write an app for the iPhone and make money off it a dollar or two at a time, and build your own software business from there. When I think of the best young programmers that I know, most of them skipped college!

These paths, and others like them, take a ton of work. But they are possible now when they never were before. They open new pathways to success. As they replace the old, dead pathways, your generation will get to write the new rules.

I envy you; it sounds like great fun!

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Life

Our grand old flag

Military cemeteryHappy Independence Day to my US readers! When I was a kid, we used to sing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” in school a lot. It must have been a favorite of the music teacher. It certainly was easy enough to sing. You know it, I’m sure: You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag / And forever in peace may you wave / You’re the emblem of the land I love / The home of the free and the brave. Do you hear the tune in your head now?

This song was written in 1906 for a Broadway musical called George Washington, Jr. The song was originally called “You’re a Grand Old Rag,” after a line spoken in the musical just before the song was song. But enough people objected to our flag being called a rag that the lyric was changed to flag, as we know it today.

Here’s a 1906 recording of the song, sung by Billy Murray, a very popular recording artist of the time.

During my 1970s kidhood, everywhere you went people flew the American flag on Independence Day. We’ve lost that tradition along the way. We should bring it back. If you have an American flag, do fly it today. If you don’t have one, buy one for next year!

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Life

In case you were wondering why you don’t see me on Facebook very much anymore

I deleted Facebook and Messenger from my phone. They’ve been gone about ten weeks now.

Back in March I wrote this post about how Facebook is occasionally enjoyable, and how that’s been enough for me to keep coming back despite not enjoying it much otherwise. It got me to thinking: why do I spend so much time in something I don’t really enjoy? That’s when I said goodbye to the apps.

Until a few years ago I genuinely liked Facebook. It was great fun to connect with people from all phases of my life. My Facebook friends used to share more from their lives, writing a line or two about something they were doing, or sharing a photo they took. I know they shared only the portion of their lives they wanted others to see and framed it in only positive light. But it was fun anyway.

Now it seems that most people just share memes and articles. And I don’t usually enjoy the subject matter:

Your posts about the second amendment and gun control aren’t going to change my mind on the matter, or anybody else’s, either. We’re only going to alienate each other.

I consider myself to be politically conservative. Now, I weep for how far off the rails the Republican Party has gone. I pray for its restoration to sanity. Still, the basic principles of conservatism resonate with me. It genuinely hurts when you post things that put down my politics. I am not the monster you make out conservatives to be.

And to my conservative friends, I’m equally disappointed and offended when you put down the other side. They aren’t monsters either. Like us, they are people trying to figure out the best way forward.

To both sides, if you call the other side names (e.g., “libtard”), I’ve already unfollowed you.

I’ve been incredulous over how many shared so-called “news” articles in my feed are thinly veiled opinion pieces or have used poor, even deliberately manipulative, forms of argumentation. Do you actually believe this crap? Have you spent any time evaluating these articles’ illogic? Have you sought to understand these matters from other perspectives?

That leaves the cutesey and heartstring-plucking shares. And oh my gosh, are there ever a lot of them now. At least they don’t make me angry. But it’s not enough to keep me coming back.

In case you are one of my Facebook friends and now feel offended because I’m pointing a finger at you, I’m sorry.

I get it: we are all troubled by the times we live in. We wring our hands, we air our fear and anger, and we seek friends of like mind to help us feel better.

But it is hurting, not helping. It is alienating us, not knitting us together. It is making Facebook a wasteland, not a place where we can enjoy each other even if from afar.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

If I’ve offended you, here’s a placid landscape photo to calm you.

Even though the apps are gone from my phone, I still check Facebook on my computer once or twice a day. My blog posts automatically post to Facebook each day and I want to see if anyone commented on them there. Also, I follow a couple groups there that remain fun.

For the first couple weeks with Facebook gone from my phone, I was at loose ends when I had idle time. I’ve since downloaded the Kindle app and am reading more books. That feels like a giant win.

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Trail

I can’t go into it all, everything my family has been through in the last year. If you visit here regularly, you know about my wife’s serious back injury and her recovery from it, new jobs for both my wife and for me, selling my old home and finally moving in with my wife, my father’s final illness and death, care of my wife’s elderly parents, and the shocking and unexpected death of our daughter-in-law.

That’s just some of it. There’s more, much more, stories that aren’t mine to tell and so need to remain private. All of it has been a terrible strain on us not just individually, but also on our young marriage.

We’ll be okay. We’ve both known hard times earlier in our lives and have learned how to handle them. We know grace, how to give it and receive it.

We think that the worst of it is over. We think we can now focus fully on us.

It’s a relief. We are happy to be on our path forward.

Life

The path forward

Reflections on the path forward after a difficult time in our lives.

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