I remember my oldest sister’s 16th birthday party. We’d packed our long Arlington, Texas driveway with activities like ping pong and foosball.
We drank soda (a rare treat) and ate taco boats (taco salad packed into banana split trays my mom picked up from the local Dairy Queen). It was loud and it was fun.
I actually remember my sister’s 16th birthday better than I remember my own. There was something exciting about seeing all of those older teens, so sure of themselves and able to make decisions like how much soda they were allowed to consume.
My dad turned 40 around that time. I don’t remember a big event to commemorate that, and knowing him I doubt there was one. He keeps going, year after year, day after day, doing the work to support his kids and his wife’s zany celebrations of us.
He was old. That’s what I thought when my dad was 40. He had it all figured out.
Dad would probably laugh at the idea that he had it all figured out at 40. Partly, I don’t remember my 16th because we moved during the summer that I reached that milestone. We moved a lot as he tried to find the best way to provide for us.
I remember the celebration we had just before we moved to Cincinnati, when my mom let me have girls over even though I wasn’t quite 16. Our family had a no-dating-until-sixteen rule but she allowed the indulgence for that day.
We’d only moved to the Houston area some six months before that, but I’d made some close friendships. Leaving again wasn’t easy.
My parents didn’t always tell us what prompted the moves to new places. I didn’t mind the changes, generally. To this day, I have a constant wanderlust and enjoy making new friends.
But I know it was difficult on my parents. It’s difficult on my wife and me now. We’ve moved more than we meant to, always chasing the next thing, sure it’ll be the one that hits.
In some ways, I’ve taken a very different path than my parents. I went to Brigham Young University for undergrad and Texas for law school, while they weren’t able to finish college. But in so many ways I’ve repeated their path.
I don’t remember ever being angry about the frequent moves we made as a family, but I remember never quite understanding it. Now, with a wife and kids of my own, I know what it is to chase a slight raise in income or the promise of more control.
Life is so much momentum. We’re very likely to end up in our parents’ income bracket, and we can’t help but adopt many of their cultural markers.
We spend decades trying to avoid their mistakes, and their advice helps us do that, but often we just create new ones. And then our kids go in the other direction, feeding a generational cycle of making it up as we go.
Now, as I turn 40, I have a better sense of that momentum. I see it, and I decide when to fight back and when to turn into the current.
When I look back over my life so far, I have regrets. I see forks in the road that I wish I’d gone one way rather than the other.
I wish I’d gone to college sooner. I wish I’d taken it more seriously when I did go. I wish I’d taken courage and gone through the PhD program so that I could write and teach more.
But then I realize I can’t separate who I am from those decisions, and I wouldn’t change them. I’ll never regret choosing my wife and children above my sense of “dreams.”
The most pernicious lie is that we become something by mapping out a path and following it, no matter what. In reality, we become by our daily habits, our little choices.
I’m a writer when I stop doing other things and start writing; I’m a teacher when I stop other work and teach; I’m a speaker when I speak.
And I’m a husband and father when I put distractions down and see my beautiful wife and children.
I believe that we come to Earth to craft a divine character, to change who we are until we can abide the presence of the Sacred.
Obviously, you don’t need to share my theology in order to appreciate that approach. Rather than destinations, I focus now on daily becoming.
I can’t promise that it’ll make me rich, and I certainly can’t promise that it’ll make you rich. But I know it’s made my life richer.
At 40, I’m no longer willing to surrender to the momentum. I’ll stop doing other things and start talking and writing about systems that preserve our humanity. That is my Work.
What is your Work? Are you doing it?
My mom recently told me that her dad and his dad both died in their 40s. It’s a little daunting to think that I could be gone at all, much less within the next 10 years.
And yet, some three decades beyond his own 40th, my dad is still kicking.
I have no idea when it all ends. It feels morbid to consider the terminus when I finally feel so full of life.
But I consider the end to make sure I’m focusing on the Work now. The muse has yelled at me long enough that I can’t rest until I silence her.
She wakes me up every day, she makes me pull out the iPad and get typing. And she tells me to put it down and play with the kids.
Maybe I’m halfway through life, and maybe I don’t have that much time. I don’t know.
But today I’ll write. I’ll teach. I’ll be a dad and I’ll love my wife.
Get to your Work. Get to work.
I’ll do the same.