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There is a line – an indistinct line – between one phase of life and the next. We never see it coming, but only discern it once we’ve passed. I feel that I am on the cusp of such a line. I can feel myself moving from my adult phase to the middle age phase. And it’s not as disconcerting as I expected.

I’ve been a grandfather for ten years, but that fact did not initiate a change in my phase of life. I was an active healthy forties when I became a grandfather. The phase change didn’t happen until just recently. I found that most adults around me were younger than I. And they were looking to me for advice and leadership. Yeah, weird. Also, my children are all adults and I have taken on the role of the older parent, the ‘boomer’ that doesn’t understand anything in this newfangled world. It is very disconcerting and confusing. And I don’t like it.

My new phase in life shook my confidence, even if it was only symbolic. I had the sudden realization that I’m not only getting old, but am old. Ugh!!

When I was young, I always had a ‘someday’ waiting for me. I’ll figure that out someday, or I can afford it someday, or I’ll have time for that someday. I suddenly found myself with fewer somedays.

In years past, I put everything on my todo-someday list, because I always had someday to look forward to. Now, I’m limiting that list, realizing that I no longer have all the somedays I had before or the energy – stamina – drive I once had. So fewer things fit on the list. My PhD in History is still on the maybe list, but my singing career is probably off for good.

I think people react to life changes differently than others. For some, this is when many people go through the proverbial mid-life crisis. I’m not feeling any urge to buy a Porsche or get a mistress or even a tattoo, really. Maybe I’m handling it better than some. I wish my father were around to compare notes with.

I try to imagine his reaction to reaching this point in life and wonder how he handled it. He did not buy Porsche or have a mistress (as far as I know). But what did he go through? How did he handle it? I don’t know. I was unaware of the line at the time and so couldn’t ask. Now I wish I had him around to talk with.

Both my father and grandfather died in their mid-sixties – the grandfather phase.  I’m in the same phase now. However, they were both smokers with high blood pressure. I am neither, therefore in theory I will outlive them and enter a phase of life they never experienced. In contrast, my grandmother lived to be ninety-nine years old. I intend to live to one hundred and twenty. I don’t know what phase that is, but I will be ready.

Now that I am aware of the indistinct lines that separate life’s phases, I will be better prepared when they appear and will embrace them as the mile markers they are meant to be.

Once in a while, I like to compare myself to my father at the same age. What did he feel at this point? What were his thoughts? What was he experiencing? What had he accomplished? And then ultimately: How do we compare? Like most kids, my father was my role model, my hero. He was the standard that I was set against.

Now, I see the years behind me as a trail of signposts, allowing me to compare us, my father and I side by side at the same point in our lives. These signposts and comparisons are a way of putting myself in my father’s shoes, so to speak, and wondering how I compare to him. He is my benchmark for being a man and a father. He taught me about hard work, humor, optimism, humbleness, wisdom. So, by attempting to place myself in his shoes, I am trying to fill them and to feel that I deserve them.

However, as my analysis of my father has progressed, I am finding faults and limitations and shortcomings. I’m finding that my memories and the myth/image I built of my father are not standing up to the deeper scrutiny I am giving it. The gilding and luster are rubbing off. It’s like the old saying: “Never meet your heroes.” In my case, it is: “Never look at your heroes too closely.”

It’s proven correct on several occasions. But in this case my father is the hero, the person I looked up to and tried to emulate. But the reminiscing and timeline comparisons have done nothing but show me that my father was fallible and human. We made different decisions and held different opinions.

For example, he was religious and I am not. I think we are the same politically, but miles apart when it comes to books, movies, and art. We both had mechanical skills, I even became an engineer. We were both curious and not afraid to learn something new. And we both married more than once; the second one is always better. We both raised large families, he five boys, and me five girls. I think he was a good father and I hope I compare well. But was he a good man? Am I? That is really the big question. 

He only lived to see sixty-five years. I have never smoked and have better healthcare, so I expect to live far beyond that. In less than ten years I will surpass him and strike out on my own establishing lone signposts with no one to compare to.

I can honestly say that I’ve stood in shoes similar to my father’s. I can say that I’ve been my own man and feel that I could look him in the eye as a near equal. And to me that is saying something. He is still my role model, the origin of my work ethic and sense of humor. But he less a hero and more a peer and good friend. As he should be.

 

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I went to high school in a small town in Northern Minnesota. It was a great place to grow up and taught me the value of hard work and education and getting out. I left soon after graduation, eventually gained a college degree and a career. Since then I’ve continued my education and explored the world. However, like many people, I failed to maintain contact with friends from home or people from my past. I honestly suck at keeping friends. But Facebook and other social media have made it possible to reconnect with people or even to stalk them if you are just curious and unwilling to actually reach out to them.

Lately, Covid-19 and middle age have got me thinking about the old days and old acquaintances. Curiosity eventually led me to Facebook in search of old classmates. A few of them had at least a basic profile and some pictures. It turns out that most have not gone far from home. Most are still in that little town raising kids and hunting and fishing.  Living the Good Life, so to speak. Things haven’t changed much.

It is wonderful to see them with kids and grandkids, looking so mature and happy and in some cases old. Compared to many I seem to be aging well. Good for me.

What struck me most during my look-through of posts from home was the unexpected realization of how far we had drifted in ideology. The Trump flags and assault rifles and racism were surprising. And disappointing. Could these be the same people I knew from the halcyon days of my youth? Could we all have come from the same place that molded what I believe and who I am? It made me question my view of the place and stripped away the whitewash that time had used to cover up the old uglinesses.

I then recalled the homophobia, sexism, the Indian jokes and hatred, and the narrow insulationist thinking. And I remembered why I left. I never belonged there. Not ever.

People will always have disagreements on important issues but I have made a lifelong point of avoiding extreme opinions. I’ve tried to see both sides of an issue in order to meet in the middle. I believe that once you remove the most extreme ideologies we tend to agree on more than we think. We should concentrate on the things we agree on rather than getting angry about what we don’t. There is always a middle ground where we can live as neighbors. But the social media coming out of my hometown doesn’t make me believe that I could find a middle ground there.

I’ve considered going home for a visit, but I have no family there and haven’t been back in almost twenty-five years. I also realize now that I don’t have any friends there really, just people I used to know. I’m not a part of that world anymore and I’m fine with that. I also believe that the part of there that I thought I carried me never really existed or else was chased out of town and forgotten like a gay cousin.

Maybe I’ll visit someday, but I’m in no hurry to put myself through that. Particularly since no one there has reached out to me. Maybe someday.

Or – maybe it’s not that you ‘can’ never go home, but that you never should. Maybe it was never home, to begin with.

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In the last month, I’ve had to replace two laptops, a CADmouse, and Bluetooth earbuds. I find that technology is being more of a hindrance than a help lately. I can write on any-old-thing: a grocery receipt, the back of my hand, etc. But I can’t publish or post anything without the technology that is failing me.

My wife has been working from home for the last month and relies heavily on her laptop. She works in customer service and is essentially hogtied without it. Around 10am Monday morning, it decided to go tits-up and would only show the Blue Screen Of Death. She called me at work (cause I’m still working a day job) frantic because she was in the middle of a busy morning and was completely offline. Luckily my laptop was available and practically new. – Yeah, she got to touch my stuff!

I am pretty good with computers, but a computer with a dead harddrive doesn’t really have a fix – it’s a ‘replace’ situation. Our options were to either replace the drive or replace the computer. We went with the new computer. At $499 they’re cheaper than a good set of tires. Which, I found, rather eye-opening for two reasons.

  1. I remember paying $2000 for a laptop that was a Model T compared to this thing and cost more than my car at the time.
  2. I remember when $499 would have made me choke. Now, it barely gets a ‘meh’.

Times change, technology changes, and the value of things changes. But I am only slowly catching up. I’ve got more money than I’ve ever had in my life and the things that used to be expensive and impressive have become mundane commodities. I used to drool over ads in PC Magazine and Computer Shopper for PC’s capable of doing CAD drawing and music recording. Now you can do all of it on your phone. I even worked at Gateway Computers for a short time and remember when 60megabyte harddrives were the size of small carry-on luggage.

Now I’ve only succeeded in making myself sound old and crotchety. I think this is what growing up feels like once you realize you’re there, when in reality, it is already miles behind you.

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