Grown Ass Man
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I was chatting with a former law firm colleague today via gchat. At one point in the conversation she wrote that she wondered when her “real” life was going to start. She’s an adult, of course, but still feels like a kid. I’ve wondered about that too: when does adulthood finally arrive. Does it come in the middle of the night when you magically become eighteen? Like the Tooth Fairy? Does some “Adult Fairy” take your youth away while you sleep? Or does it happen when you finally leave home? Maybe when you get married? Or Have a child? What about when you earn your first degree? Or your last?
Some say you don’t truly grow up until after your parents’ deaths. When my father passed away, a law professor sent me his condolences via email. He wrote: “I was saddened to learn of your father’s death. I am sure you have heard the French expression that you don’t become a man until after your father dies. My father died 31 years ago and I still feel the effects. However, the worst period is likely to be the first year. With my very best regards. Dave” His words were oddly comforting. Perhaps it was because he taught at another law school, out in the Midwest actually, and took the time to reach out to send such kind words to a lowly law student research assistant. Maybe it was because it’s seems acutely accurate and knowing that legions of men had suffered that same loss gave me a sense of camaraderie in my pain. Most everyone one day comes to know the loss of a parent.
It’s a funny thing, adulthood. One definition defines adult as “having attained full size and strength; grown up; mature.” How scientific. The only other applicable definition is the legal one: the age of majority, the date one can enter into contracts bind other and be bound by them as well. That’s generally eighteen in the United States. Under Jewish law, a boy becomes a man, and therefore an adult, at his bar mitzvah, at age thirteen.
So what does this mean for me? For many of us? I touched on this back in his When I Grow Up. I’m quite unlike my father in this sense. By the time he had reached my age, thirty-four, he had been married for over ten years and had a child already; I was only a year away. He probably owned our home by then too. And me? At thirty-four I’m barely able to stand on my own feet, financially. But for my mother’s help this past year, I don’t know where I’d be now. For sure I did do much to help myself. This blog chronicled all that. But as I approach that one-year marker since I started down that path I must pause to wonder about being “grown up.”
I can’t imagine being a father and a husband right now. Of course those things don’t typically occur overnight. Instead you build up to each event and you begin—at least most people—to act accordingly. But there’s something different between my generation and my parents’. Perhaps because they grew up closer to home? Or because they had fewer choices back then? Maybe just the times they made them toughen up more quickly. Are we pampered now? I don’t mean to make light but I do see such stark contrasts between us and them. Not to idolize anyone. My parents’ generation has plenty of faults. But people who grew up in the 1940s and 50s seem leaps and bounds ahead of later generations. Maybe it was the war. That’s certainly one way to turn a boy into a man.
My sister is planning to adopt a child. A few months back she asked if I’d be listed as guardian in the event of her death. My mother is already too old. We’ve never spoken as a family about her starting a family. I never got asked if I wanted to be on the hook for a child. And one we don’t know. She’ll be adopting an older child, maybe a toddler. If I said no, it could have derailed her chances. Why would he next-of-kin, after her mother, have said no? None of this would have mattered if she were pregnant. I said yes, of course. But it made me think about being a father. I’m not ready. I couldn’t support a child now. I can barely support two cats and myself. I couldn’t pilfer milk, as I noted in Just Call Me Jean for a child.
So when does it happen? Or is this why the carefree bachelor is so idealized. Is it the responsibilities of married life that sobers you? And how many of my generation feel this chasm between ourselves and when our parents were our age? At least one step on that path is taking ownership of your financial state. Being able to support yourself and live independently is a sure marker of adulthood.
Using that definition, I’m still getting there.
Lord & Lady had a huge fight tonight. The type that makes you think you may need to call the police. Apparently, Lord flew off the handle and was close to hitting, Daughter. One thing I hadn’t planned on is crazy landlords who might engage in such behavior, so much so that I’m wondering whether Lord & Lady are no more. Daughter and her boyfriend came to the apartment to apologize. I played as though I hadn’t heard much of anything. Domestic violence is disturbing to everyone it touches, including neighbors who overhear it all.
I’m certainly going to start that emergency fund ASAP. If Lord were to decide it’s time for me to go, lease or not—what would I do? I trust I’m worrying for nothing. At least one good aspect to a corporate landlord like in New York is that you don’t overhear it’s domestic quarreling.
Does that make you an adult? Fights with your significant other? Or is that a few specs of childhood the ferry left behind?