Sometimes, when I’m walking downtown, I look at what seem to be grown up men. They wear work clothes — work shirts, work pants, work shoes. And they all wear watches. On the weekends, they wear cargo shorts, sneakers, and baseball caps. Which is confusing. I see myself as such a boy but I wouldn’t wear shorts and a baseball cap if you paid me. Ok, maybe if you paid me.
For years, I wrestled with what to wear. The thrift plaid wardrobe that defined my twenties made me feel like the shlumphy twenty-something I was. The Banana Republic attire of my 30s made me feel like I was still proud of my first real job! Humiliating.
What, I wondered, are men supposed to wear? Khakis are, well, stupid. Wool work slacks are absurd. Dickies painters pants are just plain wrong (on me, that is, not a priori).
Thank goodness for jeans. Jeans span generations. But the cheap shit Levi’s I had sagged off my skinny bar mitvah boy ass. Expensive jeans became the way to go. The first time I dropped over $100 on jeans was disconcerting, to say the least (now I wish my jeans were only $100). Of course, said jeans are the new adolescent wear (no, they’re not skinny jeans). But, tell me, what the fuck else am I supposed to wear?
Forget the watch. I’ll never wear one.
It’s not easy being an adult today. I think back to my mother at 43 — she had three kids, the youngest of whom (me) was 14. She was a woman. No doubt about it. Me at 43 is another story. And it’s obviously not just me. I look around at my peers and we’re all dressed like bozos of one form or another.
But this issue obviously exceeds what to wear. What is that defines adulthood? I’m 43; I have a kid; I was married for 13 years and am now divorced. Isn’t that enough? When does this adulthood happen?
I don’t have a real job. I tried a couple of times for a few months but that life is not for me. So I’ve had my own company — or companies — for 15 years.
That sure sounds grown up when I say it. But it doesn’t seem to impress women. Maybe this is because what drives me is not professional ambition but that desire for the freedom of my youth. Having my time accounted for drives me ape shit — and a lot of my time is accounted for by a 58 pound cutie pie nincompoop. So with the rest of the time, I want to wake, eat, work, shit all in my own rhythm.
This seems normal to me but, to some (ahem, to certain women), I refuse to grow up. When I told a female friend of mine recently that I am excited about those times when no one knows or cares where I am, she told me it was funny that I still held on to that desire.
I suppose this desire to be free of responsibility is young. But I also feel like we’ve defined adulthood by the acceptance of suffering — the suffering of marriage, the suffering of work. Which smacks of capitalist propaganda. Maturity is giving up all your free time so someone else can get rich? Really?
Now, there is something mature about accepting suffering. But not suffering at the hands of some corporate douche bag! Adulthood entails understanding the suffering of this life and having some sympathy, for oneself as well as for others. And, in my book, it also means reducing that suffering when possible (ie, not having a shitty ass job).
Another supposed token of adulthood is owning a house. But who the fuck has the money for a $1.6 million condo in San Francisco? I make pretty good money, too, but that’s just not gonna happen. Does the fact that I’m a renter exclude me from adulthood? Seems silly to me.
I am a father and feel, for the most part, utterly capable. I’ve rushed him to the ER, sat with him in an ambulance, yelled at doctors and cajoled the system to make sure he’s treated (don’t get the wrong idea — he’s quite healthy; shit just happens to kids). I’ve stayed up with him when he’s had nightmares, held his hair when he’s vomited, taught him to throw, ride a bike, watch the Marx Brothers, and order a double americano.
But, once in a while, I feel like I just don’t have it in me. One time, when he was around two, I had the stomach flu for the second time in two weeks. He had it, too. To say I felt bad would be a supreme understatement. I couldn’t pick my head up except to vomit — which I did 18 times in 24 hours. And, still, I had to take care of him. And so I collapsed — in a puddle of my helpless tears and, weeping uncontrollably, called my mother just to have her tell me everything would be ok. Then I went back to mending the sickly little beast.
Sometimes, I look in the mirror and try to assess what I see. Nearly bald head — and what remains is increasingly grey. And, when I look a bit closer, I see all the loose hairs that eluded my buzzer the last time through. It is obvious that I don’t have my remaining hair professionally coiffed as an adult might.
I have what might be called a beard; its sparseness gives me pause. I wonder if, to others, it still looks like the bar mitzvah fuzz, the rabbinical face pubes, that defined it for so long. It is increasingly grey, as well.
This reckoning of my face taught me the obvious truth. We all live, each of us separately, in multiple times. In my face, I see the the grey as well as the adolescence; I feel the maturity alongside the desperate fears of my childhood. Different parts of me are aging at different speeds. I am not one thing that moves through time until it passes that threshold of adulthood. I am a multiplicity that moves — that ages — at different times in different ways.
Just as the earth has rock time, ocean time, moth time, human time, I have multiple times. Part of me is, in fact, adult — I take care of my son with aplomb. But part of me is a little boy that wants to have his mother take care of him. I handle clients who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies but I also love to get lit up and listen to music.
To define adulthood is difficult and perhaps absurd. How much of what we call adulthood is the inevitably of age? How much is accrued wisdom? What does that wisdom look like? Is it acceptance? Or relentless striving? Or is that a false dichotomy? In any case, what we define as adult is multiple, just as all words and concepts are. Just as there is no one me, there is no one adulthood.
Still, I’ll never wear a watch. Or cargo shorts.