One Commencement Night - Two Rites of Passage
Coming to terms with my son's transition to adulthood, and my own to midlife
Here we are, on the precipice of another summer, my favorite time of the year. There's a general casualness and languid, restorative energy proliferating in the air that just isn't there during the other months of the year.
Maybe it's the residual giddiness from a childhood of anticipating summer vacation with all of its promises of adventure, fun, and freedom. But I can't help but feel a twinge of excitement as we roll into these warm months, get outdoors, and lounge around underneath the sun.
This week's piece kicks off the summer by centering on a celebration that usually shows up during this time of the year, the high school commencement ceremony. My Son was a member of the graduating class of 2023, and through his rite of passage, I found myself coming face-to-face with one that I was dealing with as well.
I hope you enjoy.
It was an unusually cool and breezy evening, hardly indicative of what one would expect of an early June in a Southern California that, in normal times, would already be sweating it out and gearing up for a summer full of sunny beach escapes. I was huddled in my gray Old Navy hoodie, my native L.A. blood far too thin to be contending with these unseasonal deviations in temperature this late into the year.
I was seated, along with my ex-wife, in the bleachers, high above the field below, and we were trying to pick out our son in a sea of burnt-orange caps and gowns as they were ushered into the rows of folding chairs to a tired and languid rendition of Pomp and Circumstance.
Another cool wind blew out of nowhere, this one cutting like a clean razor straight through the fabric of my hoodie, under my skin, and deep down to my bones underneath.
I finally felt old.
I always thought that having a kid who was still in high school was one of the few remaining vestiges holding me back from truly being in middle age. I would look at my friends and coworkers who were dealing with their grown-ass adult children attending university or those whose kids had children and families of their own and would think to myself, well, ok, I'm not that old yet.
But now my son is a high school graduate, ready to leap into adulthood forever, for better or for worse. And I'm left standing here, all surprised-Pikachu, no longer able to deny that, well, ok, I guess I am that old now.
Raising a child provides the perfect visual yardstick for measuring the weird phenomenon of time somehow moving faster and faster as you age. Scientists say this is because our perception of time is inherently linked to how much time we have already lived. Makes sense, I guess, but I'd argue that having kids presses a heavy cosmic finger down on life's fast-forward button and cranks the whole damn thing up to triple-speed, at least.
There is nothing that will make you feel so unfairly old like watching your son or daughter's entire childhood flash by before your eyes. One day you're dropping them off for their first day of Kindergarten, and before you finish your morning coffee, you're helping them file their first tax return.
So is the law of nature, and the good stoic in me knows that it's completely futile to worry about things that you have no control over. The inevitable river of time will always continue to flow on, and the only way to get off this wild ride is to let it carry you as far downstream as it's willing to until it decides to unceremoniously dump you off the cliff and into oblivion.
No. Unfortunately, you don't have a say in the matter. Your only job is to watch it all zoom by and try to take in as much as you can as the minutes become hours, the hours days, and the days years. The churn of time mercilessly falls away. Enjoy your youth while you have it. Hold onto those important memories and the unimportant ones too. Enjoy watching your children grow into themselves. Learn from your experience and try to piece together your own meaning and purpose because once it's all gone, it's all gone.
But this evening isn't about me, whining about my own weird graduation into middle age, and why oh why can't I just turn back the clock and be young again? No, this evening is about my son and his cohort. This is about the self-propagating cycle of time and our generation having the dignity to willingly hand the keys of the car over to theirs. The world belongs to them now, and I'm excited to see what they will accomplish. We've put in the work and have done our part, and now it's time to pass the baton.
This is a lesson that a generation defined by futile stubbornness, like the boomers, failed to learn. As a result, we're now dealing with an aging army of Karens demanding to speak to the manager under the false assumption that they still hold some degree of control in this game. No, Karen, that ship sailed decades ago, and the only thing you're doing now is holding up the line.
Just because we're no longer part of the grease that keeps the gears running, that doesn't mean that we don't matter. It just means that our roles have changed. The sooner we just roll with it and accept that, the better off we'll be. I like to look at us midlifers, namely those of us making up Gen-X, as a group of smiling monks who have retreated from the drama of the world's stage. No longer burdened with chasing success and making the world move, we can turn inward and reach a higher state of contentment that doesn't depend on us chasing money or status and, in fact, rejects those things. We can finally begin a new phase of steady reflection and exploration and try to make some sense of what this life thing has all been about.
So as much as we'd love to turn back the clock and live both the wild times and the years of hustle that made up our 20s and 30s, we can't. Instead, we should take stock of what we have here in our new roles as midlifers. We'll find that there's actually a lot to love and embrace here. The pressure of the hustle years has dissipated, and with less and less to prove, fewer and fewer to impress, and no social ladder to climb, we can finally enjoy the beginnings of true freedom. While our minds and bodies may not be as sharp and primed for action as they once were, we can still challenge ourselves in other ways that don't require ninja-like reflexes or needle-sharp technical abilities. Now is the time to build and nurture deep endurance toward life. Now is the time to explore your inner artist and philosopher.
With this wonderful new phase of our lives spread out in front of us, who would want to go back to the toil of those hustle years? Who, at our age, would want to put up with the long days, heavy competition, resume-building, ladder-climbing, people-pleasing, and the burden of making the world move?
Nope. That job belongs to our kids now.
Midlife isn't the price you pay for getting older. No, midlife is your reward.
Recent indulgences and housekeeping
Playlist to chase sunsets to: Lately, I’ve been throwing on the shades and cruising around to this epic Spotify playlist that pays tribute to the glory days of LA’s own smooth jazz radio, 94.7 The Wave. As a teenage boy, I hated this kind of music, but my neighbor friend’s dad, who was this big burly lumberjack-looking guy, used to crank this station nonstop out of his garage when we were kids in the early 90s. Listening to it now cooks up a wicked sense of nostalgia, and after 35 years, I think I’m finally coming around to the soothing, ultra-chill sounds of Dave Koz, Bob James, and George Benson.
Free Books: Since quitting the massive timesink that is Reddit, I’ve been spending way more time on Substack and using the Libby app. I realize I’m a little late to the party here, but Libby has changed my life more than any other web tool this year. Libby is a free app where you can borrow ebooks from your local library and read them in your browser or beam audiobooks straight to your smartphone for listening on the go. If you don’t have a library card, Libby allows you to apply right from within the app. I have three local library systems on my Libby account, and although I’m much more of a physical book guy, I will not say no to free ebooks, and I load up borrowed audiobooks and listen to them as I run. It’s an absolute no-brainer.
That’s it for this week. Congratulations once again to the class of 2023. If you have a child that just reached this milestone, I’d love to hear your own reflections, not only about what this means for your child but your own role as a parent. Please drop a comment! Since MidThoughts is in its infancy, your feedback is vital to me in growing this community and delivering compelling content that resonates with you.
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