Recently, I had an epiphany in a meeting. Imagine my surprise.
This particular meeting revolved around a question asked by a smart woman with a wry, sly sense of humor: when did we stop feeling?
The ‘we’ in question were adults and, by extension, the thirty or so college-educated, nicely dressed and — from appearances — happy adults crammed into a conference room. Not one of us argued her point. Not one of us stood up and said, “That is TOTALLY wrong. I am filled with the feelings and I am having many of them right now!”
In addition to shrugging at our own malaise, we agreed on something else. Kids feel things. They feel things all the time.
I didn’t need this meeting to tell me that. I have you three. Hilarity. Disappointment. Anger. Frustration. Excitement. Your emotions run the range there is to run. Sometimes in the span of ten minutes.
See what I did there? That last sentence? I can sit in a room filled with other adults and mourn the loss of something essential, yet lightly poke fun at you for having it. I don’t know why we do this.
It’s probably jealousy.
So that you don’t consider me some sort of supernatural creature back from the dead, I do still feel.
But my feelings often need a trigger. They’ve become moments, playing cards slapped down in my mind. My nervousness at asking Poppa for his blessing to marry your Mom. The tears that kept coming, when I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed the speech I gave at our wedding. The surprise, every time we found out your mother was pregnant with one of you.
Most of the time, my head gets in the way of my heart. I worry over work and saving money for your college and delivering something on deadline. This is called maturity. It’s easy to blame work or responsibilities for the muting of the adult heart.
My father, he used to like to tell a story, one from just after I graduated college. I’d been working for a bit and I came home from the office. (I lived with them for a while because my salary was a quarter-step above minimum wage.) I put down my bag, slumped into a chair in our kitchen, and asked, “Is this all there is?”
I’ve been asking that question, in one form or another, my entire adult life. Your mother would say it’s the first-born in me. Maybe.
But it’s about more than birth order. It’s about wanting to feel satisfied in my skin. To have an assured belief that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to do in this world.
Maybe I’m wrong or naive or romantic or foolish to think that we’re all pegs, looking for that one hole we will perfectly fill. (I know you’re all boys, but don’t be pervy about this sentence when you’re older. I don’t mean it like that.)
We all have a purpose. One that has nothing to do with being a good husband or father or boss. One that has nothing to do with my responsibilities to anyone else and everything to do with my responsibility to myself.
Adults, we talk ourselves out of that. Convince ourselves we have to be ‘a certain way’ in order to be loved or accepted or employable. There are compromises. Allegedly, they are also a sign of maturity.
Don’t believe it.
If you feel like dancing, you dance. If you want to talk like a robot, you talk like a robot. If you want to turn tear the cushions off the couch to make a fort, even though it drives your mother and I crazy when you do, you make the fort. For the most part, you don’t really care what me or your mother think of these things. This is, I think, how it should be, as long as you aren’t hurting yourself or anyone else.
You are entitled to nothing more in this life other than to be yourself, the best way you can be. Keep feeling that basic connection with who you are. The one that feels true and powerful and urgent. Don’t silence it or forget it or lose touch with it or think it to death.
Because you could spend too much of your adulthood, trying to relearn what you already know so well.