Thanks to son for alerting me to this article on manhood and growing up, a collection of three personal essays by men who seem to be surprised to find themselves, seemingly overnight, transmogrified into adults.
I've written before on the changing landscape of gender roles (originally here), and the growing challenge of boys turning into men. These short, sweet essays take that topic gently, gently, and the authors really don't have any problems that they chooe to reveal, just a quiet astonishment.
But despite gender roles and complexities and 21st century realities and all of that, it's really not that complicated.
My own thinking on this conundrum has evolved some as I have aged. I am now beyond that first stage of adulthood where marriage, home ownership, and kids come as a culture shockwave. The authors feel now as I felt then: mentally and emotionally still on the adolescent side, even though they are doing all the things their parents did when they were children.
It may be a key of middle age, or of having adolescents in the home and teaching them every day, but I've gotten over my astonishment. I understand that adulthood really consists in doing more for others than others do for you-- on a daily basis.
It's that simple.
When did you go from being the one who ran screaming out to the beach after a stifling three-hour car ride to the one who unloads the car, makes the beds, fills the refrigerator?
When did you go from being able to microwave your own mac and cheese, but never thinking one thought about cleaning up after yourself, to the person who finds the mess and either cleans it or yells and shakes a finger?
When did you go from thinking your teacher had it in for you, to longing to have the time to learn that subject the utility of which you now finally have realized?
Or when was it that, at Christmas, you crossed the threshold from being the one with the stars in your eyes, wondering what you'd get under the tree, anticipating the smells of pine and the twinkle of lights, to the one who sits up late at night and assembles the bike?
Later on in life, when did you go from being the one in your workplace who got there as late as possible, went home as early as possible, and never seemed to be around when a volunteer was needed to take one for the team, to the person who, as the famous slogan goes, just does it?
It doesn't really matter if you are astonished or not. If you have gone through all these changes, you are an adult.
Kids do make a difference. If you have no kids in your life-- yours, those of friends and family and church, students, and close by-- it is much more difficult to grow up. It's less natural, certainly, less a function of necessity, and more a choice.
The other night, I was driving one of my beloved adolescents home from his extracurricular activity. As I pulled into our driveway, I noticed that the trucks had come and the garbage and recycling cans were still at the curb. I said nothing to adolescent, who said nothing to me. He hates being nagged to do chores, can't stand it. I can't stand having to be the one to remind him.
I headed out to the curb, and he headed to the front door.
There's the difference.