So when I was a kid, my mom always used to have to pull me back from the edges of cliffs and things. My step-dad had a remote control airplane, and we’d go out on the bluffs over the Dungeness Spit to fly it. I’d inevitably end up standing on the very edge of the bluffs, and my mother would drag me back, and I never really got why.
I mean, sure, I knew I might fall down — but I also knew that I had good balance and good reflexes and the cliffs had been there for a long time. I wasn’t scared in the least.
Fast-forward thirty years. I’m walking through Cabela’s (known to my son as “the adventure store!”) with my son on my shoulders, and I find myself walking several feet away from the railing on the second floor balcony. I get a wave of vertigo, not because I’m afraid of falling over the edge — but because I can’t help but envision my son falling over.
I’m finding myself doing things like that a lot now — avoiding situations I would normally have just meandered right into, because I don’t want to risk my son getting hurt. It’s unusual for me because up until my son became mobile, I could trust him to be wherever I left him. And up until he became tall enough to actually climb up onto and over the railings of the world, I could trust him to at least only hurt himself in non-lethal ways.
I wrote last week about how men are biologically wired to discount the future. That’s why men — particularly young men — are more likely to choose to get in fights, commit crimes, join gangs (from the Crips to the Navy), and otherwise do things that make women and adults ask them what the hell they were thinking.
(The answer, in case you’re unaware, is “I was thinking no one would catch me and I wouldn’t have to try to explain what I was thinking…duh!”)
Even older men can do some significant discounting of the future, deciding, for example, that it’s better to buy beer now than save up for a XBox One. But once you feel that first panic when you realize that your child might fall and splatter his cranium, you can’t be all ‘que sera sera’ anymore.
This comes out most often when I’m driving. When I drive alone for whatever reason, I tend to drive fairly maniacally. It’s fun. I crank up my current favorite song [very NSFW], and drive on all the back roads where the cops aren’t.
Interestingly, when I have my son in the car (note: it’s a rare day that I have my son in the car and my wife isn’t driving, but it happens), I take the same back roads and listen to clean, big-band versions of my favorite songs [SFW; my mom might even enjoy that one], and I drive much more responsibly. Why? Because he can get hurt a heck of a lot easier than I can, and I’m not willing to be responsible for that happening. Period.
Not only do I not want my wife to blame me and roll her eyes into sometime in mid 2017, but I also don’t want my son to get hurt in the first place. That’s important, too.
So, I’ve become aware of the fact that I need to start ‘counting the future’ — by discounting it less. I’m trying to apply this lesson in more than just driving and walking around with my son on my shoulders, too.
That’s why, when my mom called me last week and said (paraphrased) “Dude, what’s this bullshit on your blog about I see you as a failure?”, I said to myself, “Hmm…I just wrote that thing about how to talk to a woman, so if I screw this up, I’m a hypocrite and kind of a jerk to my mom.
So, we talked, and I did my straight best to give her the ‘long haul’ treatment. She informed me (paraphrased) that she was in fact very proud of the decisions that I’ve made about my son. She told me that the whole ‘failure’ thing was some bullshit from way back in the day and that I was wrong about it back then, too, and she has no idea why this keeps coming up.
She told me she’s very glad that I’m blogging all this crap, because she didn’t have a father in her life, and her parents didn’t really have fathers in either of their lives, either. In fact, the whole “no one knows what the hell a father is even supposed to be” thing goes apparently way back — at least on my mom’s side of the family.
Apparently one of the ways that men commonly discount the future — and I’m just making this up, but it sure sounds true to me — is by failing to invest in their relationship with their children. We throw ourselves into the things we can get immediate enjoyment from: sports, work, remodeling cars and kitchens and computers — but we hesitate to do things that suck might right now, but will contribute to our long-term enjoyment.
I read this thing somewhere and I wish I could cite my source, but it was too long ago. It basically said, “We all have two sources of happiness: one that likes to do fun things now, and one that likes to be able to look back on really amazingly cool stuff we’ve done and admire those memories.”
Long-term enjoyment is that second thing; it’s having awesome memories to look back on and define ourselves with. Long-term enjoyment means being able to do really fantastic things every once in a while, and Americans have largely defined that with the word “vacation.”
For example, when I look back on my life, I think of things like driving from Seattle to Gulliver, Michigan in August of 2012. That was a month of pure, unadulterated adventure. I also remember going on a cruise ship up to Alaska with my wife in 2005, and going on a sister city trip to Japan in high school, and so on and so on.
And it’s as I was pondering how those things all affected me that I realized that “vacation” is the wrong word to define long-term enjoyment with. Because there are other things that I look back on fondly.
There was the time my wife and I got lost in Southwestern Washington and found a giant sculpture garden hidden on a back road with no fanfare or signage — just awesome giant sculptures along a path in the woods.
There was the time our car tire blew out in the middle of the road on the way to I-don’t-even-remember, and we had to learn how to get the spare tire out from under the rear of the minivan and get it installed on the fly in the dark in the rain, and we laughed the entire time because it was such a fun…
such a fun…adventure.
That’s the word we should be associating with long-term enjoyment. Discounting the future to do ‘stuff that doesn’t suck’ now is costing my family and I the chance to have truly epic adventures. Sure, we might be able to turn the occasional tire-pop or other accident into an adventure, but the good stuff — the trips across the country and cruise ships and whatnot — that only comes with planning and counting the future in a way that I’m not particularly good at.
Doing stuff that sucks now might suck now, but if it clears the way for badassery to happen, that’s a goal worth sticking to.
I’m grateful to Cabela’s for having a 20′ balcony, and to my son for being just young enough to want to lean over the railing. Without them, I may never have had this realization. Also, to my mom, for being a lot more aware of and proud of me than I gave her credit for. Thanks. 🙂