I have a wife, a daughter, a career and a mortgage. I’m a registered voter, a smart shopper and a friendly neighbor. To the casual observer, I’m a painfully boring, typical adult. But the truth is, I’m living a lie. It’s all a charade and I have no idea what I’m doing.
As a kid, I always thought adults just automatically knew how to do adult things, like change a tire or create a 401K. When I physically (not mentally, mind you) became an adult, I realized that my “How to Adult” pamphlet must have been lost in the mail. At any given moment, especially when parenting, I literally just wing it and hope that no one notices. I still find conversation topics like “insurance premiums” and “investment portfolios” coma-inducing, just as I did 30 years ago. Why? Shouldn’t I care now? Other people my age seem to care. Did I miss some pivotal milestone? Was I out reading comic books when everyone was told why political debates were more important than the unveiling of Nintendo’s next console?
While I often avoid social interactions altogether, when I do engage with other humans, I tend to stick to the ones who understand (or at least tolerate) my dated, nerdy pop culture references. However, I know for a fact that there are many my age who are full on, hardcore adults. I see them with their power ties and combed hair, looking at me with my DuckTales shirt and geeky tattoos and I can’t help but feel awkward. I sense their condescension and feel self-conscious, like I’m not “adulting” properly. Then my feelings of inadequacy immediate manifest as anger, mentally lashing out with snarky, preconceived notions about who they are. In truth, judging a stranger on their looks is precisely what I assume they are doing to me, so while some of these “professional adults” may actually be looking down their nose at man-baby me, most of the time I am probably just projecting my own insecurities. As my kid gets older, I find myself having to interact with these adult contemporaries more and more often, so I should probably make an effort to interact with them, right?
If my kid is friends with your kid, societal norms dictate that we too must interact, awkwardness be damned. This interaction takes the form of clumsy small talk and for guys, that means sports. For years, I feigned an interest in professional sports in order to make polite conversation. However, I eventually realized that coming out of the closet as a non sports fan was far less embarrassing than trying to talk sports while watching disgust slowly creep over a guy’s face as he comes to realize that all my collective sports knowledge comes from NBA Jam and Goofy cartoons. So with sports off the table, what do we talk about?
Typically, I’ll do the obvious and steer the conversation towards movies or television, dropping subtle hints about my nerdiness to see if we share any interests. My NES tattoo also helps as a conversation starter and sort of signal flag to fellow gamers my age, kind of like that Edward Norton prison yard scene in American History X, but you know, without the Nazi symbolism. If we reach the painful point of weather discussion, I always turn the topic to kids. All parents can relate to the bizarre paradox of boundless love for an insane little human that spends most of their time trying to defy all your attempts to keep them alive. Little kids are so unfiltered, they often do and say absurdly hilarious shit, so that usually works as a way to relate. But occasionally, when I do meet those “professional adults” who take parenting far too seriously, I’m at a loss.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This quote has always pissed me off, not only for it’s condescendingly stoic narcissism, but for it’s negative implication of childishness. Children are innocent, funny, loving, eager to learn and express themselves honestly. While we must inevitably age, take on bigger responsibilities and physically leave our childhood, we shouldn’t forget its importance. Since being a father has put me in the precarious position of being the model of manhood for my daughter, I often wonder if I should put away the comic books and pick up a briefcase. If I should start standing with the adults at parties, discussing wine and home repair, even though I’ll always think that farts are funny and super heroes are rad? Nah, screw that. Hold my shoes, I’m going back in the bouncy house.