Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”
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Father or Friend?

Father’s Day.  We give Dad something like a pocket knife or a round of golf.  We remind him that we appreciate his work and that his role is valuable.  It’s a worthwhile holiday, even if it’s a bit underwhelming sometimes.  Nonetheless, a good dad is priceless, which is worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are deeply-saddened on Father’s Day.  It’s a painful reminder of what could have been, or once was.  There are so many who would give anything to have a father to celebrate.  So many men wish they could go back in time and do it over again.  So many had a terrific dad, only to lose him.  For too many, Father’s Day is a reminder of disappointment or tragedy: car accident, cancer, divorce, abandonment, infertility, suicide, or decades of emotional distance.  Let this be a reminder that fatherhood should not be taken for granted.

Fortunately, there are many men who have enjoyed the privilege of fatherhood for decades and have taken the responsibility very seriously.  They are fortunate, indeed, as are their children.

An old college buddy of mine wrote on his FaceBook wall the following tribute to his dad.  Growing up, he never was distracted by trying to get me to like him – probably the most impressive thing about his love for me. I see parents all the time that try to get their kids to like them so THEY can feel good. It takes a takes a hell of a lot of vision, self-confidence, and faith to be a great parent.”

It’s such a tough job, being a parent. It’s one thing or another, an uphill journey with no end.  It’s my firm belief that the price of being a loving parent is high, one way or another.  You pay now, or pay later.  But the highest price is the paid along the path of least resistance. Those who take the easy road parenting end up in the worst destinations.  But those who choose to sacrifice, serve, teach, discipline, encourage, and love their kids daily, making their kids’ needs (not wants) their top priority, will have a tough time of it too.  Later, however, they will enjoy the sweet fruits of their work, in the form of beautiful, powerful relationships – full of respect and affection.

Unfortunately, the norm seems to be that parents are giving up the hard role of being a parent and taking on the fun role of just being a friend.  So many kids are raising themselves – ineffectively.  They are figuring things out the hard way, or not figuring things out in any way.  And that is one of society’s biggest problems.  This is largely due to parents making deals with their kids to make them happy, rather than making the tough choices that lead to good character.

So, choose to be the adult in your relationship with your child.  And encourage others (tactfully, of course) to be the parent, not just a friend.  Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”  Training is tough, but it pays off.  Ask any athlete, soldier, or dog owner.

Be the adult, the teacher, the leader, the protector, the provider, the encourager — and yes, the friend.  The payoff will be immense.

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

The Great Abigail Adams

John Adams was a man of tremendous intellect and inner strength.  With the aid of Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers, he set the legal and political foundations of the United States of America.

As a rebel, he was the intellectual force of the revolution against England.  His words in support of reason and law were the balancing force to the raw anger and violent ways of his cousin Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.  Without him, the revolution would not have taken root in the solid ground of law.

As a writer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, he put his whole life (career, family, friendships…) on the line.  Using his intellect, his pen, and his voice, he helped defeat the most powerful force in the world, the King of England, for the freedom of American people and their descendants.

Continue reading “The Great Abigail Adams”

Liars, Cheaters, and Role Models

This week on the car radio, I overheard the most obnoxious sports radio talk show host furiously ranting and raving about how corrupt professional and big college sports have become.  It went something like this: “Don’t let your kids idolize anyone in sports today!  It’s an ugly business, full of greediness, lying, cheating, and everything that is wrong with this world.  There are no role models in sports anymore!”  To me, it was a shocking rant because his livelihood is made from talking about sports, yet there he was betraying his industry with the most extreme language.  He didn’t “pull a punch” or let anyone off the hook.  He explained with the utmost disgust that all professional and big college athletes, coaches, and executives are tainted by the money, the power, and the fame.

It troubled me as I thought of the players from my childhood who were my role models: Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Brock, John Stockton, Roger Staubach, and Walter Payton.  I thought about some of the role models that I have in sports now:  Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Albert Pujols, and others.  Are they in some way corrupt too?  Are they just putting on a show for the public?  Or are they just the extreme minority — one of just a very few people in the sports industry who have stayed grounded in spite of all the corruption around them?  Or is this radio host just off his rocker once again?

Continue reading “Liars, Cheaters, and Role Models”

Delayed Gratification

Very few things anymore take a long time to happen.  Nearly everything is available in an instant.  Instant messaging.  Movies on demand.  Cell phones with internet access.  Instant winners.  Ultra-fast food.  Five-minute total-body workouts.  You name it, and America can make it faster, so we can fit more into our days.

A major component of growing up is learning to deal with long waits and unexpected delays of all kinds. Mature adults learn that many of the best things in life take a long time to develop.  A great education takes twenty years.  A rock-solid, happy marriage takes a good decade to develop.  A garden is made over the course of many months, with daily tending.  Hunting or fishing takes tremendous patience and skill developed over years of practice.  Many of us are awaiting Spring flowers already.  These are some of the greatest joys of living, and some people just flat-out miss out.  They’d prefer a TV dinner to a slow-roasted turkey.

Abigail Van Buren once wrote, “Maturity is: The ability to stick with a job until it’s finished; The ability to do a job without being supervised; The ability to carry money without spending it; and The ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

Continue reading “Delayed Gratification”

Real Men Drive Minivans

There comes a time in a man’s life when the favorite car gets traded in for a minivan.   It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and in time you start loving its usefulness.  You begin to think that it’s worth all that money.  Then you see all the stains, smells, dings, scratches, and dents that pile up on that thing, and you just want to scream.  It’s one of many little – and not so little – sacrifices that men make for their families.  One day I heard one of the car guys on Car Talk call the popularity of the minivan the “wussification of the American male.”  I laughed, then wanted to cry.

Leading kids, whether its parenting, coaching, teaching, or mentoring, requires self-sacrifice.  But it’s really not a sacrifice; it’s a series of trade-offs that may seem awful in the short view, but they are worth it all in the long run.  72estate05-crop

I had a baseball coach in middle school who had this awful Chevy station wagon, but it was a great way to lug half the team and all the gear around town.   He hated that old beater of a car, but he loved us.

Andy Gullahorn is a terrific singer/songwriter from Nashville who should be a lot more popular than he is.  His song “More of a Man” speaks to all the 30-something Dads out there.

The summer when I turned sixteen / I got up each day before the dawn / I was building barns and bailing hay / Worked harder than the day was long.  /  Now I’m 30 and I have three kids / I watch Dora the Explorer in the morning / I feel a sad truth sinking in / Maybe I was more of a man back then.

Buy the song on iTunes for a buck, or do yourself a favor and buy the whole album.

There are many things I miss from my bachelor days or the days with my wife before kids.  But the trade-offs are worth it all.  And so much of life is a package deal.  With the deteriorating minivan comes countless smiles and laughs.  And meaning.

So I suck in my protruding gut  / On our monthly dinner night / You’re saying something about the kids  / As I watch these young men pass me by. / I remember I was just like them / I was lonely but I called it independent  / And if lonesome is what manly is / Baby, I was more of a man back then.

This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, The Family Man, which always reminds me why “I choose us,” minivan and all.

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