The grandkids are really happy almost all of the time and I think I know why. So far, nobody has told them they aren’t enough. No one has said they aren’t good enough, talented enough, smart enough, strong enough, popular enough…
I want to freeze time for them, lock in this moment when the reality of limitations isn’t even a concept yet. I want them to keep living in a world where they can believe anything about their own futures, never needing to question whether their dreams are possible. And, absolutely, I want them to continue believing that they can, without having to think about the person who told them they cannot.
It will happen someday, of course. I don’t know any adults who haven’t absorbed the idea, somewhere along the journey, that they aren’t enough. But, for my grandkids, I’m hoping we can postpone it for at least a few more years. The day you’re told you aren’t enough is the day your childhood ends.
When my daughters were young, I told them they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. There was a hidden asterisk in that assurance, since “anything” covers an awful lot of ground, but the premise was still sound. Whether they wanted to be Supreme Court justices or cheerleaders, there was a path for them to achieve their goals.
By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve been told we’re not enough in so many ways that we can doubt our potential even in areas where nobody has slapped us down yet. The sad fact of our rites of passage is that they tend to limit our view of what’s possible, narrowing our own sense of our selves and our potential. Sometimes, we look back on a path not taken and we think it was also a path we could not have taken, because we weren’t enough.
It's not true, though. We go through life once and we make choices every day about whether we’re going to have fries with that…or not. But making a choice today, or in high school, doesn’t preclude a different choice, a different direction, thirty or forty or fifty years later. The things we haven’t done before are not unavailable, just untried.
When we took up knitting instead of pottery, when we moved to the suburbs instead of the city, when we bought a Mac instead of a PC, these were choices, not a life sentence. Very often, older people will sigh that they always wanted to…something. Also very often, there’s nothing really stopping them from giving it a try today.
We do get stopped, though, held back by the view that we aren’t enough, not good/smart/talented enough to do whatever we haven’t done so far. Decades have passed, but we still allow ourselves to be controlled by someone, possibly a someone we don’t even remember, who told us we weren’t enough.
Maybe they were wrong, though. Maybe we were enough. Maybe we still are.
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And then there was the time a friend and I were arrested for being Peeping Toms.
Now, to be fair to my already diminished reputation among decent people, I should note that we were innocent of any crime. Yes, I know “I didn’t do it,” is what guilty people say, but it’s also what innocent people say. It’s Schrodinger’s Plea.
I should also clarify that we were arrested in the sense that we were stopped and taken to the police station without having any choice in the matter. It’s not exactly like the cop said, “Hey, you guys wanna come down to the station with me? Totally your call.” Nope, he did not say this or anything like it, unless you consider, “Get in the car,” to be a request.
Anyway, to the story… We were home on summer break and we planned to get together one evening with no particular plans in mind. I was at a cousin’s house, so we came up with the goofy idea—which, I swear, seemed really sensible at the time—to drop my car off at my parents’ house and walk back to where his car was parked. Then he would drive me back to my parents’ house, drop me off and go home.
No, looking back on it, I can’t come up with any reason why this seemed like an enjoyable experience, or why it appeared to make sense, except we were exceedingly lame, but not lame enough for miniature golf.
So we drove to my folks’ house, dropped my car, and started what was going to be a 5-mile walk back to his car. (As I type this, it sounds even stupider than it sounded when I typed it in the last paragraph, as if such supreme stupidhood is possible.) Anyway, at about the midway point in our amble, a suburban squad car rolls up and the cop asks us what we’re doing.
This is where the cop should have known we were innocent, because even the dumbest of the dumb among criminals could come up with a better story than, “We’re walking five miles from my car to his car, so we can drive back in his car to drop me off by my car.”
The cop says a woman called in a Peeping Tom complaint from a nearby motel and he wanted to know if we had been in the area. The reason he was curious, he said, was that the woman described the peepers as a Mutt & Jeff combo and we fit the bill. Being the Mutt part of this pairing, I was slightly offended, although it was hard to argue that I didn’t need to drop a few pounds.
He takes us in his car to the cop house (which is what we hardened criminal types call the police station) and puts us in a room where he asks questions. No, we’re not under arrest, he says, although we can’t leave, either, and there’s no need to call a lawyer, or dad, because we haven’t been charged with anything.
I’m taking all of this really, really seriously, since I presume this to be a crime of moral turpitude and it could blemish my reputation, if I ever got the chance to build a reputation. It’s one of those things that would absolutely go on my permanent record and follow me through life.
Ever since grade school, I had been warned about things going on my permanent record, which was chiseled in stone and locked up in the principal’s office, documenting everything you did wrong…ever. Like when it was the student assembly and you farted and Billy Kamden laughed and some of his spit landed on Sally Wunderlich and then everyone started laughing and now you can’t get good job, because they will look at your permanent record and see that you farted in the school assembly and ruined it for everyone.
And now we’re stuck in the police station and they’re going to add Peeping Tom to the whole farting thing and I would never get a good job or drive a cool car or even be allowed to order a pizza.
So, as I said, I’m taking this really seriously, but my friend had just a bit of disdain for everyone who was not at his level of brilliance, so he mouthed off more than a bit to the constabulary. It was like we were playing a game of good suspect, bad suspect, but at least I was the nice guy.
About a half hour goes by and they move us into another room, a room with a large mirror on the wall. Hmmmm. What could be behind that mirror? The cops have us sit there, someone has a conversation in the next room, and the senior cop comes in to tell us they are going to have to let us go because the woman was unable to identify us.
He didn’t say that we were innocent, of course. Clearly, we were guilty, since my friend was tall and I was fat and we were walking near the scene of the crime. The words he used were, “She couldn’t identify you,” which meant we were guilty but we were going to get off because of a technicality.
After a while, they agreed to take us back to where they picked us up, which was still about two miles from where had been going, and we were let out of the car with a warning not to do it again. Because it was clear to them that we had done it and we had gotten lucky, but we wouldn’t be so lucky next time. That also meant they weren’t going to look for the actual Peeping Toms. They found their perps, it didn’t work out, but this case was closed.
We really dodged a bullet that night. What if the woman had been drinking and we looked familiar enough for her to accuse us? What if she had simply assumed the police had done their jobs, so we must be the guys who looked through her window? We’d be running around today with arrest records, possibly convictions, and the minor consolation of knowing it all happened before Facebook.
I’ve thought about that night quite a few times over the years, recognizing how close we were to a very damaging journey. The memory is triggered, often enough, when someone is accused of a crime and claims to be innocent. Having been on the wrong side of the table, I find myself more skeptical of the criminal justice system. I give the cops the benefit of the doubt, most of the time, but they don’t get my blind faith.
I’ve also given some thought to the decisions we made that night. After careful consideration, I’ve concluded that miniature golf was not our lamest choice.
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So now that everyone is working from home and Friday is pajama day, what do kids buy instead of ties for Father’s Day? So many mysteries to being a dad, including…
Being a dad is the best job I’ve ever had, and the most rewarding, even if I had no clue what I was doing most of the time. I think the kids knew this, or at least suspected, but they let me off the hook and I appreciate it a ton.
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We're taking an unprecedented departure from the usual frivolity this week to focus on an issue that hasn’t affected most of us directly…yet.
What if we could have an honest, adult, mature conversation about reducing gun violence in the United States? What if we could dispense with the slogans, the accusations, and the impossible demands and just discuss the things we can do to diminish this uniquely American scourge? What if, instead of simply dusting off the tirades we used last time, we figured out a way to reduce the number of next times?
Let’s give it a try, shall we? And we could begin by agreeing to be governed by reality. So, first, a few realities to define our conversation.
So, if we recognize these realities, where do we go from here? A few suggestions.
First, let’s agree that law abiding citizens will continue to be able to buy guns. I don’t happen to own a gun, but I have no problem with my neighbor having a weapon for his/her protection. Even if I had a problem with it, they have a right to bear arms and it’s none of my business. Anyway, the whole point of this conversation is to stop criminals, not law-abiding citizens.
So, how to reduce gun crimes without infringing on the rights of non-criminal types?
You’d never know it from reading all the slogans online, but these commonsense steps should be acceptable, even desirable, to a huge majority of our fellow citizens. We’re not going to stop all gun crimes, but we could make some progress if we started acting like mature, reasonable adults who had an interest in reducing the carnage.
Suddenly, I’m having intimate conversations with (nearly) total strangers and I’m learning new things about myself in the process. Or, maybe, I am learning things about myself that they recognized a long, long time ago and never mentioned to me.
Plus or minus a few years and a couple of Covid delays, I’m marking the 50th anniversaries of high school and college, which seem like yesterday and forever ago in the same flashback.
One of my high-school classmates puts together a reunion lunch every month so we can compare our “memories” and I’ve traveled down to the University of Illinois twice in the past eight months to share “memories” with old friends from The Daily Illini. I’m putting “memories” in quotes here because I remember almost none of the things they talk about.
Well, there are a few snippets here and there, more from college than from high school, but I begin to wonder if I actually went to the same school as they did or, maybe, this is a diabolical gaslighting plot to convince me I once had a life. What if they’re just telling me all these things to convince me I was there and merely forgot all about it? When will they reveal the trap in this impossibly long con?
To be fair, this is five decades ago and a lot of stuff has happened since then. Grade school friends are supplanted by high school friends, college friends, whoever our friends are at whatever job we have at the moment, the parents of our children’s friends, the group at the synagogue, neighbors, new neighbors and, ultimately, all the people at the assisted living center.
We stay connected to few dozen people for a decade or two and maybe hold onto a handful for a lifetime. With most people, though, we’re sharing a moment. That moment might be measured in years, but it’s still a potted plant without permanent roots. We move on to new soil, as do they, and the relationships begin anew.
It’s a totally natural progression. Every relationship is built on some foundation and, when the foundation shifts, the relationship needs a new anchor. Maybe we end up in the bowling league with our kids’ friends’ parents and we stay connected through our love of rented shoes. Perhaps we end up in a movie group with a few co-workers and that cohort survives after the latest round of “rightsizing.” More commonly, the relationship disappears as its foundational supports are removed.
In a very real sense, all the people I’m reconnecting with are strangers. We knew each other once, then fell out of touch, and we spend a lot of time asking each other, essentially, who we are, or were, way back when. There’s a dead spot in my brain where I should be remembering more about other people or more about the times we shared, so I need a ton of reminders.
Meanwhile, as disconcerting as it is to realize how much I’ve forgotten, and how much I missed while I was with these people a half century ago, there is something truly glorious in these gatherings.
Even for those of us who have become strangers over the ensuing years, we come to the table as friends, as people who’ve shared a formative experience and recognize our common history. There is an assumption of good will and shared values that creates a foundation for our conversation. We don’t share all the same views, of course, but we walk in with an openness to hear what the other has to say and to treat them with kindness. We want to hear about their lives and their stories more than we want to drone on about our own.
Of course, we could do the same thing with any stranger we meet. We aren’t going to have the same views or priorities, but there is undoubtedly some formative experience we have in common, some starting point to launch a friendly and respectful conversation. What if we walked in with an openness to hear what those strangers have to say and we treated them with kindness? What if we wanted to hear about their lives and their stories more than we wanted to drone on about our own?
And what if we didn’t let another 50 years go by before we chose to approach all our strangers that way?
Before you head out to start up a conversation with someone you’ve never met, be sure to click here to subscribe to Dad Writes. Don’t be a stranger.
A guy rolled up on my right in traffic and yelled, “I will blow your *%^&!## head off,” if I didn’t let him cut in front of me. In the old days, I would have dismissed that as a slight exaggeration and kept going. Those days are gone, though, so I made space for him and lived to drive another day.
Fortunately, I haven’t met many people who would even think of killing someone as a merging technique, but I do know a ton of people who appear to be closing in on that benchmark. They live in a state of constant agitation, on guard and aggrieved by all kinds of things that, to be honest, have nothing to do with them.
They are infuriated by something that is being done/ignored by/to/with/without the approval/participation/absence of somebody they never met, will never meet, and whose life is none of their *%^&!## business. The more remote the connection, the more agitated they are, or so it appears.
Even some of the most docile creatures in my IRL community are ready to gird their loins and do battle with the enemy that’s making their lives harder, if only they could figure out who it is. My contacts can’t identify the source of the mischief, but “they” are plotting 24/7 to make matters worse.
Mostly, my contacts complain about challenges that are truly mundane, the stuff of long lines or late mail or canceled deliveries. We used to absorb all these slings and arrows without flinching, just rolling with the punches that life throws at us every day. Now, though, the obstacles are more personal, more intentional, more infuriating, and we need someone to blame.
Politicians and talk show hosts make $millions encouraging our anger, raking in ad revenues or campaign contributions or book deals by telling us how “they” are out to get us. When it's an officially recognized sector of the economy, Anger will be the largest industry in the United States. If we weren’t angry all the time, cable news, talk radio, most of the internet and half of Big Pharma would collapse.
And, maybe, that could be a good thing. If we weren’t angry all the time, we could solve some of the problems that cannot be addressed in echo chambers filled with land mines. If we weren’t angry all the time, we could live happier lives. We might even live longer, or at least enjoy our lives more.
The craziest thing about our chronic aggrievement is that we control most of it. We had just one day of sunshine in six weeks in Chicago this spring, but I didn’t even notice. I got soaked when the skies opened up on my walk back to the car the other night, but I laughed it off because, well, it’s only water.
That’s me on a good day. Put me in a car with a destination, though, and I will get offended by everyone who is going too slowly or too quickly or failing to signal or sitting for more than 0.002 nanoseconds after coming to a stop at a stop sign. Traffic is always a mess and I should expect the same thing every day, but somehow I get so caught up in the personal affronts that I actually thought about challenging a guy who threatened to, “Blow your *%^&!## head off.”
Clearly, he needs to calm down just a bit. So do I.
We’re not even going to ask you to click here to subscribe this week, because we might take it personally if you ignore our plea and we don’t want to go on a rampage over the whole thing.
Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.