On being a middle-aged, overweight, white male in America, 2022
In my town, today, it is Graduation Day. More than a handful of those kids I’ve known their entire teenaged years. I’m freaking out…
From my seat at the round outdoor glass table spattered with clumps of yellow-green tree pollen, I can look up over the roof of the house, and see a dust cloud of pollen, moving sideways through the air when the wind blows, downward in a veritable torrent when the air is still. I am glad the pollen doesn’t bother me like my age does, else I’d be in a bubble, on tens of medications, and forever complaining about the seasonal suffering of allergy.
Today, it is Graduation Day at the local high school. I know no fewer than five boys through Scouts and several others graduating today that I’ve known or know of for nearly a decade. Ten local kids moving on with their lives to live. It’s not upsetting to me — I am happy for them, and recall my pride of blindly pulling my life together enough to have spent one of the last two summers I would spend at home. (I have fears for my own children being so fortunate or ambitious, but that’s for another time.)
Three years ago, my daughter was celebrating her graduation on this day. It was blisteringly hot, I was forty pounds lighter, was just sent home from work to not return to the office for an unknown amount of time (this is prior to Covid), and so very, very proud of my first child making her way to art school. (Art school?! Again, another time.) So very proud. And so very scared.
When a child leaves home for the first time, there’s an emotional crush that colors everything you do or think about. When her time came to move out and move on, I wasn’t worried (so) much about success or failure — is she alive? That’s success enough! I was worried about whether she’d be happy with her choices as she made them. How burdensome would a bad choice be? Did her mother and I provide her with the tools to recover from a bad choice? Or a series of bad choices?
Even if she preferred women, could she avoid the indignity of male sexual assault? And if not, could she recover from it? (Men are awful. Once more, another time. And for yet another time, I don’t know my daughter’s sexual preferences, and she’s going to turn 21 this summer.)
All of this worry about her, and by extension her brothers, but in due course, had me worrying after me. Was I ready to move ahead with my life? Am I prepared to live in a world wherein she’s not in her room every day, whiling away her time doing god knows what, often an arts and crafts project, or reading, expressing little interest in being sociable? She’s safe there, if not expressly happy. But, am I?
At that moment, I was still running daily. The joy of running was beginning to fade, but it would be more than a year before it drained from me completely. I was about as healthy as I’d ever been. Ever. I had my eyes set on marathoning for my fiftieth birthday. I was as optimistic about my personal life as I can recall being since marriage. I was experiencing what felt like it could be hopeful advancement at work. I was in mid-life crisis rebound.
When she was preparing to leave for college, I was probably as ready for that, emotionally, as I could be. If she were graduating today, like these folks I know, I’d be a wreck.
In the months before she left for school, it had become a running gag in the car where she’d ask if the song playing was by Green Day. Not because she liked them especially, but she was trying to identify at least one musical artist I listened to that didn’t (or maybe they did, we never really discussed it) make her sick. Her music tastes wend far and wide from mine. On the occasions she was in the car and Green Day came on the radio, I’d declare, “Hey, Catherine, it’s Green Day!” When she left for college, and was not in the car with me anymore, I made the declaration anyway.
For a time, it was funny.
Almost three years later, it’s more poignant. Last week, when I made that call-out to a Catherine-free car, it smashed my soul and I fought back tears that would have necessitated I pull off the road.
And as I consider these kids who are getting ready to leave town and move on to bigger things, I consider the pollen in the breeze. Most of them will blow along and settle on a surface that cannot be fertilized, and so they will not become like the trees surrounding my porch, the trees that many of them spent some amount of time under, during one event or another. One of them, though, could find it’s way to the soil, find a seed, flourish, make something of themselves.
But, that just leads to further anxiety. Will I be old enough to appreciate their children, their advances? Will I pull myself together enough to gather more than a wan smile when I hear of their exploits or travails?
Am I even going to be at my next kid’s graduation? I’m sure as shit not running a marathon for my fiftieth birthday.
There’s so much, man. So much going on. I won’t list out the terrors of 2022, because I’m already writing through tears. It feels worse than it ever did when I was that age, or even just five years ago. How do kids do it? How do parents make it through all of this without losing their goddamned minds?
I suppose it’s always been this way: the pollen flying through the air, finding seeds, settling in, creating shade or wrecking the soil. But it feels all the more exisentially questionable as I gain age like the weight that gathers at my waste.
No one ever knows, sure. But, that’s no comfort.