“When I’m a grown-up, I’m going to be a Daddy Grown-Up.”
I’m not sure whether I should be flattered when Jules says this, or whether this just means I’m a lazy bum and my life looks way more appealing than Melissa’s d=
Over 30 now and with 2 kids, despite my ravishing, youthful appearance, it seems that I found myself firmly cemented into adulthood. But what does it actually mean to be an adult? If the hashtag #adulting were to be believed, it seems that making a big purchase, paying off bills, taking out a loan, drinking alcohol, or completing some sort of chore-like task all fit under this category.
While one of the easiest ways to quantify one’s “grown-up-ness” is through achieving self-sufficiency, as I’ve reflected on what it means to be a grown-up, this seems like a woefully inadequate and largely inaccurate way to measure one’s so-called progress into adulthood. Being surrounded by a middle-class lifestyle for most of my life, there’s certainly been times where it has been lost on me just how stacked the hand that was dealt to me was. It’s easy for me to claim the milestone of adulthood because I’ve gotten married, had kids, and bought a house (a while back one family friend joked that I am moving up in the world because I have collected all the 子: 車子 (car), 妻子 (wife), 房子 (house), 孩子 (kids)) – but the reality is that all I’ve done for most of my life is follow the path of least resistance. It just so happened that this is where I landed in my particular situation. But frankly speaking, even if self-sufficiency were the bar, Melissa and I would still have a long way to go. We are constantly spoiled by our parents who live nearby, providing us with abundant food and childcare, clothing, etc…
As I was discussing the topic of income and earning what you’re “worth” with Jeff the other day, he shared an article from the New York Times that I thought was an enlightening read: Stop Pretending You’re Not Rich. It’s not so much that I have been pretending that I am not rich on some level… even with a notable income disparity with many of my peers or even those younger than me, I recognize the abundance that my family is able to live in. What I did realize though, is that while I am quick to point the finger at others that act in self-preservation, that our move to the suburbs of Columbus just as much an act of self-preservation and a willing participation in the cycle of injustice. There’s a number of reasons why we decided to move to our current location, and many of them are easily defensible, but that’s not really the point. Easy access to good schools and affordable housing were easily at the top of our list, and even if it was fairly intentional that we aimed at the most integrated, diverse (both culturally and socioeconomically) of the Olentangy Schools, the truth is that when push came to shove, we weren’t really willing to sacrifice what could have been lost for our children’s futures for the purpose of fighting for a more equitable education system. Back when I listened to the “This American Life” episode about how school integration has evidence of success, but each time seems to be stomped away by the backlash from the already privileged, it was easy for me to lament how selfish those parents are, but would I not have the same issues if it came to the same decisions for my kids? I hope not, but it’s certainly hard to say. On a broader level, even though I may criticize our parents’ generation for not recognizing the difference between their immigration experience and others less fortunate, when I enter the mindset of protecting the life they “earned” for our own children, am I not now culpable of believing the exact same thing? That we actually live in a meritocracy that isn’t completely flawed and rigged from the start? Jules is only in preschool right now, and especially with Melissa working in the industry, it is already very apparent to us that even at this age that kids do not start on equal footing.
Anyway, this has been a bit of a tangent, which seems to be the norm with my tedious ramblings. Tedious because it’s a struggle for me to finish these posts when they require me to actually buckle down and work through my thoughts when the words don’t flow easily. Tedious because it’s probably tedious for you to read my inane thoughts if you’ve somehow managed to make it this far d=
Back to the topic of adulthood. From time to time, I chat with my childhood friends who sometimes remark to me that I appear to be in such a different life stage as them. On the surface this seems true (back to the whole 子 thing again), but as I’ve been wrestling with this topic lately, I feel that maybe the more adequate measure of one’s life stage is simply how good one has gotten at making good decisions.
I personally know I still have a long path to maturity because even though my context may indicate that I have traveled far down this road to adulthood, I know that I am still by and large, a poor decision maker. For the most part, I am able to make good financial decisions (perhaps outside of my career path, but that’s a long discussion for another day), because they lean heavily on pragmatism that fit the mold of Melissa’s and my personalities (being relatively boring people also aids this endeavor). But on a more daily, personal level, if I am really honest with myself, my ability to make good decisions is unimpressive at best.
While time comes at even more of a premium now with 2 kids, the amount of time I spend in idle, fruitless activity is probably just as jarringly bad as before I had kids. It’s simply a lot easier to make excuses about it. My head has always been filled with ideas that sound good in my head and fail to be executed. Prayers that never got around to being prayed, encouraging conversations that were never had, books never read, photos never edited, games never played, skills never honed, songs never written… There is evidence of all of things scattered through my house, but day after day I ignore them and follow the path of least resistance to my couch, my phone, my TV, or maybe whatever pressing house-related task is at the forefront of my mind. If I do happen to do something useful, I feel accomplished and use that as an excuse to waste the remainder of my week. Sometimes I fail to show the most basic levels of discipline, often falling asleep on the couch before relocating upstairs for the night.
But the sense of urgency for me to progress on my journey is increasing. Jordan has reached 1 year of age and Juliette is starting to be old enough to learn more things, should we be motivated enough to give her the opportunity. She will only continue to shadow the two of us more and more, and hopefully we will model lives that result in her aspirations being bigger than “when I was a Daddy Grown-Up, I used to play that game when I had a phone”.
I hope that when my children grow up, they are able to be self-sufficient, because I want for them be safe and be comfortable. I think that’s a reasonable enough natural instinct for a parent. But I also think that’s a low bar and to some extent an incorrect bar to set, especially when they’ve already been born into privilege. So much more than that, I want them to reach for adulthood in understanding how to make good decisions, not only for themselves, but for the people around them, and for the world they live in. These kinds of decisions have little to do with whether or not they have enough money to spend on an extravagant house or go on vacations, but rather if they know how to live in humility, in community, with an balanced inward and outward focus, and with discipline to master whatever craft they are gifted with, be it art, ministry, science or other.
As a closing thought, each year I am understanding more and more the reality that money is one relationship in this life that I will just never quite be at ease with. Both a blessing and a curse, it can be used simultaneously to accomplish great things and serve as a mask, covering up the warts on our hearts. I’ve now realized that I will actually rationalize not making more money because I’m scared that if I do, I will just adapt and treat it as normal; spending more, indulging more, rather doing the hard work of examining my heart and responding to whatever God is calling me to do. It’s easy to follow the norms of society and believe that we are entitled to spend or store any money outside of the tithing guidelines we are provided with, but sometimes obedience to God asks us for far more than what’s standard. And if not with money, then certainly with our time and our lives.