I’m fresh back from a 4-day Boys Tahoe Weekend. “Fresh” is probably not the right word. At the other end of the spectrum, “stale” wouldn’t be sufficiently descriptive either. I’m more a week-old, stale baguette. Green and mushy, stuck on the floor of the prison-gray dumpster behind Safeway, piles of trash thrown on top of me.
First, I’m physically sore. In layers. The diluvial conditions that crushed the Sierras this past weekend made for rough going, both on the mountain(s) with ski gear on, and off the mountain(s) with inadequate footwear and soaked jeans. I don’t think I actually ever fell while skiing at all. But trying to hold your shoulders up to your ears for a couple hours to hide from the cold downpour leaves a mark. And there were plenty of falls as a civilian, whether caused by sheer ice on a walkway or caused by malicious (but admittedly deserved) “payback” from one of the Boys at said Boys Tahoe Weekend. Even sitting is uncomfortable at the moment. It will take a week to get myself back together.
Second, I’m spiritually sore. On Night #1 (arguably it was Night #2), I got into the whole religion thing over Guinness. I was whipped and beaten savagely, debate-wise. At the apex, I felt my face begin to get hot. It was all I could do to avoid screaming at my tormentor(s) using every obscenity I could think of, even making a few up if necessary. Probably did long-term damage to my eustachian tubes, pushing so hard against pursed lips. Louis Armstrong comes to mind with those big bullfrog cheeks. But I think I managed to avoid revealing my inner dipshit. Stayed out of the gutter, though thoroughly defeated with nothing to show for it.
Third, I’m emotionally sore. We four are each at least 45 years old, and we definitely covered some heavy topics. By now we’ve all stared into the maw, over the abyss, and asked ourselves if we have any idea what we’re supposed to do here. Fourty-five is a not insignificant number. I’d like to think that’s only 50%, but it could be a lot more. It could be 97%, and that is a scary thought, can be a debilitating two in the morning staring at the ceiling thought. Turns out that the stuff I’m wrestling with in this very blog struck a chord with the Boys.
These are good men, and I am incredibly lucky to have them in my lives. None of them are maintaining second families in the Dominican, putting it all on black at some Vegas roulette table, or oblivious to the innermost thoughts of their wives and kids. It’s the opposite. We’re in agony. At times. Not all the time, of course not. But definitely at times. The abyss is black and scary, and just admitting that it is there requires more gumption that I can personally muster unless I work really hard at it. And I have the “benefit” of going through only very recently one of those signal moments in life when someone close to you passes away right in front of your eyes. Having lived a long life, no less. That should serve as some sort of finger-wagging reminder about what to do, how to make your way. What’s important.
But then I go back to my first blog post, realizing that that particular experience only gave me the “end of the journey,” a glimpse through the mist at the final stop sign. (Interesting, too, how this line of thinking starts to loop back around to the spiritually sore thing.) It’s the winding road, the pounding rain, the treacherously icy sidewalks wearing flat-bottomed plastic ski boots, the too many days in a row of the too many Guinesses, the justifiably irked wives stuck at home keeping our lives together with one less defender on-hand. Writing like this about this feels self-indulgent given what Hilary had to shoulder over the past several days while I pranced around like a giddy 22 year-old. I didn’t actually “prance,” I don’t think, but you get the picture.
Finally, I’m professionally sore. I have been an entrepreneur now for nearly twice as long as I haven’t. I still continue to feel like this is my calling, that it is important in ways that I can sort of articulate. I have been teaching it to graduate students for 8 or 9 years now. I have learned incredibly valuable lessons along the way: Trust, judgment, fire in the belly type stuff. I’m old enough now that my current business venture reflects the still-burning but less audacious plan of a 45 year-old man, not a 25 year-old newbie. I honestly believe career-wise it is important to do something important, something bigger than yourself, something that will outlast you, something that will make the world a better place and help people live better lives. And the good news is that there are plenty of things to do out there that can achieve these lofty goals, or at least pursue them.
It’s the money-making part that can be trickier, elusive, slippery. Considering my once apparent future path as a gabardine khaki-wearing 30 year-old litigator, I just might be half the man I used to be.
I’ve invested thousands of hours in my kids, other people’s kids, my health, cooking dinners, emptying the dishwasher, being a dog father to the furry black pup sprawled blissfully on her bed three feet from where I type. And repeatedly charging the windmill on an increasingly bow-backed horse indeed teaches valuable lessons and can feel very fulfilling at times. These things are important, I tell myself.
Are they more important than what my old law firm buddies have achieved over this same 15-year period? I know they feel terrible about not being with their kids more. They tell me this. But they are able to assuage that by the bazillions of dollars they’ve socked away or used to buy things for themselves and others. And I’m not just talking about a Tesla. I’m talking about helping friends and family in need by paying their mortgage or even buying them a house. That must feel pretty good, and I am jealous of that. I want to be that guy, who is able to share his humanity, his empathy by writing big checks with no expectation of ever being repaid.
So I’ve coached thirteen seasons of Little League, seven years of YMCA basketball, etc. So what? My wife has had to continue on the career path we both embraced 25 years ago, watching me veer off, shouldering the lion’s share of what it costs to live our lives. While I skip along with a goofy grin, convinced that I’m going to change the world, convinced that I may have made an important difference in a few people’s lives along the way already, convinced that our kids in particular will reap some bounty down the road from all of my time with them, in particular. Teaching them–I hope–what it means to be a “good man.”
But what if I don’t know? Maybe a truly “good man” climbs back into the cubicle, even if that feels like failure. Maybe a good man is content to sit on the bleachers wearing wingtips rather than in the dugout wearing a bright red New Era cap. Maybe a good man hires a dog walker for every day of the week and finds a family friend or daughter of a family friend to handle the bus stop pickups, the lacrosse practice carpools, the play date shuttling.
I’m standing on the edge of this particular abyss with my headlamp on. Squinting down. Trying to ascertain somehow whether it’s safe down there. Whether I could jump in and land on my feet rather than pinwheel down with no apparent end, yelling and re-yelling when my first yell doesn’t last as long as the dark fall lasts.
I just don’t know what’s down there, I can’t quite make it out, but I’m still peering over the ledge.
Thanks for reading.