It’s him me. The mid-life quandary about direction and meaning, and a dose of idealism about my youth. It hasn’t been a pounding hit or even a hard knock. It’s been several taps over the past years. I didn’t react before because I was too busy working and raising my young family of three children under eight. I turn 43 this week. Is the quandary to turn into a crisis this year? I’m not sure. But I will tell you if it does.
There were several, but they didn’t start to resonate until these past few weeks spent on the beach in Pinamar, Argentina. First came utter tiredness followed by the realization that the pace of life we’re leading with three children isn’t sustainable. We need a break. We need a change in lifestyle. The second tap came, or more like reappeared, with the recognition that there is a sea of people out there who are younger than me and they are called adults, too. They are grownups just like me. But they are younger. And worse, they know that I am OLDER. The third tap came from my three children at the beach one afternoon. I said, “Let’s go for a run down the beach.” They said, “Yeah!” So I started jogging down the beach with the seven-, five- and two-year-olds right at my side.
The eldest looked at me and said, “What are you doing?”
“That’s not running.”
It wasn’t. It was jogging – a pace so slow it’s quicker to walk.
So I bolted down the beach in a sprint and the kids ran behind me. I slowed and looked back at the three of them running in the wake of their father, smiling and content. The three of them looking at me, yes, me, their dad, a great man to them. The best man in the whole world. Me. It reminded me of my youth, of my father taking us three boys, all a year apart in age, out for our first runs and then more runs. He’d made a big lifestyle change years before, getting into tai chi and Zen and healthy eating to survive the motorized rat race in Los Angeles, where we grew up. One Saturday morning he came into his bedroom, where the only television set was plugged in, and saw the three of us growing boys splayed out on his and Mum’s bed watching cartoons, vegetating while the sun shone outside. He told me years later that it was that moment he decided to enroll us in sports and get us out of the house to live and grow. We did. We played baseball, basketball, flag football and soccer. We ran track on the team for Kenter Canyon. We made it to the All Star teams for soccer, and my dad was called up to help coach because he’s Argentine (not because of his skills). He pointed out the need to keep close to the ball when dribbling and pass both forward and backward, to keep the ball in your team’s possession and not always run forward. Play the ball and pass. We did and we played well, but the ocean was calling and we spent the summer and then another summer at Junior Lifeguards at the very beach popularized by “Baywatch.” We learned to surf and out went the other sports. Except running and biking. They stuck. Running was a thing all three of us boys did, either for exercise or to race. We entered the Brentwood 10K and other competitions around Los Angeles. Running and racing and finishing and drinking the free water and eating the free fruit at the stands after the race. We ran behind our father as we grew up, him out in front and us looking up to him, admiring him. Then we started to pass him and find our own pace and I like to think he looked at us proudly because he had taught us something better than watching television, to be active and to try new things and live healthy lives.
It was on the beach in Pinamar that afternoon that the same realization hit me. So we ran into the sand dunes and to the top, all four of us. Then we stopped and caught our breath and looked down to the great ocean and Mummy was waving up at us, so I said, “Let’s race to Mummy! On your marks…”
And the kid’s chimed in “Get set, go!”
We raced down the steep dunes and ran across the wide beach. I slowed to let them catch up and we laughed. The youngest fell and a burst of sand flew. She laughed and we laughed. My wife came walking briskly to us and we ran to her. She chased the kids around, and we laughed. It was good, and it was that very day that my mid-life quandary led to something greater: the realization that I have three children who adore me and want to run with me.