The sun is setting on the Wagmiller Boys Road Trip of 2019. Tomorrow we pick up Jenny at the airport in Savannah. My brother and his wife will meet us at Tybee Island on Saturday. The boys and me are excited to see everyone.
Child development experts speak often of an age-graded life cycle. The idea is that there are societal expectations about when you should make the key transitions in life. Finish your education in the early 20s. Start your career immediately thereafter. Get married and then have kids a few years after that.
Transitioning too early or too late can change the rest of your life. Stop school too early and your life prospects are typically diminished forever. Leaving school early isn’t only harmful because it impacts your career options and prospects. It also triggers other early transitions. Getting married early. Having kids at a young age. Oftentimes it also reorders these life transitions. Kids come before marriage or before establishing a foothold in the work world. Together these things lead to lower earnings, poorer health and mental health, greater drug and alcohol use and abuse, and more divorce. A more impoverished life than it would have been.
Lots of thought have been given to the ill effects of early transitions. Much less has been given to the impact of late transitions. Finishing school at a more advanced age. Starting you career well after your peers. Getting married or having children when others are divorcing or sending their kids off to college.
As an older dad, I think about this a lot. One of the things that happens when you make a transition a lot later than is socially expected is that time becomes much more precious. If you start your career late because you didn’t earn your college degree at 22 but rather at 42, you know you have less time than others do “make hay” in your career. You have to run faster, longer, and smarter to end up in the same place.
Or, in my case, if you have kids late in life, you know that biology is going to rob you of time with your kids that others will have and you want. Hidden in this sad truth is an improbable gift. Time is more precious than we usually notice. You either take advantage of the opportunities you have now or you don’t.
When you know time will inevitably run out earlier than you want, you feel the fleetingness of time more immediately and intimately than you did before. You ask yourself questions that you never thought to ask. Or, that you avoided because your life was already pretty good and it was easier to continue down the path on which you were travelling.
For me, those questions were.
“What lessons will my kids derive from the choices that I make each day? From what they observe each day?”
“What lessons do I want them to learn from the way I live my life? From the choices I make each day?
I am starting to answer those questions. I still have a long way to go.
The difficult decisions I made over the last year are me starting to live my life the way I would wish for my boys. Doing what is meaningful rather than what is expected or expedient. Being more courageous. Telling the truth. Not fearing the unknown or failure. Living life to the fullest.
The road trip was a good start to this. More than the memories, it was the days filled with joy. With laughter. With the only goal being getting the most out of every single moment of every single day. With conversations about life, nature, Chucky, Elvis, and B-shooter. The kind of road trip I hope that they take with their kids. The way I hope that they lead their lives.