“If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!”
~James M. Barrie
Being a grown up is overrated. I know this because I look like a grown up and despite having grownup conversations with real grownups, paying bills, and drinking beer, I don’t much act like a grownup.
It started when I was seven and happened to be out and about with my Dad. Realizing that I was facing a trillion years of school and probably another trillion years of what my parent’s friends called “making a living”, I panicked. My Dad, I later learned, had nearly managed to circumvent the whole growing up process, but three years in combat in the South Pacific had stunted any illusion about remaining a kid forever. He offered a thought: “Just don’t do it. Don’t grow up. Nobody can make you.” And that’s what reset my compass.
Let’s get our terminology down: grownups think of themselves as “adults”. Kids don’t recognize the word. A grownup, on the other hand, is more or less the same thing as an adult without all the angst. Kids will interact with grownups but never with “adults”. If there was a Magic Grownup Meter that measured this sort of thing than being a kid would be way over on the left and being a grownup would occupy the middle. Being an adult would pin the needle on the right.
To many (ok, most) adults any immaturity beyond a certain age is either the sign of a lack of focus, means you’re probably headed for state prison, or you’re on the slippery slope of senility. Adults over think everything. They call it being “proactive”. Kids skip all that and just react. Who has more fun?
And here’s why I bring this up: today would be my Dad’s birthday. It took me years to reconcile the Dad who strongly suggested I never grow up with the pinched face man who had jettisoned his dreams at the door of the Veterans Hospital. Somewhere in the black eyes reliving nightmares of overheated nights on a nameless atoll was the same man who took me for our weekly banana split and comic book rumble.
But there’s a happy ending: toward the end of his life my Dad remembered the advice he gave me: “Don’t grow up. Nobody can make you.”
Some parents leave a legacy of money and power, position and influence. My Dad left fishing poles, bait boxes, old snowshoes and some good advice. Remembering him today, I went for a long walk in the rain and didn’t bring an umbrella. I got my best-est shoes wet by jumping in puddles and stopped to smell the wet pine needles near my house. I’m thinking I might just throw myself in a leaf pile and not worry about where the pointy parts of the rake went. And I’m thinking of getting in the car and driving East until the needle starts to hover over the “E”, then I’ll stop and figure out the rest.