Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Things We Give Up

I work with a lot of younger guys who make almost as much money as me but don't have a wife or child. They're always talking about their newest toys, new cars, game consoles, and top-of-the-line cell phones. And on a nice day out, half of them ride their motorcycles to work.

When I was almost too young to remember my Dad had a motorcycle. I have some vague mental images of riding across a clear-cut portion of a hill, sitting on the bike in front of him. I was maybe six or seven at the time, probably younger. Shortly after that he had to sell the bike, a young man's fancy submitting to the responsibilities of fatherhood. We also moved from our remote cabin, my father's version of a dream house that he'd built with his own two hands. The twenty mile trip to school each morning was getting tiring.

When I think back I realize exactly how much of my parents lives was coopted by parenthood, how much they gave up, and how many of their dreams went by the wayside. Now they're both too old to go back to it. Maybe dreams change, maybe they are perfectly happy in their suburban lifestyle but I'll always wonder if they'd missed their one chance to live the way they wished.

My own journey to adulthood and responsibilities happened at a much earlier age than it did for them. I took a job specifically to get away from home, it offered benefits that Cat needed at the time so marriage made sense. Two years of us working full time and we both thought we were on the verge of middle class 'success', we bought a mid-range house and were looking at fulfilling our own dreams.

I'd always wanted a motorcycle and a nice truck, impractical things that we could actually afford at the time. The truck was first, I had the paperwork in hand, ready to buy a brand new F150 when we found out Cat was pregnant. We'd always been careful, we hadn't wanted kids until we were both older and settled into good careers. It was totally unexpected. I took a deep breath, let out a long sad sigh, and bought a Focus instead. Manhood points zero, fatherhood points one.

Rather than middle class success, we had to frantically rearrange our whole lives, practically overnight to facilitate our new addition. The impractical, fun things were dropped and at the ripe old age of 23 (to my own father's 27) I settled into a responsible life, bills, debt, no free time, and every decision balanced against the family's needs. No truck and no motorcycle.

Now, many years later, we're gradually approaching the point of having disposable income again but it's amazing how priorities change. A truck? Impractical. A motorcycle? I don't have the time or money to actually maintain and enjoy one. The dreams haven't changed but once you have a kid you realize how you have to approach any new thing in relation to responsibilities, which pretty much takes the fun out of them.

Unlike my parents, who had time before parenthood to do what they wanted and then had to give it up, I gave those things up before I actually had any of them. I'm not sure which is more frustrating. However, unlike my parents, I have a career with good benefits and retirement (though I hate it) and will have my opportunity for frivolity later in life. So, what's better? Enjoying life at a young age, living life to the fullest and then going respectable or going respectable first and enjoying life later?

We don't always have many options in life, so hopefully I've made the best decisions I could with mine. That's cold reassurance when I hear the rumble of my coworkers arriving, I reel with envy. Then I get home and my daughter runs up and gives me a big hug, tells me about her day. She's worth every short moment of envy, hopefully my parents feel the same way.


Note: it might seem superficial to write a post about wanting a truck and a motorcycle. I mean, what consumer-based dreams I have, right? However, when I was growing up we never had nice things, we were always broke. We also lived on the nice side of town, so my friends always had newer cars and expensive toys, snow machines, boats, and RVs. To me, if you work hard you should be able to have a few nice things that aren't necessarily practical. I hope that makes sense.

5 comments:

  1. It makes perfect sense and I applaud you for saying it and being honest. Just because you want certain things doesn't make you selfish or superficial. You are honoring your responsibilities and I agree you should have the opportunity to enjoy some non-practical purchases. :-) I love how you speak of your daughter. I long to have that same relationship one day...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I can so relate to you. I'm the youngest of 5 born into a loving family who didn't have much, but my mother really did work hard to give me a few nice quality things. I guess that I'm trying to say that I understand wanting the nice things, and I know how it feels to become a parent sooner than you imagined. Hang in there! You will be able to get something on your list before you know it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Well, I'm glad you two understand. I wouldn't want to come across as shallow ;)

    ReplyDelete
  4. There's nothing shallow about that. It's honest, and honesty is never shallow.

    I have always been far too selfish for motherhood,I never would have been mature enough to give up some of those things. I have respect for people that can. That takes courage.

    Its' tragic though, really, that the 2 things, fun and respectability, are seen by so many people as mutually exclusive, isn't it?

    I have given up my own version of the motorcycle with monogamy, I think.
    Give up all those lovers when you find a husband that will take care of you. That's just as tragic, I guess.
    Ha. My word verification was 'krapi'. Yes, krapi that we have to make sacrifices sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Shaktiforce- Yes, respectability and fun are definitely seen as mutually exclusive. They aren't, but they definitely are mutually modifying, neither are the same for the existence of the other. The 'cake and eat it too' phrase comes to mind.

    I think you'd surprise yourself when it comes to motherhood, if you ever change your mind. It's never exactly what the think/fear it will be like, it's a million times more complicated than that. Really, until you're a parent it's almost impossible to understand the 'shift' that happens to your perspective. It's wonderful, terrifying, and horrifying all at the same time.

    You seem to be very self-aware, from your posts, so just try and imagine a small piece of you separating and becoming a new entity... not really separating though, it's like your awareness 'grows' to include another person.

    As far as motorcycles vs. husbands go, I think we all just have to settle for 'having our cake and sneaking nibbles when we can'. lol, at least that's the approach that I've taken. ;)

    ReplyDelete