Admitting you have a problem
For 34 years we did (nearly) everything by the book.
Good grades, check. College degrees, check. Marriage, check. Careers, commutes, kids. Check. Check. (Check, check, check).
It was a really good story, and we were perfect for the parts that we played. We were good kids, good students, good spouses. We were great workers. We could really pass the butter.
And then we became parents, and our children’s voices were joined to the calls of coaches, colleagues and clients to which we’d grown accustomed to responding. The chorus became cacophony.
We continued to pour on the effort. It’s what we knew. Work hard. Work hard. Work harder. The stress started to show. The lines started to feel forced. Our characters grew louder, but the narrative grew stale.
Committing to change
In August of 2016, we decided to go off script. Susan took a new job. I quit mine. The kids left school.
We moved to a new city. We moved again.
We stopped sharing every responsibility and started specializing. She became the breadwinner. I became the homemaker.
We traded the straight and narrow for the wandering and wide-open in the hopes that our story could be broader, richer and deeper if we scouted ahead and reported back instead of striding in lock-step up the ever-steepening path.
Confronting the truth
I was really good at playing a part. I have proven quite inept at crafting one.
There are no more tests to ace, no more promotions to receive, no bonuses or commissions or certificates by which to measure progress or success.
Signs of failure, however, are still abundant: dirty dishes, scattered toys, splattered toothpaste. Crying, whining, screaming, fighting. Lack of interest. Obsessive behavior.
It has been a struggle to get on the same page with my wife and kids in this new chapter in our lives. It has involved lots of effort. Lots of trial. Lots of error.
Lots and lots of error.
Getting your bearings
This past March (2108), we were driving home from a family ski trip to Colorado when we saw a sign. Two signs, actually.
We were just outside Kanorado when we saw people pulled over on both sides of I-70 taking pictures next to the billboards proclaiming “Welcome to Colorado!” and “Welcome to Kansas!”
“Where would you go in each state if you were going to visit all 50?” I asked.
It was a little game, but Kansas is a long state. By the time we made it to Kansas City, we had lists. We had also probed each other, teased each other, egged each other on. We had actually played together. It had been a long time since either of us had really played.
It was fun. It was easy. It eventually turned serious. What started as a vague “what if” became a determined “why not.”
For the first time since we’d broken character, we were back in alignment. We were no longer just scattered players, we were a troop again. We were a family.
I’ve long regretted not picking Ulysses as the middle name for our oldest son. His initials would have been HUG and it would have captured his personality so well. Unfortunately, that shipped has sailed.
However, I still love epic, and in my more poetic moments, I can look back on the first 35 years of our lives and see shadows of the Iliad: a grand history of struggle, bravery and ingenuity.
It really was a great story, but I’ve always preferred the Odyssey.
And that is where you find us, on the cusp of a journey–many journeys, hopefully. We are setting out to travel–not to see new things or escape old habits but to move together, as a family. None of us may bear the name of a hero, but we may all still author our own legendary adventures.