From the time we enter high school, people start asking, “What do you want to do with your life?”
At such a young age it feels like a broad and vague question. Adults keep adding, “You have your whole life in front of you!” While this is true, there is much less urgency to decide, especially when you see so many adults unsure of their own direction.
The truth is, from my perspective at least, is that purpose and direction are constantly changing. Life will forever throw curve balls at us, and how we deal with the pitch can mean the difference in a fly ball, a base hit, or a home run. If we strike out, there is always the hope of the next time at the plate. The game of life marches on, waiting for no single player, and with time, we watch those who mattered to us take their final swing.
I have written before about the emotional challenges of being a parent-less adult, and while my father passed on many years before my Mom, the sting of his absence will forever remain. For better or worse, and he certainly had his flawed traits, we managed to hammer out a relationship in his later years. Maybe his failing health altered his view of himself and the world, or maybe it was the inevitable realization there are dreams you will never achieve, and the ability to work toward goals becomes drastically curtailed.
I have always held high admiration for people who were devoted to a cause and became a part of something larger than themselves. When someone becomes a doctor, a nurse, a police officer, or a firefighter (just to name a few) they have done more than qualify for a job. They have a reached a goal where they are no longer simply “John” or “Mary” but something more. No matter where a doctor goes, they will always be a doctor, and it is a profession committed to changing lives for the better. One would think that feels good at the end of the road, knowing you helped many.
With Father’s Day looming large in the near future, I brace for confronting these feelings once more. I made a choice early on to accept a job that paid a living wage, a choice that became confining to anything else I dreamed of doing, a constant measurement to turn other things away if they could not immediately better my present position. My Dad became a Greyhound Bus driver, which doesn’t sound like much today, but in his era it was akin to being an airline pilot, and he loved his job. By contrast, I never loved my job, but I could not deny the things it made possible for me to do. I see this even more today as retirement from that job is still paying the lion’s share of the bills. I don’t miss the grind of rotating shift work, but at the same time I still wrestle with devoting myself to something worth my full devotion…and that certainly isn’t mattress sales.
I have been a student, a mechanic, a fiber technician, a fork truck driver, a distillation and recycle control room operator, and at the end, a power engineer…which is a fancy way of saying industrial boiler operator. I wont undersell that last position because it was a technical and demanding job with tremendous responsibility, and as one of my supervisors put it so eloquently, “I babysit a bomb.” Google “boiler explosions” and you’ll see what I mean.
Out of all those things, the one I have probably devoted the most time in isn’t even listed. As a matter of fact, there are two. The first being a husband, which in turn leads to being a father. So often we see these words as simple descriptors for a station in life, when in fact they may well be our most defining titles. Do I miss my Dad because he was a bus driver? No. Seeing a Greyhound bus reminds me of him, like a physical embodiment of what he once was, but its not what I miss. My Mom did many different jobs over the years, but above all else she was Mom.
Robin Williams said it best in the role of Dr. John Keating in the film, “Dead Poet’s Society,”
“Now, medicine, law, business, engineering, these are all noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
John Lennon famously wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
As many are already aware, life, like poetry, beauty, and romance, is filled with both joy and sadness, jubilation and defeat, and all the layers in between. But in the end, at the root of all we do, its the people we love that stand above all the rest. They are what drive us and give us purpose, the ones we sacrifice our time and hearts for, and when their days come to an end, their smile, laughter, and kindness live on with us.
I have never been short on making plans, and to date, life has yet to wait on a single task or adventure. But in virtually every case, those plans involved the enjoyment of sharing the experience with someone I love. Money can buy many things, but mostly it buys you the chance to use it for the mutual benefit of those around you. I could be the wealthiest man in the world, but without those I love it would be empty and pointless.
In retrospect, what did I do with my life? I spent it trying to accomplish many things but the most important, and by far the most rewarding was the job I never got paid a cent to do, because the payroll was heart. To be a husband and a father, or maybe more importantly, to be someone’s other half, and then someone they call “Dad.” There is nothing that asks more of you, but nothing that comes close in how great, proud, and overwhelmed you will feel. When Father’s Day rolls around, don’t fret over your financial accounts, look at the investments of your time and emotion. They don’t have to be your own flesh and blood as long as how they feel matters to you.
If that isn’t worthwhile purpose, I don’t know what is.
-T. August Green