We all go through an awkward stage, trapped somewhere between “got it all figured out” and “gave it all up”.
We like to think we only go through it as kids, as teens trapped between childhood and adulthood, longing to hang onto the simplicity of toys and imaginary friends and Saturday morning cartoons over a bowl of Super Honey Crunchy Nuggets with enough extra sugar to make the leftover milk too thick to drink without a spoon, and anxious to taste the freedom and opportunity of adulthood that we perceive the world is spitefully holding just out of our reach. We are exactly in between two better places to be.
In reality, we go through lots of awkward stages, a series of awkward stages, a plethora of awkward stages, one, long, painful, excruciating, lifetime awkward stage.
I’m going through an awkward stage right now, trapped in a funhouse of mirrors where everywhere I turn I see myself reflected back just slightly twisted, almost me but not quite me, a little wider here, a little thicker there, a little more transparent here, a little in the dark there.
I look behind me and I see myself in my son, all feet and hands like a Great Dane, trapped in the body of a man with the emotional maturity of a turnip. That’s the boy I was, trapped in amber, and as many times as I’ve said to myself “I wish I knew then what I know now” I can’t seem to get the young seventeen-year-old me that lives on in my son to accept the gift of what I know now. In fact, he refuses it like a bad meal and sends it back with his nose wrinkled, and so instead of being the more well informed me he has the opportunity to be, he is the obnoxious and self-righteous and irresponsible me I was all over again.
I look ahead and I see myself in my father, all Velcro shoes, stacks of newspaper clippings and heavily invested in the company of a cat. I am more receptive to his hand-me-downs than my son is of mine, perhaps because he’s mellowed with age and is making more sense, perhaps because I’m less my son than I am my father, but I also find that he’s no more receptive of my hand-me-ups than am I of my son’s. In other words, he won’t hear my advice to remain active, go on a date, take a trip, get a tattoo, pierce something, do just one of the things I hope I’ll still be doing when I get where he is rather than simply walking a daily route around the family room double-checking the volume setting on the answering machine and rotating the batteries in the remote control.
My awkward stage is pretty much just like my son’s, trapped between two unsatisfactory eras, and much like he can’t wait to get to my wonderful magical world of adulthood where life is all about driving and endless sex and drinking and staying out as late as he wants spending the hundreds of dollars per month he’ll make on anything he damn well pleases, I’m trying desperately to get to the freedom and flexibility of the golden years, where life is all reduced prices on movie tickets, free frozen meals delivered right to your door by volunteers with bags of groceries, and free money from the government in the mail every month.
What I can count on is that I don’t get to stay here, so I better not be getting too satisfied with how things are right now. This awkward stage is only tolerable if there’s something better coming along… being a cranky, tired, slacker teenager is only tolerable if we’re convinced that life as a grownup is all freedom and opportunity. Being a cranky tired slacker middle-aged guy is only tolerable as long as we’re sure that getting older will bring us freedom from the tyranny of the time clock, the freedom to wear black socks with sandals, the freedom to steal batteries. So don’t you dare tell me that ain’t the way it’s going to be, because then I’ve got nothing to look forward to, and like my son I’ll just be pissed off and stuck in between.
It appears that wherever we are, it is exactly halfway between two better places to be. Life is just one long awkward stage, desperately fleeing a crappy dissatisfactory past in search of a better situation that’s just a reflection in a twisted mirror where things are actually further away than they appear.
The only little joy I get is in knowing that my son will one day look back and realize how lucky he is at this moment.
If I was more insightful and less focused on being sure I don’t miss out on my own son’s disillusionment, because real dads wait for that day like others wait for the sweet sixteen, I might realize that my father, the me I’m going to be one day, is feeling exactly in between two better places to be, looking back at himself in me and wishing he were either here now or ten years older and plugged into a machine that does his chewing for him with a nurse to rotate the batteries in his remote.
But catching myself thinking how lucky I am right at this moment would take my focus off my own cynicism and perpetual dissatisfaction.
And we can’t have that.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.