Lately, I’ve felt very lonely, but it’s not a loneliness of solitude. I have many people in my life–my wife, friends, so many colleagues (I hate that word, but “homies” doesn’t seem quite appropriate.)–and most days my only time alone is spent in the bathroom, moments I savor more than you may even know. We live in a world of connectivity. You may be reading this because you saw that I posted about feeling lonely on Facebook, and you care enough that you want to know why and want me to feel better. Having nobody around is a welcome rarity, usually spent writing or listening to rap music at a volume that would make moms upset.
Part of this feeling of loneliness is because next week I am turning thirty, and as much as I’ve said to myself–and so many others–that I’m excited about it, the combination of becoming a parent and officially becoming “an adult” (For everyone who says thirty is the new twenty, I think my days of snorting prescription pills until sunrise while writing a term paper and then getting drunk after turning it in are long over.) makes me feel old–no, not just “old,” mortal. Some day my kid won’t have me around to dole out sage wisdom (“Snitches get stitches” and “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” are two axioms I intend on introducing to Baby Mac early in his life.), offer him relationship advice or let him cry on my shoulder, and although that’s a long time from now, especially if I keep on running, my own mortality becomes realer when I realize I’m no longer living for myself. Soon there will be a crying bomb of love Baby Bjorned to my chest depending on me and his mama to keep his belly full and butt clean, and keeping him alive, happy and on a path that doesn’t end in a facial tattoo are goals I must keep in mind when making any life decisions.
Preparing to have a child is kind of like preparing to go camping for the rest of your life: you go through a process to gather everything and inevitably you’ll forget something (and you’ll smell like smoke and have to shit in the woods), but it won’t matter, you’ll make do, and really if you don’t get eaten by a bear, it’ll all be okay. That’s basically what it’s like having a kid. Mistakes will happen. Jaime and I won’t have or know everything we should. But if that kid doesn’t die because of our negligence or have more mugshots than yearbook pictures–doesn’t get metaphorically, or literally, eaten by a bear–we’ve had a good camping trip. It’s my number goal as a parent. (Number two being raising my son to be ambidextrous. I am so serious.)
Officially becoming an adult, on the other hand, has been more challenging. I’ve spent most of my 20s surprising people when I show up at events, meetings or readings in my Yankee hat and Nike hoody looking like a high school student. At 30, I will no longer be the “whiz kid” as The Stranger called me a couple of years ago. I’m just another thirty-something trying to make it in the world–with a kid, a wife, two dogs and a mortgage to pay, things I like to call #grownfolksproblems. As my position at work and in the writing community changes, so do the expectations, whether they’re my own or others’. When you’re 24 and curating the best reading series in the city, people think you’re a “whiz,” but when you’re 30, you’re just doing what you’re supposed to do–being an adult making your way in the world. Adults don’t get their hands held or deserve trophies for working their asses off, grinding to put food on the table and turning a passion into a career. You just do it, sometimes alone and sometimes with the support of loved ones who threaten to punch fictional characters in the dick, and the only one you can blame for not doing what you want to do is yourself. I was telling all of this to a friend in his 30s who, if you live in Seattle, I’m sure you probably know of, and his advice was simple, yet hit me right where it needed to: “There’s no shame in doing what you’re supposed to be doing, and if you do it long enough and well enough, you build a meaningful career, which is way more impressive than a single achievement.” Whenever I think about the young bucks in the writing community who’ll go on to be the new twenty-something-Brians, I block out the thoughts of being old–and of being one of the old folks who told me I was too young to do whatever I was trying to do (Youngings, you won’t hear that from me!)–and remember this advice. If becoming a parent is like camping, becoming a successful adult is like childbirth, you just have to keep pushing until you get there, even if getting “there” is a little painful and covered in amniotic goo.
But my strongest feelings of loneliness come up when I think about what little family my son will have once he’s born. My grandparents played a big role in my upbringing. My mother was a single-mother and relied heavily on them to take care of me when I was a kid. From Grandma, I learned to love, to always be on time, to dominate in board games, and from Grandpa, I learned old school virtues of manhood, like taking care of the women in my life, turning my shortcomings into my best weapons and always kicking ass. It makes me sad to think my son won’t have any grandfathers in his life and will only have one grandma unless my mother GPS’s her heart and decides to be part of my life again. Of course, people have raised children with far less, though when thinking about my own mortality, I’m a worst-case scenario kind of guy (Remember I’m training to fight a goat, people!) and worry who will be there for my son should I lose that goat battle royale and help him avenge my death, like Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride.”
Ultimately, this loneliness is really a fear of the unknown, of taking on the responsibilities of adulthood, transitioning from cheap-wine swilling poet boy to sportscoat-wearing program director to dad–and mere mortal–without a parent in my life to be there for me, to listen to my fears, to be proud of me. No matter how old you are everyone always wants their parents’ approval, and when you don’t have that, the world is more cavernous, a place where you feel less protected, like anything could happen and you won’t be ready and all you want is your mom or dad to say, “It’s all going to be okay.”
It’s something my son will hear whenever he needs us.