I remember 1990 when the book “Dave Barry Turns 40” was published. I hadn’t even reached my 18th birthday yet, I was in the transition from high school to university, and I was just getting ready to start living life on my own for the first time. Turning forty seemed to be several lifetimes away.
In 2002 I reached 30. I remember thinking how my life was progressing just as one would expect. I had been married for five years, I owned a home, I had established myself in a job that was going to one day provide me with a good pension to retire on. Set the cruise control and let ‘er ride. While turning forty was no longer nearly as distant as it once seemed, my biggest concern was “40? Hmm, that’s when they start making you get your prostate examined, isn’t it? Good thing that’s a long way away!”
Now, here we are in 2012 and it’s time for another one of those birthdays that end in a zero – the ones that force us to take stock of where we are and where we have been. Yes, indeed, the unthinkable has happened — DanOCan turns 40.
I am surprised at how I still don’t act the way I think a 40-year-old should. All the time I was growing up, people in their 40’s were old and mature. They certainly didn’t spend their evenings playing video games, they certainly didn’t enjoy the occasional beer with friends and they certainly never laughed. When will I start acting like a mature grown-up? I certainly don’t see it happening anytime soon. With each milestoneage that passes, you realize the stereotypes you’ve had in your head were really just ghosts – they might have appeared real but upon closer inspection there is no substance and they just disappear. I know it sounds so cliché but it is very true – your age doesn’t define you; you define your age.
So, what defines DanOCan at 40? Everything in my life is undergoing a major metamorphosis. Reinvention.
My marriage collapsed after fifteen years. By most definitions those fifteen years would be considered happy, right up to the hour it ended. I even have a hard time considering it a “failed” marriage – it simply “ended”. We never fought or argued and we shared many happy memories together over those years. There are a lot of people who stay married much longer who will never experience the success I had in my marriage. My decision to end it has baffled many people, I’m sure. Frankly, I don’t expect anyone besides me to understand and that’s OK. You know that saying that if you love something you have to let it go? Unfortunately, it’s true. Reinvention.
My employer may be the same, but the job certainly has changed. I’ve been in this current role for a little more than a year and sometimes I still feel like I am just faking it. There are still days when I expect someone to come along and tap me on the shoulder, explain that the whole thing was a big misunderstanding and ask me to move back to my old job. Managing people instead of technology constantly presents me with new challenges and experiences and takes me out of my comfort zone. Reinvention.
In my personal life I am starting a brand new relationship with a tremendous woman. We have plenty of challenges ahead of us (divorces, and immigration spring to mind) before we can be together, but we’re willing to accept that adventure and start the journey. My future has turned on a dime. My future no longer includes being a DINK (double income no kids) but instead is now focused on becoming Ward Cleaver – going out and being the breadwinner while my loving wife stays at home and raises the kids while wearing dresses and pearls. Things that I thought would never happen to me – first days of school, teaching the kids to drive, high school graduations, weddings, grandkids – are suddenly real possibilities. Emily is an amazing woman and I cannot wait to start the second half of my life with her at my side.
A few months ago I owned an RV, four vehicles, and a house loaded with material objects. I was a man with a spending problem. Today I am down to a single vehicle, no RV, and the material possessions in the house are now less than they have been at any time since I got my first apartment and I was using a cardboard box as a TV stand. DanOCan at forty no longer values material items. That man with a spending problem? He has now been replaced by someone with a near-maniacal need to balance the budget. Reinvention.
So, with all this reinvention taking place, who really is DanOCan at forty? With half his life gone, there must be some established foundation there, right? Some parts of him that have been formed and molded and remain intact after all this upheaval?
DanOCan stills finds happiness in sitting on the deck, drinking a beer and watching wisps of smoke rise from his BBQ. He still revels at getting up at 3am to check on the pork butt that has been smoking for hours. He finds great satisfaction in the smells of a good BBQ rub or sauce and the aroma of applewood chunks combusting.
He still enjoys going for long walks in the woods with his dog. He enjoys the quietness of nature and the peaceful ness that comes from being outdoors and away from the bustle of the city. He still enjoys pushing his body to its limits with strenuous hikes. He still loves breaking ground through freshly fallen snow in his snowshoes.
DanOCan still thinks if hiking in the mountains is “soul cleansing” then driving dusty backroads is “soul liberating”. He thinks wasting fossil fuels exploring the desolate parts of the prairies is a great way to spend a weekend. He still conjures up stories of forgotten souls while standing at the doorway of an abandoned house. He still revels in the feeling that comes from finding a long-forgotten place and capturing for future generations with his camera.
He still believes in earning what you take. He believes the human spirit will always find a way to rise from the ashes. He knows that a second marriage will involve more work than his first because he can’t get lazy and take things for granted. He knows love will conquer all, including the distance from Calgary to Chicago.
He knows that life is never guaranteed and we must cherish every day and the gifts it presents.
There is a certain freedom that comes with knowing, if it all were to end tomorrow, that in my forty years I have already experienced more good times, good fortune, great friends and family, and more love than many people see in an entire lifetime. For that, I thank you.