In our culture, turning 30 is an important milestone. But unlike those who dread the idea of beginning one’s third decade, I’ve wanted to turn 30 since my late teens. I had rebelled against the infantile beliefs of youth that led to sayings such as “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Youth has long excused frivolity, but I escaped such a condition when I became a father in my graduating year at high school. Six years later, I married my high school sweetheart and learned the truth of this statement by the novelist Peter DeVries: “The value of marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.” My wife disagrees, at least in our particular case; she refers to our two sons and myself as her “three boys.”
There is nothing magical about 30, the “big 3-0” as it is invariably called. When I woke up on Oct. 21, I felt no different than I had any other morning the previous year, the “somewhat-lesser 2-9.” I did not feel any older – or wiser.
The average Canadian male born in the early 1970s can expect to live about 75 years, in which case I have been middle age (the middle third of life) for five years now. At the same time, I am still five years away the mid-way point of the Biblical allotment of threescore and ten. Age is a matter of perspective.
What limited wisdom I possess, I have known for a while, and it is mostly the result of reading. (Logan Pearsall Smith said, “People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.” I agree.) The study of literature and history are ways of accumulating experience and from such experience I know certain truisms: most progress, isn’t; experienced parents are more likely to offer hopes than advice; that one should walk forward with a crick in your neck from looking back at the path from which we come to the present; that Solzhenitsyn was right when he said that if we take God out of our lives, humanity becomes less humane.
The most important thing I’ve learned is the secret to happiness: a flourishing family, good friends, a passion for excellence, watching the Yankees play ball in October and getting National Review delivered to my door every two weeks.
As a father of a 12-year-old and five-year-old, I’ve learned, by experience, that my hopes of moulding them according to a preconceived notion of what they should be is severely limited by the fact that children are not blank slates. My eldest son is, much like myself, a conservative that makes Attila the Hun look like a bleeding heart. But, quite unlike myself, he dislikes baseball. Gone are dreams of watching games together from the first pitch in spring training to the final out of the World Series.
But the 12 years of parenting experience that I have thus far accrued has taught me that this is less important than I once thought. I guess that’s what’s meant by children producing adults.
Spending time on the floor playing with toy soldiers or cars with my sons, or just watching one of them take a first step or learn to open a door, I have learned to delight in the extraordinariness of the everyday. Now when someone (usually my wife) points to a beautiful cloud formation or the leaves changing colours in fall, I take the time to notice and enjoy. I use to be one of those whom Oscar Wilde complained about when he said that some people don’t value sunsets because they can’t pay for them. Most of what is most valuable cannot be bought.
By focussing on the lives of those closest to me, my horizons have been widened as my attention is diverted from the large political issues that all too often consume us to (in the words William Trevor uses to describe Mrs. Bradshaw in his short story “Of the Cloth”) delight in the world’s conveniences as much as to deplore its excesses.
This wisdom – the practical importance of small, often under-appreciated things – does not come suddenly, but by one’s immersion in life and all its pleasures. Thirty years of it, so far.