Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Photo That Makes me Feel Sheepish Before my College Reunion

My twenty-year college reunion is this coming Memorial Day weekend.  Our family is going.  When I posted this exuberant photo from our senior dinner to our class's Facebook group, I captioned it "The Fellas". A member of this august group (not pictured, unfortunately) named us that sometime sophomore year, and it stuck.  But the more detailed caption I considered made me feel sheepish about what I've accomplished since college.  Here's that caption:

Back Row L to R: doctor (orthopedics), doctor (sleep specialist), doctor (radiologist), applied mathematician, lawyer (partner at a big city firm)
Front Row L to R: doctor (radiologist), doctor (med school professor), nonprofit consultant and at-home parent (yours truly), big church senior pastor, doctor (ophthalmologist/eye surgeon)

Various clusters of the guys in this picture roomed together, hung out together, played intramurals together, played fantasy basketball together.  They were a huge part of my college social universe.  The rundown of their career stations makes me feel like I have responsibilities no one understands in a field with few monetary and status rewards.  And that's in my paid work!  I spend an equal amount of my "work week" pursuing responsibilities few understand with zero monetary and extremely vague status rewards.  It's hard to write up really elegantly-timed execution of laundry for the class notes.  When I picture myself under the tent in the courtyards that meant so much to me twenty years ago, I don't know exactly how to talk about what I've done with the fine, fine education I got there.

A fellow alum who attended her 20th reunion last spring told me on the little league sidelines that she said to her kids, "You guys have to look awesome because you're what I have to show for myself."  I know how she feels.  Six and a half years ago, probably at the moment that my career could have arced upward in authority and recognition, I took one foot out of that stream to become our household's primary parent and chief operating officer.  It looks weird on a resume, and I think it will sound weird holding a cocktail in the tent.  Far easier to name a specialty, a hospital, a publication or a big court win.  I'm going to have to think of a way to quickly demonstrate how well-adjusted my kids are.

The One Thing I Might Say Now

At this juncture, this post could go off into the direction that despite all their career accomplishments, The Fellas' personal lives are a mess, and I can take some perverse satisfaction in the fact that mine is not.  It would be petty of me to say that, and it's simply not true.  These men are the fathers of 20 children.  Nine are married (which leaves one single doctor, ladies).  Two of them are married to high school sweethearts that they dated long distance while we were in school together.  They're good parents.  I know because on the rare occasions that we get together, their kids are a pleasure for both me and my kids to be around.  The Fellas in midlife are abundantly successful both personally and professionally.

How I Choose to Feel About All This

I'm currently reading the December 2014 issue of The Atlantic.  Working part-time also means commuting part-time, and having 40% less time on the bus makes me fall woefully behind in my magazine reading.  Anyway, the cover story discusses research about the real roots of midlife crisis.  Jonathan Rauch explains the u-shaped curve that researchers have found in satisfaction with life in populations all over the world.  Happiness bottoms out somewhere around 46 and then rebounds, leaving people happier in their 50s.  The 40s in general form the nadir of personal satisfaction and happiness.  The research shows that feeling competitive about achievements and accomplishments really contributes to that unhappiness.  In the 40s, we start to feel like time may actually run out on us, but we all have friends that have accomplished things that make us feel like we're spinning our wheels. The Fellas have accomplished a lot, but we have more accomplished classmates - statewide elected officials, published authors, a major league baseball general manager.

Instead of looking at the accomplishments of The Fellas or of those classmates who have been asked to serve on panels at the reunion, I'm just going to reflect on my own choices.  When my wife and I both worked full time and it was obvious that our kids needed more from us, I had the privilege of career flexibility and could go part-time.  As I've gotten better at running our household, I've come to enjoy it more.  I get to experience a lot of the pedestrian moments of my boys' lives, immediately before and after school, and we all get to enjoy more special occasions as a family because I've already done the legwork of errands and calendar management and paying bills.  We love our house and our neighborhood.  I get the variety of doing unique and fulfilling paid work and serving my family in a way that I also enjoy. 

The Proclaimers song Let's Get Married features this lyric:

"When we're old, if they ask me
How do you define success? I'll say
You meet a woman and you fall in love
And you ask her and she says yes."

To that I'll add:

Make some babies and raise 'em up
And launch them happy and capable
And find a split between work and life
That works for you and those you love.

Man, those Proclaimers are better with the lyrics.

The jury is still out, of course, on that launch part, but so far, so good.  The split we have works for everyone now but may not always.  We'll deal with that if and when.  It's no small accomplishment to head off for this reunion able to say to myself and others that I have followed my calling to the work I do at the office and around the house.  It suits me, and I often enjoy it.  What higher achievement is there?


Stephen Neely said...

Proud to be a neighbor. Have a grand time at the reunion. I suspect you will have no trouble speaking about your parenting and career choices....obviously fruitful and honorable choices.

Anonymous said...

Before returning for my last reunion, I considered a similarly detailed set of captions. What story could I tell?

The moment I set foot on campus, I realized my folly. This wasn't orientation, with kids walking around and meeting each other for the first time (What's your name? Where are you from? What's your major?).

My "fellas" were people I'd become an adult with. As undergrads--and after--we'd shared wonder, discovery, and heartbreak. All the things that make people friends, and forges a connection that time doesn't sever. My reunion was a homecoming. My guess is that yours will be also. "The Fellas" will be together. Nothing else will matter.

JFo said...

Thanks for the feedback from two good dads.

Teri said...

My husband has been the stay-at-home parent since 1994, way, way, WAY before it was cool. Initially it was because he wanted to get a PhD, but a year later our youngest was discovered to have a major developmental disability.

When the kids were all in school he started looking for a job. There was no good way to explain the gap on his resume, since he ended up not getting the PhD. "Taking care of handicapped child" was interpreted as "won't be reliable at work." Obtaining his masters in history meant, "He's only going to stay till he finds something better." Just leaving the gap was interpreted as "deadbeat living off of his wife."

His conclusion? "I would have been better off in prison because at least then I would have learned a trade."

At a Steven Covey workshop in 1995, I created a mission statement. It really hasn't changed in 20 years, although my understanding of it has changed a lot.

"I want to live a life of creativity and responsibility, building a family that is happy and enjoys being together, preparing the family members for adulthood and retirement."

That has been my mission. (I would say "our mission" but my husband is allergic to mission statements. He does this, though, whether he knows it or not!)

My change in understanding has been this: originally adulthood was for the kids and retirement was for the parents (a way of getting the statement to include the whole family.

After I while I realized that we were all working on adulthood (I was an elderly 36 when I wrote this) and that fundamentally we wanted to prepare the kids for their whole lives. So we're all working on adulthood and retirement.

20 years later, it's working pretty well. We're as happy as can be expected and enjoy - really enjoy - being together.

What you are doing for your sons and your wife is tremendous. I'm sure the Fellas are just as impressed by your life-job as you are of theirs. I'm impressed!

JFo said...

Teri, your husband's move twenty years ago was way more trailblazing than mine was six years ago. And with you crafting family mission statements, there's clearly a lot of intentional parenting going on at your house. Glad to see that the benefits to everyone that have accrued from your choices are so clear to everyone. Thanks for sharing and for your encouragement.