40 Questions for my 40th Birthday
“Life begins at forty”. – W. B. Pitkin
Today, March 30th, I turn 40. Now, I usually don’t geek out over my birthday. After my 21st birthday, my birthday was just another day. But this is one feels different. For the first time I’m feeling, well, old.
40 sounds so–adult.
Life insurance, mortgage rates, and colonoscopies.
At 40 I feel there are certain societal expectations placed on you. Like you’re expected to save money and buy a lot of frozen vegetables.
You’re expected to be on time, invest in stocks, and wear slacks. I feel your expected to replace TBS, in your TV channel rotation with CNN or Fox–depending on your partisan allegiance.
And at 40, you’re expected to know what partisan means.
Cindy was planning a big party but because the Coronavirus, like so many other things, we had to cancel.
The quarantine, the rising death toll, the uncertainty of right now, and turning 40– has urged me to think about all the things I would want to tell my children.
Parents, to some degree, are mysteries to their children. And, I guess, we facilitate this mystery to protect ourselves and keep authority over our children.
Recently, I found a prayer card for my grandfather. He died 9 years ago. I miss him. I realize how much of a mystery he will forever remain to me. How many questions I never got to ask him–which, might be the hardest part about life–living with questions only the dead can answer.
A few years ago, I found a picture of my grandfather as a young man. He was tending bar at a little place down the New Jersey shore. He was young, smiling. His whole life was ahead of him. I studied the picture. There are still so many things I want to ask him about life, being a father, forgiveness. But I can’t. All I can do is imagine and write a story– just for a short while, bring him back to life. And, with that, writing is a special kind of alchemy anyone can perform.
I created this blog to tell my story–so it was out there, floating in the universe, helping or informing or entertaining anyone who found it.
Writing has helped me cope with my health conditions, provided courage when courage was scarce, connect to people, accept my mortality, and demystify myself for my children.
So for my 40th birthday, I interviewed myself. I asked my children and Cindy to compose some questions they had for me and combined them with questions I had for myself.
This was fun, challenging, and revealing. And it was also a nice family quarantine activity. Maybe give it a try.
Sadly, while writing this post, I learned my good friend lost his father to the Coronavirus.
Be safe. Wash your hands. And carry the fire.
*indicates questions asked by my children.
- Why do you always write?* I like it. It’s a challenge. Writing is like a doing puzzle, except you have to invent all the pieces and figure out where the pieces go so that the puzzle reveals a picture, tells a story, and clearly communicates an idea.
- What got you interested in writing?* When I was in high school I didn’t read much, however I did read Ralph Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance”. I didn’t understand most of it. But the parts I did, I really liked. Here was an 150 year old essay that was still true and relevant to me. It felt like he wrote the essay for me, an insecure kid from the suburbs. I thought the endurance of written things was pretty cool.
- What gave you the idea to start a blog?* I thought it was important to tell my story. Also– I started this blog when, medically, things didn’t look good for me (which I have written about a lot). One doctor told me I should be dead. That was a tough pill. And, I guess, I just didn’t want to die without my story being told.
- Why don’t you have good balance?* I have a hole in my brain. Doctors discovered it when it became difficult for me to do normal things like walk up stairs and kick a soccer ball. My doctors think the hole was caused by an autoimmune disorder I have.
- Who is your favorite child?* Depends on the day.
- What is your favorite color?*Black.
- What place from your childhood do you miss?*My grandparent’s cabin.
- When have you been most proud of your children? There have been a lot of proud moments for each child. But collectively, when they all completed a “50 day soccer challenge” that Cindy and I challenged them with. They practiced for soccer for 20 minutes, for 50 straight days in the summer heat, the rain, and on vacation. It was cool to see them persevere and accomplish a goal.
- Favorite movie? Jaws.
- Guilty pleasure? Pro wrestling.
- What is one sentence you wish you wrote? “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there, leaning on the rail, holding the universe together.”- JD Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”.
- What is one quote you often think about? “Only emotion endures.” – Ezra Pound.
- What is one goal you would like to accomplish over the next 10 years? To write a book.
- How’s your book going? Good and bad ( but it’s not really bad… it’s just, complicated). The good–because I have the book organized, outlined, and did a ton of research on men’s mental health. The bad– Doing the research I came across a problem– the practice of forgiveness. I found forgiveness was something that myself– and the men I interviewed– don’t practice. And I learned that forgiving yourself and others is elemental for improving your mental health. How can you mentally improve while by burdened with negative feelings? And so many men, strapped with masculine pride like myself, are burdened. Which is why men often turn to substance abuse or violence. So now, I’m tinkering with a new book idea about forgiveness and how to forgive while maintaining your masculinity. Which led to me to taking a Forgiveness Journey.
- What is one thing people may be surprised to learn about you? 15 years ago, I won a stand-up comedy contest.
- One thing you got in trouble for as a kid? On a religious retreat, I hopped out a bathroom window to avoid going to mass. I was sent home from the retreat.
- What was a good memory from childhood? Seeing The Who at Veterans Stadium in 1988. I was 8 years old.
- What the are 3 most important qualities to have? Persistence, honesty, humor.
- If you could be an instant expert in one thing what would it be? Singing.
- The does the would needs right now? A Coronavirus vaccine. And patience. And more toilet paper.
- What is one thing you would like to learn more about? The stock market.
- What is one thing your kids do that you don’t understand? Tik-Tok.
- What nonfiction books do you recommend? Man’s Search for Meaning, Bird by Bird, The Book of Forgiving, The Untethered Soul.
- What fiction books do you recommend? The Things They Carried, The Alchemist, The Road, Slaughter-house Five.
- What was something embarrassing you did? About 10 years ago, I submitted a lesson plan to my administration with an unfortunate typo. The day before Winter Break, my class was making “literary sock puppets.” But s– in sock, was a c–. Word quickly spread among the administration and teachers. It was, and still is, pretty funny. I’ve come to realize, no matter what I do as an educator, I’ll always be remember for a typo.
- What keeps you awake at night? Typos
- What gets you mad? People who lack self-awareness.
- What surprising lesson has teaching taught you? Whether it’s literature or a relationship the answers can be more easily found when you look at the micro– the little parts that make the whole. I’ve learned to take difficult material or complex ideas and compartmentalize, break down complexities into simple parts. The micro always answers the macro. The part always reflects the whole.
- What is one thing you wish you learned sooner? How opinions don’t matter. Also, all things come to pass.
- What is something people need to stop doing right? Underestimating themselves. Also, stop overvaluing likes and hearts and blue thumbs on social media.
- What has been your funniest moment as a teacher? One morning, before class began, a student came to class with a fresh-baked muffin. He asked if he could go to the cafeteria and get a fork. I nodded. He put the muffin on my desk and left. When he returned the muffin was gone. With a pair of angry eyes, he surveyed the classroom and seethed, “Where’s my fucking muffin?’ Silence. I opened my desk drawer, pulled out the muffin, put it on the desk, looked him dead in the eyes, paused, and said, “Here’s your fucking muffin.”
- What is the worst advice you often hear? Fake it until you make it.
- What is the best medicine? A beer, a porch, and good music.
- What lessons did you learn from your parents? Work hard. Dress in layers. Do the heavy lifting first.
- What have you learned about friendship? When you’re young you can be reckless with friendship. But the older you get, the harder good friends are to come by. Hold onto your friends and value their friendship.
- What is your favorite poem? The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot.
- What is one thing people need to practice? Forgiveness.
- What movie makes you cry? Field of Dreams.
- What is something that is underrated? Inside jokes.
- What advice would you give your 25 year old- self? Accept yourself.
Need some encouragement? Some perspective? This hardworking, suburban soccer dad with fancy hair can help. Subscribe and, like a pizza, get my posts delivered to your door ( your email inbox). No spam. Just posts.