Monday, August 15, 2011
The path to adulthood
Growing up is hard. There’s so much to figure out, and the adults don’t understand. Everything is a crisis. The teen years are the worse. School is boring. You can’t drive. The kid games are no fun and the adult games are off limits. The worse thing for me was being told it was the best time of my life and I’d better enjoy it. How’s that for a depressing thought?
A few things kept me sane: Hiking in the mountains, hunting, fishing, snowshoeing and especially white water canoing. I loved time on the river. Often I paddled my boat alone through the rapids. The adrenaline rush is something I knew I needed. What I also craved, but didn’t realize until years later, was being in control of my canoe through rough waters. Teenagers have so little control over things. Mastering white water did much for sense of well being.
High School guidance councilors push the kids with good grades on a college path. My grades were decent, not through any love of school, but because I wanted to get through it without having to repeat anything. It was the same motivation that prisoners have for good behavior: early release.
One semester was enough for me to realize I wasn’t ready for college. In fact, I didn’t go back to college until I was 37. At 18, it like more high school and I’d just gotten out of that. Fortunately, I landed a job with the local Fire Department. I made a living, had time off to enjoy the outdoors, but the job itself was hugely satisfying. Fire and rescue provided that adrenaline rush I craved. Even though I eventually was badly injured on the job, I don’t regret my career choice. Beats the heck out of shriveling to death in a cubical.
It’s a good thing I didn’t discover sailboats back then. I’d have disappeared at sea. Probably would have either bought an old fix ‘er upper boat or built my own in my dad’s garage. Sailing fills the needs of my soul. It’s on the water, which is where I belong, be it a small river or the ocean. A sailboat is cheap way to go to new places and meet new people. There’s the sense of discovery and adventure. When the wind comes up, the waves build and spray flies, the heart beats a bit faster and I feel more alive.
Growing boys today have it even tougher than I did. They don’t have anywhere near the freedom that I had growing up. Everything is “safe” taking away the chance to learn from mistakes. Nothing like bruises and scraps to teach lessons. Activities are scripted and supervised. No wonder they get lost in computer games. It’s the only time they get to win at anything. Virtual world adrenaline rushes have to substitute for real world adventure. Today, the feelings I had growing up would be managed with drugs. I didn’t need drugs, I needed a fast river, a good canoe and a strong paddle.
I hope to heck that some of today’s kids find their way off the beaten track. They have to know disdain for the “normal” is fine. Heck, most of the people working in firefighting or EMS ain’t right. That’s what makes them good at their jobs. You don’t have to like everyone else. It’s a big world. There might be something out there for you.
Maybe it’ll be messing around in boats.