By Scott Rigdon, father and author of the blog ThreeFiveZero
Remember maps? Waaaaaay back in the 1900’s, when you were a kid? (That’s what my kids say- as if anything before 2000 was prehistoric!) Oh I loved maps! I still have a box of them, my ‘favorites’ from places I used to explore. I used to move around a lot, and part of the fun of a new place was mapping it all out and seeing all the new things. I know this is going to make some of you cringe, but… I was ‘that guy’ that would write on the maps, fold them back up wrong, and, gasp, sometimes even fold new creases in them so I could see just the part of the map I was currently exploring!
For the most part, though, I think we all used maps to get from point A to point B. Nowadays we use the GPS, same deal, different era of technology: Start Here and End Here and follow the straightest line between those two points. The GPS even talks to us now, no need to really even look at the map unless you want to. Point A to point B. Same deal.
It seems that plotting a course through life is like that for many people. You start planning somewhere in your youth (point A) and you plan for some type of retirement or other ‘destination’ (point B). Then you do your best to follow the straightest line between those two points? And get all upset when things don’t go according to plan? When our plan was a straight line? At least, I used to. I liked a nice tidy plan and a clear course to follow. Eventually I realized that life is about as likely to go in a straight line as kernels of corn in a popcorn popper are. It just doesn’t work that way. At least my life certainly doesn’t!
My straight line from start to finish used to go directly through the center of Fatherhood. It was like a major city that I was looking forward to driving through, with several entrance ramps and different parts of town to explore. Just like on a map, however, I assumed it would be something I’d pass through, and once the kids left the nest, I’d be off to the next stop on my straight line. Not that I’d leave Fatherhood behind, but I thought it would be more of a vacation destination I’d return to after the kids were on their own. As if I’d approach the city limits and see signs like, ‘Exit 2: Diaper Street’ and perhaps as we left the city limits, passing the last sign, ‘Exit 27: College Graduation Avenue’ I’d think to myself, “What a wonderful city, I should go back and visit a couple times a month. Maybe the kids will come for a week over Christmas…”
Man was I clueless in my youth! Fatherhood isn’t a destination or a stop along the way… once I hit the city limits, I realized it was my home. I’ll still reach other destinations and I’ll go new places and I’ll see and learn new things… but I’ll always be visiting those places as an adventure outside of my hometown of Fatherhood. I’ll still reach an end to my journey just like all of us will some day. I’m happy to report, however, that I won’t be looking back on my days as Dad in my rear view mirror, or in an old photo album… I’ll be nestled cozily in a humble little home somewhere on Grandpa Drive or if I’m really lucky, Great Great Grandpa Avenue! I hope they repave Diaper Street by then, as it was a bit bumpy before… but in any case, this is where I want to live.
My son graduated from 5th grade this year. Oh he’s a fine young man! And, while it made me very proud to see him all decked out in his stellar suit, it also made me sad, as if I was ‘losing’ my little boy. That’s when I started looking at my map- the straight line between A and B that I was now 5 grades of 12 ‘through’ the course. Halfway almost! It’s happening too fast, mayday mayday!!! Yet I also realized that it’s only lost in the past if you look at it that way. The city is sprawling out ahead just as fast as the childhood is concrete behind us. We’ve still got to pave ‘First Car Boulevard’ and ‘My Own Apartment Street’ and countless other parts of town that aren’t even built yet. Sure they’re not necessarily under my roof, ‘in my nest’, but they’re still part of my town. This is where I live. The mile markers don’t disappear behind me, they become part of the town we’re building as a family.
Your map or your GPS or whatever course plotting tools you choose to use only lay in the course that gets you from point A to point B. The adventures along the way are the landmarks that become your history. Don’t get too hung up on missing a turn or falling behind schedule. There’s a reason those things happen. Sure, we do need to plan ahead. Just don’t be hesitant to turn left when the GPS says right! The GPS is just trying to help you reach the destination you told it you wanted to reach. It doesn’t know anything about the journey.
I’ll let you all in on a little secret that our first family dog, Baxter, taught me not so long ago… you only live as long as you need to in order to learn what you need to learn in this lifetime. That’s why dogs have such a short lifespan. If you map your life out from A to B, and at B you’ve learned all you intended to learn, well… doesn’t that make your journey ‘over’ at that point? You get to decide that for yourself and your life and your situation. We all do. For my own part, I’m creating my own loopholes… when I reach Grandfatherhood, I’m going to claim I still need to know what it’s like to be a Great Grandpa. Then Great Great Grandpa, and so on! If they catch on to that and eventually try to end my journey, I’ll argue that Fatherhood is a journey that never ends. Because that’s truly what I believe.
In any case, they won’t need to donate a plaque to me in the city park, or put up a statue of Grandpa Scott in the center of town… when you build the city, you’re forever part of each and every street in it, and you’re therefore also forever a part of all the hearts and souls that live there. Parks and statues are destinations. Fatherhood is a journey.
Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there today! ~ The TMoM team