The image is still vivid in my mind. My father, sitting in an old chair, out in the middle of the backyard, just staring out and over his property. He sat there for hours. He was not a man to sit anywhere for much more than thirty minutes, certainly not for hours.
We had just come home from my grandfather’s funeral service. There, dad spoke about his father and his father’s life, keeping it all together emotionally. Then we returned home and he just sat there. My father was an emotionally tightly wrapped up man. None of us had the courage, or lack of common sense might put it better, to check on him. It was similar to how none of us kids would wake him up, with a slight shake of his shoulders, when he was taking a nap. He ALWAYS would wake up swinging his fists. He packed a punch too. He knocked me out once. I was in many fights as a kid growing up and nobody had knocked me out until dad caught me square on the chin one day, teaching me how to box. I became a good boxer and I learned to keep my chin covered. When it came to waking him up from his naps, we learned to toss a shoe at him from a safe distance and even then we were turning to run. Yes, we were going to just let my father stare out into the trees as long as he wanted to, but we were all very worried for him.
For years, I thought my father was dealing with his grief as he stared into the great beyond, but as I have grown to be his age I am not so certain. When my father passed away a couple of years ago, I too sat and stared outside. Grieving? Yes, but also just sort of lost. Who was I without my father’s physical presence in my life? It was another milestone as I transitioned, from what Carl Jung said, from the first half of my life to the second half – and it is not a numerical or chronological thing, it is timeless actually.
My parents were the overriding symbol of my first half of life. In this period I attached, and then I, egotiscally, tried to detach from them. I tried to become “my own man.” There is a feistiness in the first half of life, even for the more tame ones among us. We struggle to define ourselves, make our money, create our turfs. Rebel or surrender, it all is about us and ours. For me the first half of life, especially my early childhood and then early adult years, were difficult. It didn’t knock me out, but I certainly saw stars on occasion. Let’s say, I was knocked out on my feet.
Financially, it was such a struggle. We once lived in a quiet little neighborhood that was filled with respectable, retired people. They all adopted our children because of the joy they brought to the neighborhood. Whenever the mailman delivered the mail to our mailboxes, everyone would gather for the daily neighborhood chit chat. Even the mailman would sometimes stick around for an hour or so to talk to everyone.
During this time, we were always robbing Peter to pay Paul when it came to getting our children fed and clothed and housed along with our bills being paid. We lived close to the bone and didn’t have any room for a miscalculation in our check book register, like forgetting to write down a check I had written. But I did. This caused a weeklong series of “bounced” check notices in the mail and each time I came into the house with them, after checking the mail, I was getting angrier, frustrated, with a feeling of defeat and embarrassment. I kept it cool when the neighbors could see, but let loose when I came in the house.
My youngest daughter was quietly observing me. She was about five years old. When the mail was delivered the next day, she ran out to the mail box, waving cheerfully to all her elderly admirers as they were checking their mail and chit chatting. She opened the mail box and then hollered back to me and easily loud enough for the whole street to hear, “No bounce checks today, daddy!” She skipped back to our house with the mail in hand. The neighbors just looked at me and all I could sheepishly say was, “Thank you baby. Come back in now.”
The first half of life is where we become socialized. We memorize pledges and prayers. We recite our codes. We know our cars and our celebrities.
We chase the latest clothing fashions. And, although we don’t have it all figured out yet or might even detest it, we pass on the family culture to our own children. It is probably very psychologically important that we go through this first half experience. We need to navigate through it successfully. When you run into someone who hasn’t, it is fairly obvious that they haven’t “grown up.” However, it is also fairly obvious when you run across someone who hasn’t yet moved into their second half of life. It is like knowledge grows in the first half, but wisdom appears in the second half.
When I started investigating social media, I had a goal of integrating what I shared across the platforms. That meant I would share my Soundcloud music and WordPress blogs on my Facebook page. I quit doing that however. My Facebook page is followed by so many people who know, very well, my first half of life persona (and actions) and they seem to be more comfortable if I don’t draw outside the lines, so to speak. Most of them are still going through their own much needed, but very demanding, first half of life. My blog is very much a second half of life experience, often using the lessons learned from the first half. This is what I like so much about WordPress, so much of what is shared is second half of life stuff. The poems, the photos, the fiction and non-fiction, so much of it seems to originate from a different place than say the content of Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
My wife and I talk sometimes in the evening about this new place where we live, after losing our home of 30 years in the fire. We bought that old, run down home in Paradise and slowly created, through our own determination, self confidence, and vision, a very unique and wonderful place. Wherever you looked, you could see “ourselves.” It was the work of the first half of our lives. We conquered our issues – our child raising issues, our job issues, our family issues, even our bounced checks issues. We knew who we were because all the work in the house reflected us. It is not that way in the new place. We can feel it. It is not a bad thing, just different. I sense that whatever we create at our new place, it will be different, not coming so much from a need to conquer, or to prove ourselves, but more from a sense of belonging to something bigger than us.
Now, as I think back on that day, those hours that my father stared into the blue sky and the green oak leaves, I think he was grieving, but he also was feeling his own full transition into his second half of life. My father changed in many ways during that time. He became more openly loving, more tolerant, less dogmatic in his religious views, more curious. Somehow, he became more part of it all, instead a-part from it all. He was no longer a self- made man. He even fell in love with a dog that my brother was wise enough to give him for his birthday. A couple years ago, my father’s body returned to the earth while his spirit joined the Great Love. Perhaps that is what the second half is all about, preparing us for the third half of life.