Unhappy Birthday: The Twelvth Day of Giftmas 2012

unhappybirthdayI apparently hate my birthday. I didn’t used to. Being a New Year’s baby was always a badge of pride for me. I never had work or school, people always remembered and “it’s always a party” I would say as often as I could stand myself hear it. My three best friends from high school would make it a point to come find me and bring in the New Year with the birthday boy.

But time marches on. The guys spread out around the country, the phone calls slowly decreased and the parties seemed more and more juvenile every year. But that’s not really the problem.

In addition to the already present anxiety of the calendar turning over, reminding us that the earth continues turning whether we’ve accomplished those goals or not, I also turn another year older. What used to be cause for celebration is now a dreadful reality that I have gotten old and that potential I had 19 years ago never materialized. Instead, it was wasted on convincing myself I was having fun and being too scared to pursue my dreams for fear of failure or more honestly, laziness.

I can’t watch Scrubs now without thinking of why I couldn’t have done something like that. I had that kind of talent, right? There were several non-family members who would have put legitimate money on me getting on Saturday Night Live. I find that I’m now trying to convince myself that I wasn’t that talented in order to justify the fact that I never tried. It makes my past decisions a little easier to swallow. And that’s probably one of the saddest parts of this entire process – that I have to pretend I was NOT as clever and funny as I thought I was in order to slow down the descent into depression.

I did something. I need to keep reminding myself of that. I did the standup thing when I was 32. Probably too late, yes. But I learned enough to discover some sleep aids. I could probably live my life a thousand more times, trying different ways out of the maze each time, and possibly never amount to what I wanted to be. I could get closer, sure. But I may have never reached the potential I thought I had. This helps a little. But once that calendar blows past Christmas and there’s nothing else written down for the rest of the year, it’s a very, very lonely week.

I think back to when I was at my best. And I’ve been good at certain things at certain times, but I mean as a person. When I liked myself the most. And that was college. I came into my own and found that I could be myself and have friends. I learned new things and I was good at most everything I tried. I hadn’t yet learned about sex so other things still mattered. I really liked myself then. And sure, we tend to romanticize the past, but it’s hard to argue about who I was then.

I’ve found myself driving by and walking around old hangouts recently. Parks where I used to play soccer, streets I used to walk down. Just to try to get that feeling back. Not to live in it, just to feel it for a few minutes.

And to answer the next obvious question – no, I don’t necessarily like the person I am now. I have lost touch with so many friends, I don’t do special things for people anymore and I’m stuck. I’m married now and just had a child. A child as wonderful and beautiful as her mother and everyone who has children and has met my daughter has assured me that she is indeed the best child ever. But thinking that her mere presence would reverse this downward spiral of self-reflection is a huge burden for her.

I knew I would grow up. I can no longer live that lifestyle I look back on with fondness, even before the wife and daughter. I have told my wife that she has made me the happiest I’ve been in my adult life. And that is true, but with an obvious caveat. The sad truth is that I’ll possibly never be as happy as I was when I was playing flag football by day and floor hockey at night, spending weekends overnight in the editing lab and playing spades, hearts and Magic until my 10am class on the weekdays. We can’t go back, Jack. We can’t. Nobody can. We just have to make this new reality the best we possibly can.

Like I said, I could go back to my 19th birthday, exactly half my life ago, and try a thousand different permutations of my life and still possibly wind up in this same relative position in every one. This is what I have to hang my hat on. Accepting that my baseline for happiness is lower and I likely couldn’t have done any better. I’ve tricked myself before and I can do it again. As long as I can get through this week every year. This damn, dreaded week with nothing on it.

But maybe I will. Maybe I will find enough happiness in being a father and husband. Maybe this writing thing will work out to a place that I can be happy about. Maybe if I start to make some more phone calls, I’ll start getting more phone calls. Maybe the sky isn’t falling. Maybe it’s just this fucking week. Shit, I bought a house and had a child this past year. Thanks, Jenn, for reminding me. As the doctor taught us, “unslumping yourself is not easily done.”

Nobody likes getting older. It’s just this rapid descent into nothing that scares the hell out of me. Once we get that new calendar up on the fridge, with all the new dates and possibilities, maybe then I’ll feel something. Hope. That’s what a blank calendar is. Hope. But I remember writing this same thing last year. And three years ago. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to write about something other than hope. Happy New Year.

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5 thoughts on “Unhappy Birthday: The Twelvth Day of Giftmas 2012

  1. Boy, that was sad. But I know how you feel and I think so does everyone else our age. I miss the festivals, the dancing, traveling, whirling carelessly around the world with my little dog. Being a stay at home parent IS lonely. VERY lonely. Which is why there are Mom’s clubs – but as of yet, i haven’t seen any dad’s clubs. And it is hard when all your life you’re told how great you are and being the hope of the family that you’ll be the one to “make it.” Funny, I have just been discussing this happiness thing in my online group. And suddenly, I found it. I have made it. And I’ll keep making it. It is only by the grace of God that we’re not addicts and really we are doing awesome. But remember its not Mabel’s or Jenn’s job to make you happy – its your decision to just be happy. I am thinking that when my kids are in high school I might go back to college to study epigenetics. I’ll be oh about 50. Who the fuck cares? And it doesn’t matter how old I get, i can still write a top 10 country song. In that, age is probably my friend. Life IS good. Happy Birthday bro.

    • Wait a sec. Dad told you that he hoped you were the one to make it? I knew he was talking out of both sides of his mouth. :)

      And yes, it is sad. But it is honest, and that is what I wanted more than anything to be. I know I’m not the only one going through this and I imagine most people our age are, but it is seldom talked about publicly, even to close friends. And these feelings are only magnified by my new life decision to stay home with Mabel. It’s great, but I’ve used the word “rewarding” so much in the last six months, I don’t even know what it means anymore. I don’t feel like this all the time, but this is a very honest snapshot of a sleepless night just before my birthday. Sure, life is good in general. But I want people who think this kind of stuff to realize it’s not unusual.

  2. Hey Dustin,

    This was obviously not the most uplifting thing you’ve ever written, but I think it’s the piece by you I’ve understood the most. Not sure what that says about me. Anyway, I really thought I was the only one who thought like this, who is glad to be where I am now just because it’s not a bad place and I am doing good things, but I do often wonder how my path would have been different if I, too, had believed in myself enough to follow my dreams. You made me realize it’s okay to think about that, as long as I don’t wallow in it. Thank you for that – for letting me know that this might just be a normal part of growing up, and that not all of us are lucky enough to look back and have nothing to regret, or nothing we wish we could have done over.

    I also need to mention that I have known you now for about 18 years or something insane like that. I knew you in college. I knew you with the pink hat. I knew you covered in ice cream…but that’s a different story. :) I have seen you once in a while since, and I always read the updates you send out on your life. I think you were a pretty cool guy all those years ago. But I think you are an amazing guy now. A husband, a father, a comedian, a writer…essentially everything but a pro volleyball player, and that probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So keep your chin up and keep smiling, please., because you are a wonderful person. There are so many who look to you for a laugh (with you, of course) – I don’t know if any of us would know what to do with a morose Dustin.

    You know, just sayin’.


    • Hey Laurie. You certainly did understand it. I think the uninitiated see it as a cry for help. But it’s not by any means, though I do so very much appreciate your compliments. And the fact that you are still reading the stuff I write even if we haven’t seen each other for the better part of the last decade. But mostly, it’s just about getting older and the new perspectives that come with it. I imagine a lot of people are experiencing this, but it’s not commonplace to talk publicly about it, even to friends. So yes, other people are going through this, or at least one other person. And I felt I had to put it out there for that reason. I’m so very glad it caught your eye and I hope one day we can all come to terms with the decisions we’ve made. Take care and please stay in touch.

  3. Pingback: Desperately Seeking Sleep | Daddy Needs a Nap

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