Just a man

Douglas, behind the security glass, asked me, “What makes a man?” I held the phone that connected us close to my ear and struggled to respond. There were so many things that could be the answer, right? And by who’s definition? Society’s? My family’s? This country’s? I was only 19 and outside those walls I felt so grown up, but in there, staring into the face of this 40-something-been-incarcerated-since-he-was-14 man, I felt more like a little boy than I ever had. It didn’t take long for him to notice my discomfort with this question and he saved me by saying, “A man is someone who takes care of his responsibilities.” Simple. At the moment I took his word for it, and after our visit, when I walked outside in the sunshine, my mind raced. No, it’s not that simple. Life is complex. There are stages and caveats and variables and blah blah blah. I tried every scenario I could think of but he was right. A man is someone who takes care of his responsibilities. And to open it up, I think it’s safe to say an adult is someone who takes care of their responsibilities.

As I’ve gone through life since that moment in front of the glass, with that jail phone pressed to my ear, I’ve evaluated every decision I’ve had to make through those eyes. I have to say, when I’ve approached difficult situations with that piece of wisdom in mind, it’s almost taken away all the burden of having to struggle with a decision at all. When you’re choosing to take care of your responsibilities—or to put it another way, dealing with the consequences of your choices—then you’ll always end up on the side of the bed that sleeps at night and things will eventually go your way.

Since I graduated from college I’ve wondered why it is that so many young, bright, privileged “kids” out there are struggling so badly. They’ve graduated from college, some with multiple degrees or masters, and they can’t get a job or make ends meet. They’re unhappy, depressed, and just generally struggling. And I think yeah, shit, it’s hard. I got out of college thinking, “Okay, now what? I’ve been told all my life that all I have to do is get a degree and the rest will fall into place.” What I realized pretty quick was that nothing falls into place. You have to scratch for it. Even us privileged middle-class assholes have to scratch for it. Nothing is handed to you just because you got yourself through college. Who cares? So what? What makes you special? You have more wealth and opportunity than the majority of people in the world and you can’t figure this out?

After college I put my head down and hustled. I put my dream of being a musician on hold and got another job. Sure I had some help but it all came from bridges I had built in college and had nurtured along the way. I go through my life opening doors not closing them, even if I’m not sure I’ll ever go back into the room. I know, I sound like a high and mighty total asshole. But the problem is I see lots of privileged people (and that’s an important distinction) under 35 making plenty of “adult” decisions on the one hand, but not stepping up to handle their responsibilities on the other hand. So they’re not really adults. They haven’t really taken that extra step of taking care of their responsibilities and I imagine that’s a very confusing, debilitating place to be in.

I don’t know. I’d like to say I certainly don’t have the answers but I feel like I do. Take care of your responsibilities. Just handle your shit. If that means you need professional help—therapy, drugs, whatever—get it. If that means you have to mop floors at first, do it. If that means you move back home and mow lawns for a while, go for it. Swallow your pride. We’re not above this. We’re a part of this. This is what living in a capitalistic society is about. Complaining about the game doesn’t change it, and there are jobs out there that are definitely the lesser of the evils. Yes, it sucks sometimes. Yes it’s hard. But you can do this. We can do this. People do this every day. And at the end of the day, we can sit down together, have a beer or whatever, and work through it together.