After the Engelbert Humperdinck concert last month, my daughter and I took a stroll through a nearby park where the city put on a “Christmas in the Park” exhibit. The city has been doing this for years, and I even wrote about it in an early blog post (see Why We Need Japanese Transvestite Elves). The exhibit takes up the entire park, which occupies a strip of land between two blocks. The park was so crowded this year that we had to step aside and make room for people to pass at nearly every turn. Others did the same for us.
“Have you noticed,” I said after a while, “that when women pass they apologize for making us wait, but men don’t?” “Uh, yeah,” my daughter said as if I had been reflecting on the wetness of water. “It’s always like that. They apologize for everything.” This is the same daughter who, in the fifth grade, admonished her mother for serving me dinner when I came home late from work one night. “Why can’t he make his own dinner?” I remember her saying. We both looked at her.
Thinking about my grandchildren, including two of her own, this gender pattern holds. The boys dive into things headfirst, often literally, and think about the consequences afterward, if at all. The girls tend to think first, run some tests, and then act, hoping that they won’t get into trouble or end up in an emergency room. When they do act, they often imitate the boys but ratchet things down a notch or two. This is a general rule, of course, and I note that the girls actually lead in broken bones while the boys are ahead in stitches (a head in stitches). So, I would call it a draw for now.
Throughout my life I, too, have rushed headfirst into things, believing that I was more than capable of achieving my goals. Never mind that I can’t play the organ, speak French with an Ivory Coast accent, judge venture teams in advanced fiber optics, or sing baritone in polyphonic Gregorian chant. Yet, I have done all of these things, or at least tried to. But they pleaded with me to stop playing the organ, and I haven’t been invited back as a judge (see A Lenten Reflection). My ego soon recovered. I figure you can’t win them all. Then again, neither should you volunteer for them all. The problem is I can’t resist a challenge (see Bobby Bronco). Hopefully, resistance will come with age.
Why do I continue to do these things even though most of the time they are well beyond my reach? I blame my y chromosome, which is better than saying the devil made me do it, although not much. But there is an advantage in taking on new challenges and not backing down in life. I’m thinking here of career, love, fortune, and a hundred other things.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not act rashly anymore the way I did in my youth. I don’t overestimate my abilities. My thinking is more nuanced than that. I know I can’t do most things and won’t even try. That includes rock climbing and jumping out of an airplane, which my daughter has done (when I heard that I wanted to strangle her). I just think I’ve been through enough in life to learn quickly. After all, isn’t real learning a matter of self-knowledge and discipline more than acing the weekly quiz?
We’re supposed to get less cocky with age, but I don’t care anymore. After all, fortune favors the bold (fortis Fortuna adiuvat). As we age we know fewer things with certainty, but the things we know we really know. For instance, my grandson can fling himself off the top bunk because he thinks he’s Spiderman. I fling myself off because nobody expects it or believes I am capable. But I know I can and derive pure joy from nosediving onto the bedroom floor, metaphorically and otherwise. Only occasionally do I hurt myself.
For the record, one of my grandchildren did fly off the top bunk, landing on the floor. It ended in a broken arm and a cool cast. It was my granddaughter.
Image credits: feature by Yente Van Eynde on Unsplash; climber by Riccardo Pitzalis on Unsplash. To start off the New Year right, get your copy of The Gringo (2011), Laura Fedora (2014), and Nine Lives (2016) here. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”