I was craving a late-night cheeseburger.
There was another dude next to me at the bar in Palm Beach. He was older than me, 57, with a strong South Carolina accent.
He’d been drinking, and slurring his words, and usually nothing good comes from these conversations.
He told me how he was sailing with his wife down to Florida and they stopped for the night in Palm Beach before they continue to the Bahamas.
“Wow, now that is freedom,” I told him. “You must not have kids.”
“Do you have kids?” he asked me.
I told him about my two little ones, and he told me about his 3 big kids, boys, all in their 20’s.
And he got real quiet for a minute or so… and said, “I miss my children so much. I’d do anything to go back in time to when they were little kids again. Now they’re grown up and we’re close and it’s all good. But it’ll never be the way it was when they were little.”
He showed me a picture on his phone of him swimming with his three boys when they were young, back in the 90s. It was one of those classic summertime family moments.
Then he gave me a little talkin to: “You think it’s hard when they’re young. You think you’ll never have enough money. You think you can’t possibly have another child because how in the world could you possibly afford it. Man, I wish I had more. I should have never stopped having kids. I miss them so much.”
He continued, “You’re so lucky to be in that stage where your kids need you and love you. These years right now are so special for you. Slow it down. Slow it way down. Soon enough, your kids won’t want to hang out with you anymore. And everything changes.”
He faded off into another place in his mind and we didn’t say much after that.
I sat there thinking about the one thing I long for these days as a new dad…FREEDOM.
I have been missing the days of freedom where I could do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, and never need to work out the childcare schedule down to the minute.
But I learned at this bar in Palm Beach…
LOVE is way more awesome, and essential, even than freedom!
This drunk dude from South Carolina blew the doors off my mind and blasted my heart wide open.
I’m writing this on an airplane home and I can’t wait to get home to my little people, even if I have to change 13 dirty diapers today, and even if my son has the all-time CRAZIEST 2 year old tantrum and hits me in the face (which I guess is quite common with 2 year olds) because it won’t be 2 seconds later that he’ll ask me to carry him up the stairs and lay his little head on my shoulder and lay him in his crib and rub his little back.
And I can’t wait to squeeze my 4 month old’s chubby legs and kiss her impossibly plump cheeks and hold her high in the air as we listen together to our favorite song: “Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming, Head’s all empty and I don’t care, Saw my baby down by the river…”
I have been drifting through these precious years of parenthood, fixating on how I’m going to raise my young family, complaining about being tired, and longing for the days when the kids are a little older and my wife and I can have more…freedom.
Mary Oliver writes, “To observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.”
That is almost offensive, when you have so much to do.
But so was the whiskey breath of the man next to me at the bar, or maybe he was just channeling the voice of my older self hollering back through time and space: “Don’t get caught striving for a future that leaves you longing for the past.”
That is a nasty state of dis-ease for which the best cure is not some fancy-pants therapist or far-flung retreat…but rather a delicious cheeseburger, a cold Belgian Ale, and a heart-to-heart conversation with a very drunk Southerner!