The Real — Chapter I
The Wake Up Call
Sometimes parental advice can be some of the most obnoxious and frustrating advice you’ll ever receive. Parents have a way of telling you what you already know in as many ways as you can possibly imagine. Even worse, parents can give you advice that is so irrelevant or outdated that it cannot possibly applied to the current times we live in.
Much of what was true twenty or thirty years ago, no longer applies. Parents mean well. And the best parents want what [they think] is best for you, but progress has left a gap between what they think is best and what is often possible. There is the wisdom they hope to share, and the present reality, and sometimes communicating across that rift is like speaking in two similar dialects. We know just enough of the words to get ourselves in trouble and cause misunderstandings. Progress makes orphans of us all.
Sometimes, however, the advice they give you crosses the barrier of progress and hits you deep in the core of who you are.
My Dad is a long-haul commercial pilot. He is based in Asia and flies all over the world. I get to see him two or three times a year. I know this is the norm for many people, but it still sucks. I may be an adult out on my own and married now, but sometimes I still need my Dad. It is hard not being able to have the odd dinner with him or go to his place for a long-weekend. I can’t borrow his tools or ask him to show me how to fix something. I’ve basically been on my own since I left Asia to go to university back “home” in Canada at seventeen.
I thought this would get easier as I got older but I think I have felt his absence more keenly now than ever before. I know now how hard it is to be an adult. And I respect my Dad more for all that he has accomplished. I wish I picked his brain more as a teenager. I wish I spent more time learning the skills he has and benefiting from the hard-won wisdom he has attained.
I asked him to call me from Anchorage yesterday and I just told him I needed help. I didn’t ask for anything specific. I just told him that I am still struggling with what to do “next” even though I am almost thirty. I have been sitting on a Bachelor Degree for four years, working a dead-end job, and collecting a paycheque. I told him about the anxiety it was causing me. I told him how looking at job boards and school programs made my heart race.
I don’t remember specifically what he said. He said some things I had heard before. Some things that I was tired of hearing. I told him so. Yet I still listened. I was hoping for something new. Some new way of thinking about things.
I don’t know when exactly it happened but something clicked. Why was I was going to my Dad? Why was I talking to him about this? Was it because I wanted something from him? No. Not really. I think it was because, in a way, I was seeking the one thing fathers are best at giving: Discipline.
I am not saying that I asked my father to ground his adult son. He can’t provide that kind of discipline for me anymore. He can’t provide the lessons of discipline that I need now. But he reminded me of what I was missing. I sought out my father because a good father knows how to discipline. Disciplining your child well is the greatest gift you can give your child.
I realized that I have lost all semblance of discipline in my life. There is not one aspect of my life right now that currently demonstrates discipline. And self-discipline is one of the most important aspects of adulthood. I have been a child. I have been a spoiled child. And I have only myself to blame. My father taught me better.
In every aspect of life we can live disciplined or not.
I can choose to get up early four times a week and go running. Or I can choose to use staying up late (again) as an excuse to get extra sleep.
I can choose to eat a healthy breakfast at home or I can choose to pick up McDonald’s on the way to work.
I can choose to study a foreign language or I can play a game on my phone.
I can choose to apply for that job or I can watch the game.
And it isn’t as obvious as that. We are never given binary choices in life. We are never given the choice between two good things and we simply have to choose the better one. No, we are given this slippery, immutable space called time and we are allowed to fill it with whatever we want.
Want to watch porn? Great! Time doesn’t care. Want a scoop of ice cream? Go ahead! Five? Why not?! Want to watch that thing on Netflix when you get home? Sure! Want to skip the chores? Do it later! Want to watch that YouTube video? You’ve got Time! Want to, want to…
And there is the problem. Discipline focuses on a goal and that goal is imperative. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want to do the menial or difficult task. If it leads to the goal you will finish that task because you are disciplined. Discipline demands that you do it whether you want to or not. That is what I have lacked for years. I have lived with few or no goals. I have deluded myself with nebulous generalities and dreams.
“I may do that someday.”
“Or maybe I’ll do that.”
“Or perhaps I’ll try — ”
It is foolishness to live without goals. Living without goals is to live without discipline and to live without discipline is to descend into yourself. It is a cycle of searching after the next thing you want to do. It is to be guided only by your hedonistic impulses. The pleasure of doing what you want to do, no matter how great those things are, is fleeting.
I never considered myself a hedonist until I took a long look at what my actions say about me.
My actions are deafening me with their accusations.
It is past time that I began forming new habits.
I must do what I do not want to do.