A Pirate Looks at 40

sailing towards the sunset in the keys

sailing towards the sunset in the keys

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I turned 40 a few days ago. Someone asked me how I feel about it; I’ve been thinking about that question ever since. I’m not sure – I guess that’s the answer. I expected to feel something more like sadness or loss or regret, but the truth is that I still feel the same as I ever have. Deep down, behind the occasional moments of over analysis I’m guilty of, I feel contentment at 40.

It’s like looking back on the best times of my life, and the worst, and admitting that I had no idea what they meant. Some of those times I understand now – but I didn’t at the time. I feel that way about 40. My buddy Bruce told me recently that life is better when you ask “What?” and not “Why?” – as in “what are you trying to teach me? What am I to take from this experience?” rather than “why me? why did this happen to me?” That’s how 40 feels. There was certainly no stopping it. So now I’m left with “what am I supposed to do with it? With what little wisdom I’ve gained and what experiences I’ve had. 

Someone asked me what’s hard about being 40. I quoted a line from the movie Act of Valor to him: “the worst thing about growing old was that other men stop seeing you as dangerous.” I grew up with a decorated special forces war hero dad…and an older brother I idolized as an athlete. My picture of manliness and being dangerous was well drawn. It’s why I’ve always sought opportunities to test my strength and toughness. It’s in my blood – the blood that still cringes at the idea of accepting that some men use business and money to prove their value. That’s not how I grew up. 

And it’s also the hard part about turning 40. The hard fact is that I’m not 20 anymore and no one is scared to walk onto a wrestling mat or a race course or a dark alley with me anymore – at least not young men. I can push back on time and do my best, but can’t beat father time. At 40 you feel it slipping away faster than you do at 18, 25, 30, or even 35. I have a few regrets at 40, but none that I can take back or with any clarity say that I would have had a better life if I’d done something different – for posterity’s sake I’ll tell you that I still often wonder what might have been if I’d become a special forces soldier (the only thing I ever wanted to be) or if I had walked on to wrestle for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Those were the dreams of a young boy and man – and I wonder how they might have turned out – but I wouldn’t trade my life now for all of the battles, medals, and victories in the world. 

I did okay. Better than okay.  A modest house in a small town. The love of my life in your mommy and the 3 cutest kids anywhere. 

I know a few things for certain at 40: family is what’s most important. My kids are the jewels in my crown and someday, God willing, my grandkids will be as well. I picture myself in 20 years watching them play in the sand and surf on family vacations and it brings tears to my eyes today. Self respect is more important than success. I learned that the hard way. But I learned it. Sometimes when you think you can’t hold on a minute longer your never closer to greatness. I could go on forever telling you the positive things I’ve learned in 40 years, but chief among them is that I chose the greatest wife I could have chosen. Your mommy understands me in a way that no one else ever could.

We just returned from a trip of a lifetime. She planned the biggest 40th birthday celebration you can imagine and managed to keep it all a secret for months. Here is a recounting of the trip in pictures:

She gave me this first scroll  on Thursday morning.

She gave me this first scroll on Thursday morning.

and this one on Thursday night...

and this one on Thursday night…

few of my best friends have changed my life the way my friend Bo Mixon did. He showed me how to take life as it comes and keep moving many years ago. Mommy flew me to visit Bo in Tampa, FL on Friday.

few of my best friends have changed my life the way my friend Bo Mixon did. He showed me how to take life as it comes and keep moving many years ago. Mommy flew me to visit Bo in Tampa, FL on Friday.

On Bo's mantle is this picture of Me and Mommy with Bo and his wife Sarah in Charleston, SC in 1999 at Salty Mike's. The juxtaposition of how young I look in this picture vs. how different I look in the previous picture was a reminder that I have earned my age. The beauty of it is that I still feel just as alive and young as I did in the 1999 picture - and I'm proud that I'm still married to the cute blond girl beside me.

On Bo’s mantle is this picture of Me and Mommy with Bo and his wife Sarah in Charleston, SC in 1999 at Salty Mike’s. The juxtaposition of how young I look in this picture vs. how different I look in the previous picture was a reminder that I have earned my age. The beauty of it is that I still feel just as alive and young as I did in the 1999 picture – and I’m proud that I’m still married to the cute blond girl beside me.

Bo is stationed at Macdill Air Force base and works in the same building that your Papaw worked in while we lived in Tampa. Special Operations Command. Papaw was 1 of 71 men packed and ready at any moment to parachute in any hostile environment in the world. He retired from this post in 1985 with a slew of medals and military honors as a Lt. Colonel.

Bo is stationed at Macdill Air Force base and works in the same building that your Papaw worked in while we lived in Tampa. Special Operations Command. Papaw was 1 of 71 men packed and ready at any moment to parachute in any hostile environment in the world. He retired from this post in 1985 with a slew of medals and military honors as a Lt. Colonel.

We visited the Special Ops memorial while on base. I photographed the name plaques of a few MACVSOG soldiers and wondered if my dad may have known them in Vietnam. I considered my heritage, and the legacy I hope to leave one day, while I wondered through the memorial quietly.

We visited the Special Ops memorial while on base. I photographed the name plaques of a few MACVSOG soldiers and wondered if my dad may have known them in Vietnam. I considered my heritage, and the legacy I hope to leave one day, while I wandered through the memorial quietly.

We spent the rest of the day at Clearwater Beach where our family used to spend my childhood weekends.

We spent the rest of the day at Clearwater Beach where our family used to spend my childhood weekends.

Mommy sent me with a series of scrolls to open on my trip. Day two instructed me to fly to Miami.

Mommy sent me with a series of scrolls to open on my trip. Day two instructed me to fly to Miami.

She surprised me at the Miami airport where we picked up a rental car and started down the keys to drive the entire overseas highway. Here we are in Key Largo.

She surprised me at the Miami airport where we picked up a rental car and started down the keys to drive the entire overseas highway. Here we are in Key Largo.

She had planned a stop off at the Caribbean Club where parts of the Bogart movie Key Largo was filled. It's one of my favorite movies of all time. What a surprise!

She had planned a stop off at the Caribbean Club where parts of the Bogart movie Key Largo was filled. It’s one of my favorite movies of all time. What a surprise!

we finally arrived at our stopping point Hawk's Cay on Duck Key after dark. Here's the view I awoke to from our room.

we finally arrived at our stopping point Hawk’s Cay on Duck Key after dark. Here’s the view I awoke to from our room.

secret scroll - day 3

secret scroll – day 3

"marooned" on Hawks Cay for the day. I barely moved from this spot.

“marooned” on Hawks Cay for the day. I barely moved from this spot.

the dolphins of Hawks Cay

the dolphins of Hawks Cay

sunset that evening

sunset that evening

Day 4

Day 4

hawk's cay sunrise

hawk’s cay sunrise

hawks cay sunrise

hawks cay sunrise

I started my day with a surprise massage in the "World's #1 resort spa" and then hurried over to catch mommy fulfilling a dream swimming with the hawks cay dolphins.

I started my day with a surprise massage in the “World’s #1 resort spa” and then hurried over to catch mommy fulfilling a dream swimming with the hawks cay dolphins.

then we headed down the overseas highway towards Key West. We stopped off at Bahia Mar state park along the way to explore one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

then we headed down the overseas highway towards Key West. We stopped off at Bahia Honda state park along the way to explore one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Bahia Mar

Bahia Honda

Bahia mar

Bahia Honda

We stopped on US1 at Mangrove Mama's where we ate lunch back in 2001 and again in 2014. I wrote a novel years ago in which a character, a former English professor turned charter captain named Captain Harry, ran away to the keys, had many beers at Mangrove Mama's, and set his Saab on fire in the parking - never leaving the keys again. He named his boat The Saab Story.

We stopped on US1 at Mangrove Mama’s where we ate lunch back in 2001 and again in 2014. I wrote a novel years ago in which a character, a former English professor turned charter captain named Captain Harry, ran away to the keys, had many beers at Mangrove Mama’s, and set his Saab on fire in the parking – never leaving the keys again. He named his boat The Saab Story.

Once in Key West we swung by the Southern most point for a quick drive by picture.

Once in Key West we swung by the Southern most point for a quick drive by picture.

Then it was on to Captain Tony's where two of my heroes - Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett both spent a lot of time. Karen paid the guy playing guitar in the bar to play and sing "A Pirate Looks at 40" for his friend turning 40 from Nashville. I may or may not have gotten teary eyed while I sipped my drink.

Then it was on to Captain Tony’s where two of my heroes – Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett both spent a lot of time. Karen paid the guy playing guitar in the bar to play and sing “A Pirate Looks at 40” for his friend turning 40 from Nashville. I may or may not have gotten teary eyed while I sipped my drink.

We went to Sloppy Joes, another Hemingway spot, and one of my favorite places on earth, and spent some time remembering trips and events from our life together. One thing is for certain - your mommy knows me well and would do anything for me - and I for her. I hope you kids recognize that in your home if nothing else. We try so hard to be an example of what family was meant to be (though it's not that hard for us).

We went to Sloppy Joes, another Hemingway spot, and one of my favorite places on earth, and spent some time remembering trips and events from our life together. One thing is for certain – your mommy knows me well and would do anything for me – and I for her. I hope you kids recognize that in your home if nothing else. We try so hard to be an example of what family was meant to be (though it’s not that hard for us).

More than 10 years ago we sat at Sunset Pier in Key West and watched sail boats slide past - into the sunset. I told Mommy how I'd love to do that someday. And she remembered. She booked us on a sunset sail boat cruise and talked them into letting me hoist the sails on 40.

More than 10 years ago we sat at Sunset Pier in Key West and watched sail boats slide past – into the sunset. I told Mommy how I’d love to do that someday. And she remembered. She booked us on a sunset sail boat cruise and talked them into letting me hoist the sails on 40.

We flew home on my birthday - but not before one final scroll. A Pirate Looks at 40.

We flew home on my birthday – but not before one final scroll. A Pirate Looks at 40.

One final surprise: my buddies were waiting for me for a surprise party when I went to pick my truck up from my office. We sipped drinks and told stories into the evening. And we talked about 40, but I felt young.

One final surprise: my buddies were waiting for me for a surprise party when I went to pick my truck up from my office. We sipped drinks and told stories into the evening. And we talked about 40, but I felt young. 

I celebrated 40 by visiting an old friend, driving the overseas highway, and hoisting the sails of a schooner sailing into at Caribbean sunset. I wondered what Jimmy Buffett meant by “A Pirate Looks at 40.” I know what it means for me. The best is yet to come.

A man from Jamaica named Kingsley I met in the keys told me something I can’t stop thinking about. He said “Money is money. People are people. There’s a big difference. One love.” He went on to tell me that the more love we spread the richer we all are. Our family isn’t rich by our county’s standards: we live in the same house we bought 13 years ago before we had you kids and we drive 10 year old cars. But I’ve seen many ports, many islands, many tall ships, sunrises and sunsets and oceans whose color I can’t describe. Kingsley is right: Money is money. People are people. And I’d add that life is about experiences with those you love. I guess that makes me rich after all. So, I’m 40 now and hope to show you kids more ports, islands, mountains, rivers, and cities. For me there are mountains still to climb, oceans still to swim in, ruins to explore, races to run.

One Love,

– Daddy