A Pirate Looks at 40
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:
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.