You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.
~ P. J. O’Rourke
Douglas Horton said, “Growing old is not growing up.” I think I’ve proven that to myself many times over the years. I continue to grow older but the growing up part appears to have eluded me almost completely.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Personally, I think I’d like to be someone who helps people. Yeah, I think that’s what I want most. In the meantime, however, I’ve had a pretty long list of things I wanted to be when I grow up.
A partial list in childhood included Superman, Tarzan, Roy Rogers, a missionary, a circus clown, a high-wire artist, and Perry Mason. All of these were people helping people in one way or another, even if only by entertaining them, right? As a child of abuse, however, I also found myself wanting to be one of Fred MacMurray’s sons (My Three Sons, a sixties TV sitcom), Tarzan’s son, Boy, or Timmy from Lassie. Two were protected from harm by loving fathers – adopted or otherwise, the third by parents and a faithful dog. Superman (George Reeves, not any of those other also-rans to come later) was probably most important. Not only would I be able to protect myself from some not particularly pleasant things, I could also defend others who might find themselves in similar positions. I could see the bullets of taunts and bullying bouncing off my chest, no harm done. The appeal of Tarzan was that of the freedom of swinging through the trees half naked, though still able to protect myself from almost constant danger. Feeling your body is under your own control is important, don’t you think?
I’m afraid it’s lost forever but for many years I had in my possession a short 8mm film clip of me winging my way around our den in my cape – or, more accurately, a big towel tied around my neck. My sister, Judith, was the cinematographer. As a child, I was pretty certain I could fly. That probably explains my jumping off the roof of the house on more than one occasion. I never did master the art of flying, though my imagination would hold on to the idea for years to come. In one way or another, the dream of flying probably helped get me through a lot of unpleasant things. I suppose I could restage the event for posterity but it might not have the same endearing quality nearing age sixty as it did when I was eight.
In my late twenties, I learned to fly in a slightly different way. Friends made fun of me because my little “trips” left me sitting in a corner with my eyes closed as I watched all the pretty shapes and colors sweeping across the backs of my eyelids. I had to give up those drug-induced methods of travel, however, when I realized they often become one-way trips. I couldn’t imagine finding myself trapped inside my own mind, unable to get out. In so many ways, I was already trapped there and that was bad enough.
By adolescence, my list of things to be when I grew up included writer, singer, songwriter, actor, minister, accomplished pianist – in general, someone who commanded attention and, naturally, adulation of one sort or another. The singer/songwriter in me was going to change his name to Davy Starr. It may seem odd I’d choose a name that would require explanation in order to make sure people spelled and pronounced it correctly. After all, I’d already been spelling and pronouncing my last name for others for years. I’ve never figured it out. Either people pronounce my name Ekin (long Ē) or, if they realize the E is silent, add an S to the end – Eakins (long ā). Be that as it may, I was growing up in the era of Davy Jones of the Monkeys and Ringo Starr of the Beatles. Besides, Davy Starr looked good on paper – to me. I remember practicing writing my new name many times. It had to be right since I would soon be signing lots of autographs.
I’m not sure I remember what my name was to be if I’d ended up as a minister. I don’t think many ministers need to practice signing their names for autographs. Mostly they need to stand shaking hands with a long line of people at the end of a service. They’d probably call him Mr. Ekin. “Lovely service, Mr. Ekin,” they’d say. You certainly have a way with words.” “Quite a sermon, Mr. Ekin. Are you sure you should have used those words in that way?” “Uh, I just need to ask you one question, Mr. Ekin. Are you sure you’re Baptist?” “Listen, Mr. Ekin,” a deacon would say, “I’ve called an emergency meeting of the entire diaconate. You may want to show up for it.” You get the idea. Your services as minister might not be required for enough time to bother practicing your autograph.
By the age of seventeen, I stopped considering what I wanted to be when I grew up because I no longer wanted to grow up. And that’s sad. I believe I may still have felt I had a lot to give but no longer thought anyone wanted it. While I realize now that was a bit of an underestimation on my part, for a long time I contented myself with being that guy who regularly showed up for work, then disappeared from sight until time for the next shift. The race was on to see if I could stay invisible enough often enough to stay out of jail. On the flip side of that, there were those times when I made certain no one was ever able to forget me. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, unless you’re determined to be memorable no matter whether that’s in a good or a bad way. If you can’t be famous, I suppose there’s always a job opening for infamous.
A few years ago, I began to dare to start wondering again what I might want to be when I grow up. It’s a frightening thing, you know. When you’re a kid dreaming about becoming ruler of the world, flying though the sky faster than a speeding bullet, or writing the great American novel, you have the advantage of not having a clue those dreams might be difficult to achieve. When the dreams die before you’ve had the chance even to try because they’ve come to seem impossible, the world takes on a different look altogether.
But, when you’ve come through the fog, cynical, broken, and a little worse the wear, dreams have a different look and feel. I think that’s because you’re cynical, broken, and a little worse the wear. In other words, you’re more practical. You’re more aware that anything worth doing is going to challenge you to step out of whatever comfort zone you’ve created over the years. Sometimes that comfort zone isn’t even comfortable – it’s just what you know. It’s just what you’ve accepted as your lot in life. Cynicism has no expiration date. It does, however, have the chemical makeup to transform into something new.
When dreams die, so does our ability to fly. But I’m discovering that dreams never actually die, they merely go into hibernation. They can be awakened, though we need to be careful about making any sudden moves until they’ve had the time to wipe the sleep from their eyes, perhaps have a cup of coffee. Dreams can be kind of grumpy first thing in the morning. You see, those dreams have gotten a little older along with you. They are also not certain they recognize themselves when they look in the mirror.
But, unlike us, they don’t see their father’s dreams, their mother’s dreams, in the mirror. Sure, there may be hints of both of them somewhere in the reflection but they are otherwise almost completely our own. My dreams still have blond hair. There’s a touch of gray, but that’s because they’ve grown up a little along with me.
So, fasten your seat belts. It may be a bumpy ride, but we’re still taking to the air. We may be flying a little lower now but we’ll be doing it fully clothed this time. God taught me how to fly before I was even born. He’s allowing me to remember how to do that again. Thanks be to God.