This year, for the first time in my life, I was not looking forward to my birthday.
I’m not afraid of aging. Even as I near 40 and the increasing possibility I’ve got more years behind me than ahead, I don’t mind getting older at all. I want to get older. Getting older means gaining experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Who doesn’t want that? Sure, there are plenty of negatives that come with aging–weight gain, creaky bones, poor eyesight, getting weirdly riled up over kids on my lawn, etc.–but for the most part I still get excited by the marking of time and all the stuff people want to give me because of something my mom did years ago.
Until this year. This year, I’m 38-years-old and unemployed.
I didn’t think I’d be celebrating Christmas–much less my birthday–unemployed. So, I went into my birthday slightly depressed. I begged Erin to spend no money on me and just let the day slide by like any other. I knew better than to ask that because my wife is awesome and giving, but I did it anyway. She rolled her bright, beautiful eyes. She’s a champion eye roller.
Amazon has been trying to send us a card with their logo on it and give us free money for years, so Erin finally let them do it and got me some great, expensive board games for basically nothing. (If you ever work up the courage to venture beyond Monopoly and Candy Land, you could do a lot worse than to pick up Castles of Mad King Ludwig and BANG!–both truly excellent, easy-to-understand, difficult-to-master games.) She also made a Mint Chocolate Chip Cake from scratch. I would tell you how good it is but then you might want some and there’s no way in Satan’s address I’m sharing.
At Erin’s suggestion and in acknowledgment of the distinct lack of joy in my countenance of late, I took Violet to jump at a local trampoline arena after preschool let out. Technically, I think it’s against the law to frown there.
The day kept getting better. After the trampolines, Erin and I split a Chipotle burrito for lunch and watched Boyhood (edited for content via my handy Clearplay player). After the kids got out of school she got me a balloon and Rolling Stone magazine, and I played video games with Elora. My Mother-in-Law, Lynn, took us to House of JuJu, my favorite burger place. Best burgers in the world as far as I’m concerned. I’m not kidding. If you ever find yourself in the Fresno/Clovis area, try the Dragon Lady. Thank me later.
After we got home from JuJu’s, several men dressed in ski masks and hoods jumped out from the kitchen and the closest, put a bag over my head, and bodily carried me out of the house. I was kidnapped.
The criminals were my friends: Cody, Mike, Kevin, and Logan. We call ourselves “The Forum,” not because it’s not stupid, but because it’s shorter than “Guys Who Get Together Every Couple Weeks to Play Board Games Late at Night After Our Wives Go to Bed.” Yes, we are all married. We’ve all even got kids. We are a massage therapist, a bank manager, a nurse, an insurance claims adjuster, and an ex-art director. Pretty fantastic group.
Here’s how it went down:
Coming into my kitchen to see two masked men crouched low and hiding and then having all visual input cut off by the bag was honestly one of the creepiest, heart stopping things that’s ever happened to me. The big guy carrying me is Cody. It’s muffled, but if you listen closely you can hear me say “I’m so scared.” I quickly realized it was my friends under the masks, but I was afraid of being dropped. So, of course, Cody dropped me–though you can’t tell in the video because of how dark it was.
(Erin makes a little cameo in the beginning of the video, and that’s Cami–still recovering from her Whooping Cough–throwing a little fit as we exit.)
The Forum took me to No Surrender, a local Laser Tag facility that does it right–full range of weapons (Assault, Shotgun, P-90, Sniper Rifle, etc.) and a gameplay system that encourages and rewards stealth. We played three games in which we sucked so very hard against all the tournament players who showed up for half-price Tuesday. Can’t complain though. We sweat a lot, enjoyed each other’s company, grabbed some late night fast food, and ate my delicious cake. It was everything I could have wanted from my 38th Birthday and it never mattered once that I don’t have a job.
I’ve never defined my self worth by my job. I’ve never done it. I’ve always said a job was a job and it was important to me to do a good job, but my real happiness and fulfillment comes from my friends, my family, and my faith. I’ve always said that, but, until now, I’ve had the luxury of being employed while saying such things.
So, what happened? Of course that got put to the test. Of course it did.
At my last birthday, I did have a job. I didn’t want to turn 38 this year I think, in part, because it stings to be this old and this unemployed. The other half of that sting is that, until now, I’ve done a poor job of adequately considering what I’ve gained in the past year. I’ve only looked at the loss.
I haven’t put things in the proper perspective.
A year ago, the Forum didn’t really exist. The last time I had a close group of guy friends I had to ask permission from my mom to cross the street. Now, these men who are my friends are important to me and I’m important to them and we are a group. I didn’t think I’d ever get that again in my lifetime. But I have it now, this year, at this time. And, amazingly, we are adults.
A year ago, I was gone at work almost every day and saw my kids for 2-3 hours in the evening. I wasn’t a neglectful, 1980’s movie dad who had to be taught that his big brick cell phone and Madison Avenue job weren’t the most important things in life, but I didn’t see my kids nearly as much as I have since the big job loss this past August. I’m closer to my kids now–especially to Violet–than I otherwise would be. I’d say you can’t put a price on that, but I’ve actually paid dearly for it.
A year ago, things were as good as they’ve ever been and yet I felt slightly out of touch with my faith. I had experienced things so viscerally in times past and I was wondering why I didn’t feel such things so strongly anymore. Now, as always happens in times of trial, I’ve had to rely on the Lord more and in doing so I’ve felt Him powerfully.
Are all of these gains a result of being unemployed? No. Some, but not all. Either way, that’s not the point. The point is that I’ve been blessed, immeasurably–and recently. Not with a job, but with so many other things that matter a great deal more.
When you think about it that way, focusing too much on the job loss and getting down because of it isn’t just kind of silly, it’s more than a bit ungrateful. It’s like getting a piece of cake and your favorite ice cream and then complaining about the color of the plate. Sure, I like blue, but I shouldn’t cry about getting avocado green when I’ve still got this amazing cake and ice cream.
My life is delicious cake and ice cream on an ugly plate right now.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it?