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I’d seen the word on social media. Mid. The show was mid. The song was mid. The rapper was mid. So many shows, songs, rappers and more are unknown to me, trees in the now-bewildering wilderness of pop culture that the young navigate effortlessly.

But I rapidly deduced that mid is not good. Mid is mediocre. Middle of the road. Meh.

And then I realised—I am mid.

The pandemic made my midness unavoidable. Until then, I could convince myself that I looked 10 years younger than I was, and looking good is halfway to feeling good. But in the Age of the Mask, my face of denial was shrouded. Suddenly all I saw were eyes. Nothing I did to my visage or hair could perform a trompe l’oeil and camouflage how my age was now inscribed in the lines and wrinkles around my eyes, underlined emphatically by a duo of bags that got heavier every year. The young, in contrast, showed off their youth effortlessly with the smooth and unblemished canvas framing their eyes. Every moment of fleeting eye contact with both young and old reminded me of the threat of mortal illness as well as the inevitable slow motion of ageing.

Funny how I trembled when I turned 40, more than a decade ago. How youthful 40 now seems. But I remind myself that at that middling age, when I wanted nothing more than to be a novelist, there was no published novel. I also had not wanted to be a father, that death sentence, yet that is what I became. When my son was born, my life, as I knew it, was over.

I was 42.

I had just finished the first draft of my novel, and my most important job was to watch over my son at night to make sure he lived. From late in the evening until 3am, I rewrote the novel while watching little Oedipus sleep in the same room, swaddled on the futon. Anytime he stirred, I stuck a bottle of formula in his mouth. From 3am until his mother took over childcare duty at 5am, I sipped my own formula—single malt Scotch—and wondered: Was I a failure? Was I ever going to publish this novel? Was I middle-aged? How does one know for sure?

Statistically, the average middle age for American men begins just past the mid-30s, since the average American male’s life span is 73.5 years of age. As a country, America can be considered rather mid, with the United States ranking below Albania and above Croatia. Hong Kong tops the charts at 83.2 years. Our average must be brought down by a daily drip of government-subsidised corn fructose and the lack of universal health care, as well as a toxic mix of economic inequality and depression, gun violence and opioids.

If I am statistically average, then I have been middle-aged for 15 years. I tell myself I am not afraid of Death. Easy to say until one sees the Great Funeral Director’s hand on the switch, ready to turn off one’s light. I will admit that with the shadow of mortality falling on my toes, I bought a sports car at the age of 43. A used grey Infiniti coupe with automatic transmission, the nicest car I had yet owned but far cheaper than a brand-new Honda Accord. Not a sports car by the definition of connoisseurs. Not a Corvette; not red. The car even had a back seat that could fit a car seat and my son.

Even my midlife crisis was mid.

I examined my son, destined to kill me and usurp me, at least symbolically. Cute little guy. Could he escape his destiny? Could I escape mine? Perhaps if I read him more books? Spent more time with him? Took him to more Little League baseball games? Thankfully, he quit baseball after a year, but then took up soccer with great enthusiasm. I bought him shin guards and cleats, watched him and his Neon Knights practise while I sat on a tattered beach chair, angling my umbrella to ward the sun off my pale legs. Was this happiness? Was this what a writer does?

The long middle of a story is the hardest part for me as a writer. The beginning, far in the past. The ending, I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is good for a writer to be unaware of the conclusion. If the end startles the writer, it likely will surprise the reader, too.

Pssst—the hero dies.

I didn’t hear that.

I used to think that writing was a ticket to immortality. Who needed children when one’s progeny was one’s books? In my teens and early 20s, I longed for fame and glory. I didn’t think much about how the names of the immortals were relatively few, while libraries were filled with thousands of books by writers I had never heard of before, some of them quite famous in their time. And some authors whose names dominated only a decade or two ago are rarely mentioned today, now that their life force no longer animates the literary scene.

When it comes to literary fame—which is not really that famous—I have more than some authors and less than others. But whenever I am tempted to believe my own hype, I read my one-star reviews — Bafflingly overpraised! Absurdist and repulsive! Pure garbage!—and recall that I live not far from Hollywood. When I tell people in Los Angeles that I’m a writer—no one cares.

And if no one cares, why should I?

That seems to be the greatest freedom in being mid, at least for me. To be middle-aged is not necessarily to be mid, particularly if one feels that one is at the peak of one’s powers. But to acknowledge that one’s accomplishments, great or small, hardly matter to most people and may one day fade into the dust, rendering one mid or even forgotten—might that actually be liberating rather than depressing?

When I was younger, I cared very much what people thought of me and my work. Part of me, because I am human, still does. But an even greater part of me does not. I had an inkling of what it meant not to care when I wrote my first novel; I was already old for an aspiring novelist.

I had written a short-story collection while yearning for the attention of editors, publishers and agents. When I realised that the power brokers did not care about my book or middle-aged me, I was free. Not to care. To do exactly as I pleased. Because I was mid.

It’s hard not to care in your teens and 20s. But as I looked at my son, turning two, three, four, I saw how he was almost literally carefree, except for wondering if he would get all the toys and treats he wanted. But he also simply did not pay attention to rules, expectations, conventions. You’ll find out, I thought grimly. That’s the way life is.

And maybe he will submit to the borders of adulthood. But at five years of age, he wrote and drew his own comic book, Chicken of the Sea, about restless chickens who run off from the farm to become pirates under the command of a rat captain. I was amazed. I could never have come up with that story. Because I cared about things like reality. How realistic. And how limiting.

So in my mid years, I try not to give a damn about unimportant things and unimportant people. The important people—friends and family, children and partner—still concern me. Writing, too, because it remains my passion. After I publish a book, I do keep an eye on how it fares in the world, vulnerable as I am to desire and vanity. But in the midst of writing a book—the art is all that matters.

The result is that the stack of books I have authored grows little by little, outnumbering my children in quantity. But never in height. Or weight. Or even, perhaps, in quality. If you had told me, in my youth, that I would be a father and love fatherhood and adore a daughter and a son I did not want or even dream of at the time, I would not have believed you. Down that road of family and stability, love and care, lay mediocrity. And perhaps that is true. But what is also true is that if my story concluded here, midway, I could live, and perhaps die, with being mid. Not the happiest of endings, but happy enough. And no one would be more surprised than me.

Originally published on Esquire US

Wisdom and advice from and about dear ole dad that has appeared in the pages of Esquire over the decades. Come, sit by the knee and discover what people have learned about fatherhood.

Fatherhood? I love it. It introduced an element of fear into my life. When you’re a bachelor, you don’t give a shit. You can do anything. But when you become a father, you get scared about everything. —Alex Trebek, April 2003

After all these years, our father has never understood that we, his children, tend to gravitate toward the very people he’s spent his life warning us about. —David Sedaris, June 1998

I would envision different scenarios in which I would become violent reacting to people’s reactions to my children—especially to my severely handicapped child. Eventually, he taught me that was not necessary. Just by himself. By being a gift to us. He showed us how to have faith and belief and inner strength and to never give up. —Neil Young, January 2006

My mother used to say to me when I was a kid: “I’d throw myself in front of a truck for you.” Over and over again. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about. “What do you mean, you want to throw . . . you’ll die.” I say that to my kids now. —Gene Simmons, July 2002

Children learn from what you are rather than what you tell them. What you try to jam into their heads isn’t going to be worth beans if the way you’re living your life doesn’t look like that. —Alan Arkin, January 2007

My daddy said, “When the sun comes up, boy, you get up. When the sun go down, dammit, you go down.” —Al Green, November 2001

My dad didn't pass down any soufflé recipes. For him, it was all about the sandwich, and he taught me to pay attention to every part. That meant meats and cheeses sliced to order from the deli and using bakery bread, light but sturdy, so it won’t get soggy when it comes in contact with the filling. You want to slice the bread yourself so that you can balance the ratio of the filling to your bread—let’s say 30 percent filling to 35 percent bread on either side. The last consideration is the most important: You must offset the richness of the meat with some acidity, whether pickles [or] slaw. Because whether it’s made by the dad or the son, a good sandwich is about relationships. —Michael Symon, June/July 2012

Children teach you that you can still be humbled by life, that you learn something new all the time. That’s the secret to life, really . . . I’m still working because I learn something new all the time. It’s the secret to relationships—never think you’ve got it all. —Clint Eastwood, January 2009

Regardless of whether I might prefer another woman to my wife, I recoil from the possibility of harming my children, putting a blight on their budding young lives, robbing them of what I promised by inference in bringing them into the world. When I think of that, when I look upon my fine intelligent son, my adorable lovely small daughter, the mere thought of a broken home fills me with horror. The emotion of joy which my children arouse in me is mighty as the overture to Tannhäuser, a crescendo of glorious music beside which the pleasures of infidelity are no more than the quaverings of a tubercular saxophone, trivial and without power. —Anonymous, June 1939

He used to say that I must wish I had a father who didn’t drink so much, and I’d always say no, that I knew a lot of fathers, and some of them didn’t drink as much as he did, but that despite this he was far and away the best father I’d seen. —Ben Cheever, November 1988

It is our nightmare, of wanting desperately to protect our children, not least of all from ourselves. The American father lives inside the discrepancy between what he hopes for his children and what he does to them. —John Leonard, December 1975

My father would say, “Do the best you can. And then the hell with it.” He always looked at the effort grade rather than the final grade. —Ted Kennedy, January 2003

What do I do well as a father? I’m there all the time. I give unconditional love. And I have a lot of skills in terms of getting them to express themselves. I’m good with handy hints—if they can tell me what their problem is—’cause I’ve had a lot of problems in life myself. I make an effort to expose them to things. I want them to have a deep, inner feeling that it’s all right to be happy, that you don’t have to be constantly manufacturing problems that you don’t really have. —Jack Nicholson, January 2004

I saw my father three times in the next ten years. And what times those were . . . Running to meet him in the hotel hallway, doors flashing past, into his arms and he smelled of cigarette smoke. Later during numerous of my identity crises I would blow smoke through my clothing to recapture those moments. —William S. Burroughs Jr., September 1971

My father was a lesson. He had his own bakery, and it was closed one day a week, but he would go anyway. He did it because he really loved his bakery. It wasn’t a job. —Christopher Walken, June 2009

Tonight, Cecelia and will sleep together in the narrow hospital bed, the baby on my chest: seven pounds, seven ounces, the weight of my entire world. —Daniel Voll, June 1999

One rule of parenting? Forgive everything. —Michael Caine, December 2014

From: Esquire Us