Do I have to listen to my kid’s music?

Let me be honest. I hate the music my son listens to. I try to connect with him about other things, but music seems to be the biggest gulf between us. The last thing I want to do is listen to it. Do I need to?

Angus – Maryland

Hi, Angus,

You don’t have to, but I think that the best answer is yes, unless you want to be known as an old man, aka your father.

The first album I bought with my own money was Boney M’s Nightflight to Venus. What was I thinking? Well, it was 1978. My parents would have failed if they’d tried to dissuade me. But surely they could have given me some other options. I could have been listening to Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town, or Steely Dan’s Aja (released the year earlier). I’m hoping that I would have given up Boney M in a flash. Instead I played Ra Ra Rasputin nonstop.

This Boney M video and especially the cape-action is a must see.

My son listens to this weird video game-inspired EDM. I truly hate it. But instead of wasting too much energy criticizing, and in turn getting his teenage stubbornness to kick in, I keep my mouth shut. And subtly interject some options to broaden his horizons. Together we’re listening to Steely Dan and Bob Dylan, The War On Drugs and U2, Twenty One Pilots and Panic! at the Disco. Though I’ve requested that he listen to the video game EDM on his headphones, since it gives me involuntary Donkey Kong twitches. I’m trusting that over time, he’ll make educated music choices. And maybe even thank me for it. No one listens to video game electronica or Boney M forever, right?

So, you don’t have to listen to it. But don’t criticize it or spend too much effort trying to get him to appreciate the guitar solo at the end of Wish You Were Here, or it will take him another decade. Our goal should always be to come alongside, not criticize. They’ll like what they like, often in rebellion to what we are trying to push on them.

Chop That Wood

What should I wear to a funeral?

I’ve been told that wearing black to a funeral is too formal. Or just for older people. What should I wear?

Abe – Minneapolis

Hi, Abe,

Maybe you’re asking this question theoretically. If you’ve lost someone recently, my sincere condolences.

When it comes to funerals, I’m an advocate of a classic look. Black tailored suit, crisp white shirt, black tie, black Oxfords.

A year ago I bought what I call my “death suit,” which for me is a memento mori and an acceptance of what these next few decades will look like. In our middle ages, we have to admit that the generation ahead of us, including our parents, will be moving on.

Some people may tell you that a black suit is too depressing. We should be celebrating a life well-lived! Yes, but you’re better off celebrating it with something that doesn’t draw attention to you. Here’s the thing. If you wear a black suit to a funeral, no one will remember afterwards. If you decide that in honor of your fun-loving Aunt Jeannie you’re going to wear a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, they will remember.

If you don’t like the stark contrast of the white shirt and the black suit, or if you’re on the pale side, like me, try a few different shirt and tie colors. If you’re a really white guy, go with grey, silver or light blue. Always matte, never shiny! Traditionally we’re not supposed to wear black and navy blue together, but I think a navy blue tie and light blue shirt works with a black suit. For a bit of respectful celebration, try pink. Whatever you do, never wear a black shirt and black suit. Not only is it too Matrix-y, but you could look like a floating head in any photos. Or disappear entirely if you’ve got a dark complexion.

If it’s a winter funeral, dress for it. Wear a black trench coat with a scarf complimenting the color in your shirt and tie. You don’t want to be that guy hunched over, hands jammed in his front pockets shivering graveside.  What you wear is an extension of the respect, honor, and celebration you feel towards the one you love. Stand tall. Move slowly. Smile. Shake hands warmly, not like you’re interviewing for a job. And please don’t think there’s anything unmanly about crying at a funeral. Always keep a handkerchief in your pocket.

Chop That Wood

Should I grow a beard?

I’ve always been clean-shaven but think I might look good in a beard. What do you think?

Sean – Michigan

Hi, Sean. This is one of the easiest questions to answer.


Whether you are a corporate executive or a personal trainer, growing a beard in your middle ages is essential. You are old enough to decide what you want to do with the hair follicles on your face.

Grow it because it’ll give you something to reflect on, and that’s the point of our middle ages. You can’t grow a beard without realizing – I look older. You may look better, too.

So, yes, grow your beard. And then ask yourself a further question: should I keep it? And to answer that question, you have to consider four things:

1. What does my spouse think? You will have to look at your beard a couple of times a day in the mirror. Your spouse not only has to look at it all the time, she may also want to physically interact with it. While some women can’t get enough of a man with a beard, others will respond the same as if you announced you’ve been diagnosed as having leprosy.  

2. Am I prepared to keep it well-groomed? Throwing on some shave cream and running a blade over your face each morning is the easiest thing to do. Unless you want to look like a crazed prophet, you’re going to need a good trimmer, scissors, some beard oil, and be prepared to trim it at least weekly. And don’t forget to head to a mirror each time after you eat to make sure you’re not sharing your love for barbecue sauce with the rest of the world.   

3. Can I keep my hands off it? Some men grow beards and can’t get out of the habit of pulling on it like a brooding professor. No one likes to watch that. And touching your face is a surefire way to spread germs.

4. Can you walk that razor line between over-groomed and under-groomed? Your style is up to you. But don’t be ridiculous. A pencil-thin moustache and chin line? An eight-inch long taper? Ridiculous in both cases. Grow a beard but keep it groomed. And make sure your beard matches your hairstyle. If you don’t know if it does, ask your barber. And spend the extra few dollars to have it shaped each time you visit him. Remember that you’re in your middle ages. Don’t be a cheapskate.

Finally, beards are safer than many fashion choices you may make in your middle ages. Unlike a tattoo, you can try it out for a couple of months and see.

Chop That Wood

When am I middle-aged?

So, when exactly am I middle-aged?

Joe – Ohio

Dear Joe,

I have a suspicion that you’re in one of two places: either you’re afraid of your pending middle age or you’re in denial that they’ve already arrived.  

You’re not alone. In our 30’s we like to think that we’ll hit middle age somewhere in our 40’s. When we hit our 40’s we like to think that it’ll be in our 50’s. In our 50’s, many of us deny that our middle ages will ever come.  

But there’s always math. Have a look at the SSA life expectancy tables.  

If, for instance, you are 35 years old, the math guys tell you that you’ll live another 43.14 years, meaning that you’ll be taking your last breath when you’re 78.14 years old. That would mean that your midpoint (age at death divided by two) would be 39. Give yourself ten percent on either side of that number and you’re looking at your middle ages running from 35 to 43. In your case, you’ve already arrived at your middle age.  

But don’t lose heart. Now that I am firmly in my middle ages, I realize that it isn’t about specific years. Somewhere in your 40s and 50s is fair. Just don’t be deluded by thinking that if you celebrate your middle ages until you’re 59 that you’re going to live to be 118.  

I’d like to answer your question in more existential terms. Your middle ages begin when you’re willing to admit that you may have lived more days than the ones awaiting you.  

Some men face this and respond by making foolish decisions – think red sports car and receptionist. Others of us take these years as an opportunity to flourish. Think of what we have now that we didn’t have a couple of decades ago: free time, experience, money, and wisdom. Do any women of substance care about grey hair or male-pattern baldness? Does it matter at all that we can no longer run sub 6-minute miles?  

Joe, when it comes to our middle ages there is one reality and we have two choices. The reality is that our middle ages exist – it’s a matter of mathematics. And from that point you have two choices: deny it or embrace it. These are the days for us to pause, reconsider, and move forward.  

Chop That Wood