Can our kids ever be our friends?

Can you ever be your kid’s friend?  Is it a good thing to be true “friends” with your kid?

Kris – Massachusetts

Dear Kris,

Since you put it in quotes, let’s start with the word itself. And once we’ve honed in on a definition, we can figure out whether or not it’s “a good thing” (my quotes).

When pondering the meaning of things, it is always prudent to start with the Oxford. Etymologically, we can transport back to 900 when we were using the Old English word frēond, which is of Germanic origin, related to Dutch vriend and German Freund, from an Indo-European root meaning “to love.” We could have gotten that much without Oxford. Its definitions aren’t much more helpful.

  • A person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection. For me, mutual affection sounds a bit like monkeys picking gnats out of each other’s fur.
  • Used as a polite form of address or in ironic reference. This generally only comes in handy when making a political speech: Friends and fellow countrymen.
  • A person who supports a cause, organization, or country by giving financial or other help. Truth be told, for many of us, this rings true, especially since “the financial or other help” continues to be a line-item in our monthly budget.
  • A person who is not an enemy or opponent. This one shouldn’t be too hard.
  • A contact on a social networking website. Has this definition actually made it into Oxford, along with such wonderful English words like mellifluous, ethereal, and meatloaf? If we’re not friends on social media — the social media that they use — then we’re missing an opportunity to connect. Time to build your bitmoji and work on your snapchat strategy.
  • A member of the Religious Society of Friends. I like this one. We all should become Quakers. The world would be a much quieter, peaceful place, with well-made minimalist furniture.
  • A familiar or helpful thing. We’re not getting a whole lot of depth in any of these definitions. Which is why you can find about 3,000,000,000 results (0.63 seconds) via a Google search. Even those Google bots don’t know what they’re looking for.

Let’s make it three billion and one definitions. Going through the process of adding a personal definition will help us see that friendship is malleable, bending itself into a new shape with every relationship in our lives. Our friendship with high school band mates is different than our friendship with our neighbors. Our friendship with our neighbors is different than our friendship with our running buddies. And our friendship with our kids is going to be different than any of those.

We’re somewhere between two and four decades older than our children. Most likely, our interests aren’t going to mesh perfectly. Maybe some of us are lucky. We might get hip-hop, from a ethno-histo-cultural viewpoint. And our kids might know every word in every Journey song (even knowing that South Detroit is in fact Windsor, Ontario). Great! We’ve got some musical sympatico going on! If friendship means rapping along with Wu-Tang or airbanding to the solo in Separate Ways, then we’re good to go.

It’s easy to find any number of common bonds. Movies, art, classic cars, bowling, drum circles, axe throwing competitions. And be honest, after some years of rebellion, we kind of turned out like our parents. As will our kids. So we’ve got that in common, too.

Yet, none of those commonalities build meaningful friendships.

So if it’s not about commonalities, what then? Let’s go broader. Maybe by wondering about our friendship with our adult kids we get to have a middle-aged guy revelation: we are not as good a friend as we could be. We’ve spent decades focused on work, immediate family, and our own selfish natures. We hang out with other guys, raise a glass, complain about politics, wax nostalgic. When is the last time we admitted that life is hard, asked for directions, shared our fears, lamented? Women (in a broad, sweeping generality) nurture better friendships than we do. Why? Because they’re way more honest than we are.

What if in our middle years we took this as an opportunity to actually start being a friend? I’m convinced that if we start doing that, then we’ll understand what it means to be a friend with our adult children.

Back to your actual question, when you asked if this a good thing. Let’s go see Drake! Start surfing together! Shoot tequila and eat jalapenos! Agreeing to do any of those things with our kids is just weird. Being a friend doesn’t mean being a bro. If we can accept that friendship is about honesty and openness, if it’s about dropping the hierarchy of father knows best, kids need to obey — then the answer is yes.

Chop That Wood

Am I going bald?

I have to admit that I’m starting to thin on top. Should I shave my head?

T. Scott – Ontario

Hi, T. Scott,

If you’ve ever been in Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, you know what I’m going to say. There are few things in life more shocking than getting ready for a transfer flight and seeing dozens and dozens of men who have gone through recent hair transplant surgery waiting for their flights back home. Istanbul must have a stranglehold on male-pattern hair loss (MPHL) solutions. These guys walk around proudly with blood-soaked bandages on their heads, giving each other knowing little nods. We’re going to look rock stars when we get back to Dubai.

It’s no great revelation that 7 out of 10 of us experience some degree of hair as we age. I am completely convinced, though, that the evolutionary-balance is that 7 out of 10 women don’t care whatsoever. Nonetheless, what we do when we start to go bald is an important question.

Okay, before addressing your question, I will first of all address an easier question. When we start to add some weight to our midsection (as probably 7 out of 10 of us do), do we continue to wear the same T-shirt that we did in our twenties? Yes, it’s ironically cool that we saw Van Halen’s pre-tour warm-up gig at Sam the Record Man for their 1998 III Tour (though Gary Cherone?) but with our added belly girth, that T-shirt would make us look like we worked at a computer repair store. Instead, frame the T-shirt, put it in the mancave, and buy something from Stitch Fix.

So it goes with our thinning hair. If we even momentarily think that growing it a bit longer will make us look less bald, then we are fractions of an inch away from a combover. Those friends of our dad’s? They had no idea that they had a combover. They honestly thought that no one noticed. Except when swimming. Which they tended not to do very often.

Did you know that there was something called the Norwood Scale? A doctor dude back in the 50’s came up with this to convince us that we needed to reverse what nature thought was a wise and noble progression. And with that came the whole hair replacement industry. Plugs and wigs, buttocks-to-head transplants, hair-in-a-can aerosol sprays. I’m hoping that our children’s children will laugh to know that men obsessed about hair loss. They will walk around like the Romans, envious of those lucky enough to be endowed with the senatorial look of MPHL.

Here’s where my basic grooming philosophy comes into play. You want to shave your head? Go for it. But don’t set yourself up for being ridiculous, which in this case would mean spending an extra 40 minutes in the shower each morning making sure that you are shiny bald. Why do guys do that? I think it’s still a form of bald-shaming. After a day or two, the male-pattern baldness returns. The shock! That guy’s not naturally shiny bald! He has the lines of a balding male! Is there something wrong with him?

We need to embrace our male-pattern baldness. And then find a suitable haircut. Go ahead, shave it down with a Number 2. See how it looks. Too short? Then let it grow, which it remarkably will do. Maybe underneath that hair is one perfectly shaped head. Then Zero it down! And after you’ve screwed around with your razor a few times… go see a barber! He’ll pick something out, based on your face shape, where you’re balding, and your style.

The other day I saw a handsome middle-aged guy and it took me a minute to figure out what was different. He was dressed smartly in these olive-colored chinos and a bomber jacket. He had a short-trimmed beard. And then. Bam. Wow. Brave! Instead of completely bald with the beard, which is everywhere, he had let his hair, I guess a VI on Norwood’s scale, grow a bit. Obviously professionally cut. I used to think that guys who went completely bald were the brave ones. But this guy, embracing his MPHL, he’s like our Superhero. Fearless.

So, my recommendation to you, T. Scott, is take a deep breath, acknowledge that you are no longer twenty, and be brave. Shave it or let it grow. But don’t bother hiding it. No one, especially 7 out of 10 women, is going to be fooled.

Chop That Wood

How do I get fired up about life again?

I want to be fired up about life again. Any suggestions on how best to do this?

Brandon – California

Dear Brandon,

If I were a motivational speaker, I’d tell you to set your sights on the stars and believe that you’ll get there. But I’m not a motivational speaker. At heart, I’m a pragmatic-cynic. But I will answer your question anyway!

To best answer your question, let’s deconstruct it. There’s a lot of truth in what you ask and it’s relevant to all of us middle-aged guys.

“I want…” Great! Having that desire is the starting place.

“…to be fired up…” You’re going to have to spend a bit more time deciding what this means. Do you want to jump out of bed, throw open the blinds, and sing across the rooftops? Let’s not worry about the intensity of the emotion but instead the object of your firing up.  

“…about life…” This is the point where you need to get specific. Life? That’s ambiguous. I doubt you mean that you want to be super-excited simply to exist. Drop that word and replace it with what you really mean: your career, health, finances, or your relationship with your spouse?

“…again.” And here I’m going to stop you in your tracks. You’re suggesting that you can return to a time and a place where you were fired up. Raw truth: there’s no going back. You’re never going to be fired up about things in the same way that you once were. All that stuff about not being able to step into the same river twice, well it’s true.

The past, and whatever goals and dreams we had, no longer exists. Now that we are older and wiser, we can identify reasonable vs. unreasonable goals. These weren’t so obvious in our twenties. Let’s start a band and go platinum. I’m tired of being an accountant and think I’d be an awesome neurosurgeon. We now know those aren’t reasonable to start in our middle years.

In your second sentence you use an important word: do. Reasonableness depends on that simple verb. Let’s look at two examples.

First, let’s say that you are disappointed with your finances and want to get fired up about earning money. You want to be rich. Spend a bit of time with that. How rich do you want to be? (And why? Don’t forget to ask this because there’s no reason for us to be rich as an end in itself.) Is there a reasonable way for you to attain your financial goals? Lottery tickets do not count as attainable means to achieving financial goals. If you dream about being rich, then you are going to end up feeling less than fired up about becoming rich, because it’s never going to happen. But if you do something about it — setting (and attaining) monthly sales goals, for instance — then you’ve got every reason to be fired up.

As a second example, and one relevant to all of us middle-aged guys, is being fired up about our relationship with our spouse. Simply wishing that you had a better relationship will lead to absolutely nothing. Sit down for a few minutes and come up with some reasonable things you can do: weekly date nights, a weekend romantic getaway, reading a book together, joining a tennis club, whatever. You’ll find that if you invest into the actions, rather than the dreams, you’ll get fired up.

I should be honest and say, and my wife would echo me, that this has been a challenge for me for decades. I love planning and dreaming and hypothesizing. But I often fall short in the doing. That said, little by little I’m getting better.

I’m convinced that for many of us, our midlife crisis happens when we’re face to face with the unreasonable dreams and goals of our youth. These fired us up before we knew better. We then navigate that crisis by admitting that our personal satisfaction and, more important, our personal worth, do not depend on those pie-in-the-sky goals. Let’s not be dreamers; let’s be do-ers. Set new goals, but make sure that they align with the important parts of our lives.

Do I need new glasses?

My eyes used to work so well – now my arms are barely long enough to hold things where I can read them. Reading glasses help but I look so grandfatherly… It really bugs me that I can no longer focus at things close. Clipping fingernails is particularly vexing – I never have my reading glasses with me when I do that. How can I continue to be cool while having to use reading glasses…

James – Ontario

Hi, James,

Our vision is a perfect metaphor for middle-aged guys. One day everything is fine and the next, bang!, the entire universe is crumbling before us. (And then once we’ve acknowledged the crumbling universe, we can decide whether to freak out or just carry on. I’m an advocate for just carrying on.)

I started, like you, by pretending that my eyes were still fine and trying to convince myself that I didn’t mind reading at arm’s length. Then I tried on some reading glasses in the drug store and had to admit that my arm was getting tired. I soon realized these glasses worked fine for reading, but I couldn’t switch between whatever was on my desk and my computer screen.

So I got into the grandfatherly habit of peering over the top of the frames. That’s what makes us look old. Not the glasses themselves. Glasses can be perfectly cool. As long as you get the right ones.

This year I took the big leap and moved from reading glasses to progressives. I hesitated for so long because I’ve got no problem with distance. And I didn’t want to admit that they were just getting worse each year. But now that I’ve grown used to my progressives, I can see everything, all the time! No need to go find my reading glasses since they’re right on my face. If I’m driving or out for a run I take them off, but I don’t need to.

It’s time for you to admit that you’re middle-aged, that like the rest of us your eyesight is changing. It’s now time to start wearing glasses that weren’t purchased for ten dollars at the drugstore. And glasses that don’t make you look like a grandfather.

I am a fan of Warby Parker — not just their style but their business model and their great customer service. (I’m not getting paid to say this.) If you’re going for progressive lenses, then you’ll need to make an appointment for an eye exam. But if you just want to get some awesome-looking reading glasses, then order directly online. They’ve got a great home try-on system. And I love that they give a pair away for each pair purchased.

Chop That Wood

Why Can’t I Sleep?

I am waking up at 3 or 4am every night and I can’t get back to sleep. What is my problem?

D. Paul – Canada

Dear D. Paul,

There was a time when I couldn’t empathize with your question. I would fall asleep immediately and wake up with my alarm in the morning. Alas, past results are not an indicator of future success. For tons of reasons, I also wake up in the middle of the night. I’m not a sleep expert or an expert on really anything. But I’ve got some tips that I’ve picked up over the years.

First of all, there’s something that the professionals call sleep hygiene. Basically, it means that you establish a routine of predictable, healthy activities before you head to bed. Kind of like we did when we had toddlers. We’d feed them, wrestle for a bit, throw them into the bath, read a couple dozen books, tuck them in, sing, pray, turn out the lights. Though it never happened that way in our home, that’s theoretically how it was supposed to work.

We need to set something similar up for ourselves. Eat dinner, but not too much. Drink a bit of wine, but not too much. Watch some TV, but not too much. Walk the dog. Do some yoga, meditation and deep breathing. Make your lunch for the next day. You probably don’t want to work out, but I’ve known men who swear that an intense workout late at night helps them sleep better. Doesn’t work for me. The most obvious thing, and a recommendation you’ll read everywhere, is to avoid your phone and computer screens the hour before you head to bed. I’ve read that it might be messing with our hormones and prompting mid-sleep wakeups. But I’m not a medical researcher, so won’t vouch for that. How about going old-school weekdays and avoiding the TV, reading a book or a Kindle paperwhite if you’d rather?

And then most important, head to bed at the same time each night.

Second, as part of your sleep hygiene you’ve got to think about what’s on your mind. Something at work stressing you out? For me, I’ve taken on a habit of writing in my journal before bed. It’s my version of an Ignatian monk’s Examen. I look back at my day and consider where were things cool (recognizing God’s presence) and where were they messed up (conscious of God’s absence). You don’t have to take a religious approach to the journaling, but it works for me. Being honest of what was going on during the day helps me shed some of my stress. Not all of it. I’m too tightly wired for that.

Once you’ve cleaned up your sleep hygiene, consider what’s waking you up at night. Your phone could be the number-one culprit. Charge it outside the bedroom. Maybe it’s the streetlight. Get some thicker blinds. Maybe you’re too hot or cold. Open or close the window before you go to bed. Maybe it’s the LED alarm clock. Cover it up. All kind of obvious and dumb advice. I’m really just recommending that you look at the physical environment and fix what needs to be fixed.

Oh, maybe you’ve got to pee. Not sure what to do about that, except not drinking a ton of water before bed. Toddler wisdom.

So, what happens when you’ve established your sleep hygiene and created a comfortable sleep environment and you still wake up and can’t get back to sleep? Super stressful, right? Maybe this is counterintuitive, but I’d get out of bed if it’s more than 15 minutes. Keep your hands off your phone. Do some yoga or deep breathing. Walk around the house or the backyard. Drink some herbal tea. Read! Once you start getting sleepy, head back to bed — don’t just fall asleep on the sofa. You want your brain to associate sleep with bed. Toddler wisdom again!

Yup, there’s melatonin and then drugs. The drug you take will depend on when you’re having the toughest time — falling asleep, in the middle of the night, or in the morning. Talk to the doc.

Chop That Wood

Should I trim my nose hair?

What is the best trimmer for your beard and nose hair?

Dean – Ontario

There’s a bigger unstated question here, so I’ll start with that and then point you in the right direction for your grooming accoutrements.

Because you’ve asked this question, you’ve obviously already encountered a question that we all face in our early middle years. Why can’t I look like I did in my twenties? Wrinkles and belly fat aside, we have less hair while simultaneously having more hair. Did any of us see this coming?

Once we’ve accepted that we’re no longer the glorious haired (and hairless) specimen of our youth, we’ve got a second question. Is it worth taking the time to be well-groomed? We’re now established in our careers, our spouses accept us unconditionally (or so we convince ourselves), and just look around at other middle-aged guys — they don’t seem to be trying too hard.

Yes, I said that our wives’ love is unconditional, but when it comes to grooming, don’t be so sure. I guarantee you that there’s not a single woman who will say that nose hair, ear hair, Frankenstein eyebrows, random six-inch long chest hairs, or neck scruff are sexy. Not a single one.

Are you trying to impress your wife? Of course you are! There might not be any hard data, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable to graph sexual activity to grooming habits. Maybe you want to try this out. Go ungroomed for three months, keeping track of the quantity and quality of your sexual engagements. And then try it well-groomed for three months. Or, don’t bother. Just go with the groomed.

Who else are we trying to impress? Be honest — pretty much everyone we come in contact with. And that’s a good thing. Your professional appearance, while maybe not as key as performance, certainly impacts your success and promotion potential. With two good candidates, do you think they’re going to go with the well-groomed, well-dressed guy or the one with eyebrow hair that could be braided? How about our daughter’s new boyfriend? We sure want to impress him. We want him to look at us and think that our well-groomed appearance directly relates to our ability to put him in a stranglehold if he breaks her heart. We still care about the things that matter.

Which means that we need to get cutting. Which further means that we need a good hair-removing tool chest: a razor, trimmer, scissors, comb, in addition to good blades and products.

I’ll start out by plugging Dollar Shave Club, which offers awesome inexpensive blades and a ton of products. Or stop in at a local boutique shave shop — they’re popping up everywhere. Put away the thick Gillette cream that our dads used and the overpriced razor blades.

Here are a couple good clippers that you could consider. I use a Norelco. But there are tons of other ones.

My wife still tell the story of when I tried to shave my nose hairs using a razor. I skinned the edges of my nostril. Not only did it hurt and bleed like crazy, it left a scab for weeks. Here’s the trimmer I started using after the scab healed.

Anyway, I don’t think that ultimately it matters what razors and trimmers and products you use. Just make sure that you’re doing some grooming. And when you buy your shaving and grooming gear, don’t be a cheapskate.

Chop That Wood