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

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