I'm 40. Older than Alan Thicke was as the father of three when Growing Pains started. Older than Michael Gross was when he played Michael J. Fox's father on Family Ties. James Avery, who played the wise Uncle Phil on TheFresh Prince of Bel-Air, was 45 when the series premiered. Only five years older. I could legit be Uncle Phil's younger brother. Well, kinda.
These are the shows I loved in my youth. The ones I watched after school and when my parents went out with friends and my babysitter Jeena came to watch me, with her hair dyed pink like Cyndi Lauper's. Now I'm older than the parents in those programs.
In one of my favorite episodes of Sex and the City, Kristen Johnson played Lexi Featherson, an aging "party girl" who looks into the mirror after snorting a line of coke and says to Carrie, "I'm 40 years old, Carrie. Can you fucking believe it?" Take away the coke and some other details, and I can totally relate to Lexi. Lately, I've looked in the mirror and thought to ... I'm 40? I can't #*@#* believe it. I barely feel like an adult.
I am single and gay. I rent my apartment. I have no kids. There's nothing in this life that grounds me as an adult save the fact that I have a job. And while this fact has faintly crossed my mind here and there, it's never really planted firmly in my brain the way it does these days.
Ever since I graduated college, I've been running fast in New York. From starting my career to meeting new friends to coming out of the closet, etc. -- I have hardly had the chance to slow down for a period of introspection. It wasn't until I was at a 40th birthday party in Chicago for an old college friend when I found myself standing still at a pivotal moment in my journey -- enough time behind me to take stock of where I am but with time left ahead to course correct.
It was there that I ran into another friend of mine who I hadn't seen in years. We grew up together and went to the same college, forging a closeness with and understanding of each other that neither time nor personal differences had broken. We immediately began catching up and started joking around as we always did, and at one point he mentioned wanting to meet for brunch the next day. He just had to drop his son off at Hebrew School first.
I didn't expect such a mundane statement to trigger something in me, and I can assure you, neither did my friend, but, well, it did. And in the middle of an '80s party, under the soft glow of a neon light, with friends I hadn't seen in 18 years dressed in track suits, miniskirts, and teased hair all around me, and with my fifth blueberry vodka soda in my hand, I found myself, out of nowhere, beginning to cry.
As it turns out, I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was to be confronted with the adult life I don't have and had successfully evaded in my day-to-day life in New York. Sure, I see the Facebook pictures of my sleepaway camp friend's third baby or of my childhood friend's son at a school concert, but you don't run into many daddies -- or at least not that kind -- at the gay bars in NYC. It's easy -- too easy -- for me to forget that there's a suburban world and a family life beyond the Lincoln Tunnel and 59th Street bridge and to avoid admitting how often it calls to me.
If I had taken a different route -- if I were a different person -- I'd be doing just as my friend was and our fathers had done so many years ago: I'd be making breakfast for my little boy, telling him to get his books together, picking up his friends for carpool, and telling them to be good in school and learn as I drop them off in front of synagogue. In a moment, I saw in my childhood friend the father I hadn't become. And now, more than ever before, I find myself noticing young parents and their kids all over NYC, who, up until now, faded into the background.
When you're in your 20s, you know people who have kids, but you figure, "I still have time." When in your 30s, it feels like every straight friend you've ever known is having babies. When you reach 40, their kids are at ages you can distinctly remember being yourself. For me, when I think back, I remember clearly that, even as a child myself, I just assumed I'd be doing all this with my son one day ... like fatherhood would simply happen to me somehow. But the hard reality is that it never happened -- not yet. I don't have a little boy who counts on me, waiting with his backpack to go to school, looking to me for comfort and whatever life knowledge I have to impart. And it hurts so much more than I ever thought it would.
"When did everybody pair off," Lexi loudly and desperately asks the other party guests in that Sex and the City episode. "This used to be the most exciting city in the world ... now it's nothing but smoking near a fucking open window. New York is over. O.V.E.R Over. No one's fun anymore. What ever happened to fun? God. I'm so bored I could die." Immediately after uttering those words, she tragically and ironically trips and falls to her demise out of the window of a high-rise NYC apartment. Thankfully, my exit from my friend's Chicago '80s party was far less dramatic. I collected myself pretty quickly, returned to the party, and closed out a great night (RIP, Lexi).
It's a blessed life when, even in a moment of personal difficulty, you open the door and literally have a room full of friends waiting for you. My life certainly does not want for good times and people with whom to share them. I have an incredible family and circle of friends. From Fire Island to Mykonos, I travel often and make the most out of each trip. I live like a gay single man in NYC ought to -- and fun is not missing in any part of it (sorry, Lexi). I'm lucky in many ways and am fully aware that wanting what you don't or can't have is an inextricable part of the human condition.
But still, when I close my eyes, I reach for the quieter life that remains just outside my grasp. I can see myself carrying my son to bed and reading him a story to send him peacefully off to sleep. I'd check in on him periodically to make sure he's safe and comfortable. And if he were to wake up 30 or so years later -- take a look around and see a world different from the one he'd hoped for -- I'd still be there.
I'd run my fingers through his hair, place my hand gently on his cheek to catch any tears, and assure him that there are plenty of roads ahead. Always remember that everything can change in an instant -- and never stop dreaming about what your life could be. The most important thing in life is to be true to yourself, look out for those you love, be kind and generous to everyone -- family, lover, friend, and stranger -- and let the chips fall where they may. If you do that, my son, I'll always be proud of you, and you should be too.
I'd like to think that those words would comfort him as they (somewhat) did me that night as I tried (unsuccessfully) to fall asleep in my hotel room. The next morning, my friend dropped his son off at Hebrew School while I packed my suitcase. We met for brunch and then I left for the airport. On a crowded flight to JFK, I found myself still thinking about where I had been and where I was headed. I closed my eyes to catch a much-needed nap before I got back to New York, anxious and excited to return to the many wonderful gifts that awaited me there and still dreaming of all that has yet to happen.
SCOTT BERWITZ is a PR executive who lives and works in New York City.