Dear E & V,
There comes a time in many people’s lives where they throw off the yoke of parental oppression and revel in their new found freedom. For some this is college, for others it’s living on their own, and for others it’s partying in their parents’ basement (where they live). There is no purpose other than pleasure; it can be anything from beer-bonging with friends in a college dorm room to getting stoned by yourself while playing Call of Duty.
The road to your identity is fraught with experimentation, and often times this experimentation lands on the doorsteps of hedonism: The ethical theory that pleasure (in the sense of the satisfaction of desires) is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
Hedonism is popular because its easy. It doesn’t tax the brain with complicated morality and thinking of long term consequences. It doesn’t involve thinking about what truly makes one happy, or even what happiness is for that matter. And let’s face, it feels good. Real good. Given the cushy life most middle class young adults have these days, it’s easy to think that you have all the time in the world, that you’re invincible, that you can wake up the next morning after a tequila bender and start all over again after you have a big pancake breakfast.
I’m not going to go into a moralistic diatribe about the dangers of seeking out pleasure for pleasure’s sake, and not only because you’re going to hear it from plenty of other people. While those are realistic risks you take when engaging in hedonism (Requiem for a Dream anyone?), the fact is most people turn out okay after a fling with it as young adults. On the most part you and your friends will do a pretty good job of moderating how far you go in your search for pleasure. Once you get a hangover or two or hook up with a coyote ugly you’ll learn what “too far” is for you. While I’d rather you not have to learn those lessons in the first place I can only warn you, I can’t stop you.
For me the greater regret I have about my own foray into hedonism wasn’t the possible damage I did to my body and mind. It was all the time I wasted when I could have been doing other things. To quote my favorite TV dad…
There’s another line after that clip that I wasn’t able to find that goes something like “Smoking weed makes being bored cool, and that’s not okay”. Let me put that into perspective with a personal example. I had at one point considered becoming a firefighter in my early twenties. But instead of taking the time to reflect on that and give it a try, I simply took the first job I could find that would support my partying lifestyle. 15 years later I finally got into volunteer firefighting and regret every minute I didn’t take advantage of that desire when I was younger. I had so much free time that, for better, disappeared when I had you both that I could have dedicated to something I know now makes me almost as happy as you and your mother do. I could have started a career in firefighting early enough that I could have ridden through the ranks and by now could support a family on just my single income. Now I struggle with balancing my duties to support you and your mother and be a great father with my desire to be at the fire station as much as possible. I consider myself lucky that I get to even volunteer.
While that is one of my life, it’s not really something I think about a lot. Time is too precious to focus on the past so I do what I can now to lead the life I desire. Never forget this: You are 100% responsible for leading the life you desire. You will make mistakes along the way but you can’t let them stop you from getting where you want to go.
So instead of wallowing in my own self-pity about the place I put myself in, I’m funneling my regret into this warning letter to you. It’s easy to think you have all the time in the world when you’re young, that’s simply human nature. But you only need to take a look at the obituaries of a newspaper to realize that death won’t wait for you to be ready for it. I’ve lost friends and acquaintances when I was in high school from car accidents and suicide. I should have learned from them much sooner than I did. I don’t want you to learn the lesson the hard way like me.
Time is extremely precious. I met with one of my mentors today and he told me something that really stuck with me: “My dad was a very authoritarian dad until I turned 18, and then he became my friend.” When he said that it was like a revelation. It’s why I took Grandpa’s death so hard. I had plenty of time to experience him as a dad, but I didn’t get enough time to appreciate him as a friend.
So yeah it’s nice to play the occasional video game and have the occasional drink or toke. But there’s so many more interesting things you can be doing with your life that will make you a better person, that will help you figure out how to live a good life — a life you’ll look back on and want to live over and over and over again on your death bed. Making a positive impact on the world is so much more satisfying than drinking yourself into a stupor. Use your short time on this earth wisely.
I am a Father, Husband, Cowboy Philosopher, Volunteer Firefighter, and Professional Dilettante. I am nothing and I am everything. But when it comes to our relationship: I only wish you wonder and happiness.