This is 40

Warning: Stream of Consciousness typing ahead.

I turned 40 two weeks ago. My kids made a big deal of it, with black balloons, and funny signs around the house that said things like “Lordy, Lordy, Dad is 40.” It was cute. I spent about half of my Age 39 Season telling people that I was 40, anyway, so when the actual day came, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I’ve made a million jokes about being “halfway to the eternal dirt nap,” and although death doesn’t exactly excite me, I no longer fear it like I once did.

I think what messes with most people when they hit a milestone birthday is what I like to call the “Should Haves.” Everybody has a list of things that they think that they should have accomplished/attained/obtained by their 40th (or 30th or 50th, etc.) birthday. I’ve heard countless friends and family say things like “I should have a million dollars in my retirement account my the time I’m 40,” or “I should be the Vice President of Sales for my company,” or “I should have my house paid off.”

Frankly, I don’t worry about that sort of thing very much. I know it’s very much in vogue to set goals and achieve them, blah blah. Listen, I’ve been in ridiculously good shape (two years ago) and I’ve been twenty lbs overweight (um, probably now). I’ve had six figures in my checking account and I’ve had a red number in my checking account. I’ve managed a group of 80 people and I’ve been an individual contributor. I’ve had Hyundais and I’ve had Porsches. And what I’ve learned from all of my material and frankly solipsistic obsessions over the years is this:

None of it matters very much unless you are happy and healthy. But I’m starting to think about health and happiness in a different way now.

My father sent me a birthday card that had a short, personal note written at the bottom. It said, “Enjoy your 40s. It’s a great decade. Use it to set up the balance of your life.” I gotta admit, that phrase, “the balance of your life” punched me directly in the gut. I’ve never thought of my life of having a “balance,” per se. I’ve mostly lived in a way that would suggest that I have a very poor Future Time Orientation (a subject on which my brother has had much to say lately). I haven’t saved much money. I haven’t planned much further than a month at a time. This sort of thinking has led to a lot of instant satisfaction—lots of toys that were used once and never used again, etc. But I don’t regret it. In fact, for the last nearly ten years, I’ve focused on one thing—are my children happy in this moment, and am I setting them up to have a better, more fulfilling life than I have had?

I say that like I’ve had a bad life. I haven’t, not by a long shot. There was never a day where I was hungry. I never wanted for anything. Whether it was my mom maxing out a credit card, or my dad swooping in to buy me three new professional saxophones in four years in high school, I always had everything I needed to be successful.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have tragedy or pain in my past. Everybody views his life through the most tragic lens possible. I only say this because it’s true—in 2017, there’s some sort of societal shame associated with having privilege. I’ve sat in professional meetings where each person tries to “out-injure” each other.

“I was poor growing up.”

“My parents were divorced.”

“We were on food stamps.”

“We were the only minority family on the block.”

“I was the only woman in my engineering class.”

“My father forced me into his line of work.”

“Everybody hated me because I was the ‘rich kid.'”

Moral of the story is that everybody has some sort of hill to climb, even those who were born with supposed “privilege.” We can get into all sorts of debate as to whether or not there’s such a thing as “white privilege” (there probably is, but I don’t think it’s as prevalent as some do) but, in my experience, privilege is something to be envied and admired, not ridiculed, because it’s largely a function of somebody else in that person’s life doing a fair amount of sacrificing.

My best example of this occurred in my own life in 1983. After my parents’ divorced and sold our house, my mom needed to find somewhere for us to live. She found two identical townhouse complexes—one in Dublin City Schools, and one in Columbus City Schools. The Dublin City Schools townhouse was about $100 more a month, if I remember correctly. Columbus City Schools had about a 55% dropout rate at that time, and the high school I would have attended, Independence (it was built in 1976, along with another school called “Centennial”) was not known for academic excellence, to say the least. Dublin City Schools, on the other hand, had a college placement rate well of 90%, and was a booming, growing community.

$100 a month was no small amount in 1983—it’s equivalent to about $250 now. I wasn’t old enough to understand how this impacted her life at the time, but my mom made the decision to scrap and fight to get us into the Dublin district. I can think of no other singular decision that has affected my life so significantly. Because I went to Dublin, I was in a top-level music program, which helped me get a college scholarship for music performance. I got to play on a state-championship winning football team, which instilled a sense of discipline and honor in my core being. I was in Honors and AP classes in English and composition, which gave me an appreciation for beautiful writing and taught me how to construct prose in a decent way. That “privilege” that was gifted to me was based purely on my mother’s one decision—not color, creed, or birth.

So, upon reaching this milestone birthday, I decided that I wanted to do something to help my old school district, to provide some privilege to some kids who might need a little bit more. I went to speak to the Dublin Schools’ Young Professionals’ Academy, a group of 30 Juniors and Seniors who are selected for the program based on academic excellence and achievement. The students get to work with a mentor in their chosen field for two six-week periods, go through practice interviews, and they create a portfolio of their work to be presented to future potential employers. It’s a wonderful opportunity for them, something I wish I had been exposed to at that age.

When I started to speak, I said, “If I had been in your seat, twenty-two years ago, I probably would have said to myself, ‘Who’s the old, fat guy, and why should I pay attention?'” They laughed. “But hopefully you’re smarter than I was, and you’ll actually listen to some of the things I have to share with you today.” And, of course, they were and they did.

In fact, the kids were fantastic. They asked interesting questions, raised valid points and concerns, and were entirely engaged for the whole hour. I handed out a couple of R&T stickers to them, which the boys quickly put on their binders, and each one of them came over to say “Thanks” before leaving. It restored my faith in Generation Z.

This brings me back to this “balance of your life” thing. If I am, in fact, on the back nine of life, then I think that I have to redefine “health and happiness” to mean something a little bit different. I have to realize that I can’t just eat whatever I want, or ignore my exercise regime, because it’s only going to get harder to drop the weight as I get older. I have to get my children prepared to think differently than I do—to put off instant gratification and plan for their future, so that they don’t have their own “should haves” when they hit my age.

Most of all, I just want to be a good father. I think I’m doing okay, but I also realize that this is, in some ways, the easy part—I can fix nearly every problem they have with an ice cream and a hug. It won’t always be so easy. But in many ways, it’s the hard part, too. I think these are the years they build their character and their morality. I think this is when they learn what it means to be part of a team, to love and be loved in return, to be kind and giving in spirit. They may not remember the Disney trips or the soccer tournaments, but each interaction helps them become the man or woman they will ultimately be.

Because, God willing, someday I’ll be the one sending the 40th birthday card to my son and my daughter, telling him about the great decade he’s about to experience. I want them to approach the balance of their lives with excitement and confidence. And while that’s ultimately up to them, I want them to look back at this time of their lives as a time of gained privilege, not injury.

So, yeah, that’s it. I’m not sad about 40. I’m not faking a level of enthusiasm for it, either. I’m just continuing to live my life, trying to be the best man and father I can be. That’s enough for me.




33 Replies to “This is 40”

  1. -Nate

    Wow Mark ;

    Just great stuff here .

    Your secondary message of BE AN INVOLVED FATHER is the important one .


    “None of it matters very much unless you are happy and healthy.”

    I’m not healthy by any means but I’m more content than almost anyone I know, that to is critical and I’m this way by choice .

    Parenting is a bitch, plain and simple .

    They took my 11 Y.O. going on 30 boy to the mental hospital Monday, I don’t know if we’ll get him back nor if we can help him get one with life .

    My B-day is Saturday, I have ZERO PLANS apart from eating whever the hell I want .


  2. silentsod

    A couple of issues with editing

    “But that doesn’t mean that I don’t Everybody views his life through the most tragic lens possible” missing a period and the first sentence neither sets up the paragraph nor flows from the prior one so I’m not sure where it came from.

    “I was in Honors and AP classes in English and composition, which gave me an appreciation for beautiful writing and taught me how to construct prose in a decent way. That “privilege” that was gifted to me was based purely”

    Purely on what? I assume love but the sentence just drops off.

  3. John C.

    From an actuarial point of view, the midlife point was about 41.6 for males. That was a few years ago so it might have gotten better. Or worse of course with suicide and opiates. Either way it is hard to feel to far over the hill when you still have your father.

  4. Bigtruckseriesreview

    The vast majority of my friends are suffering.

    NYC living is extremely expensive.

    Most live with their parents…and it’s REALLY AWKWARD to be in your 30’s and living with your parents… One of my best friends lives with his girlfriend-fiance (OF 12 FREAKIN YEARS), childless and unmarried in an APARTMENT with his MOM. (and his mom is a MILF – believe me since she had him young)

    I’m like: why not get a place in an AFFORDABLE AREA but they prefer to push the limits of their finances lol.

    Most of my other friends are unmarried, childless and deep in student loans.

    I am 36.

    I turn 40 soon.

    I am unmarried and childless.

    I will probably be marrying soon, but I must say, that although my loans are paid, my mortgage is affordable and my muscle cars are as well, this economy makes you not even want to risk being married – for fear of divorce – and it makes you get comfortable not having children eating away at your race car money.

    But I don’t want to end up like my just-turned-50 uncle who married a Dominican chick my age and fathered 2 children within the last 4 years: older and weaker – unable to handle them.

    My plan is to marry one of these chicks and get her preggo so I can catch up on the last 15 years of my expected child birthing.

    • Disinterested-Observer

      Glad to hear that BTSR is finally planning on joining the cult of parenthood. Word of advice from someone who joined late: do not wait one second more. Not because it’s great, it is, but that is not why time is of the essence. If your intended is even remotely close to your age then the risks to the child rise exponentially with each passing year.

      • Athos

        He’s got this right, looking @ the experience from others, and even laid it down elegantly: “older and weaker – unable to handle them”

        Kids demand an INMENSE amount of your energy. If you are old/weak/tired/sick or any combination of those, rasing them will be challenging.

        BTW, keep your muscle cars. Kids love the sound and performace of a powerful car.

  5. Rod Jones

    This is a great well written article. Parenting is hard and you really dont know how good of a job you have done until your kids are on their own and you can observe the choices they make and how they choose to live their lives. If they end up being good responsible adults and good parents you can relax knowing that you did a good job of parenting. That is where Im at now and it feels good.

  6. Andy W

    Great post. My kids are slightly younger than yours, but the “be a good father” paragraph still resonates with me.

    As an aside, looking at the slide you’re presenting in the photo, I really don’t like this trend of combing through people’s social media accounts as part of the hiring process. My social media presence is *very* dull (kids, holidays, new cars blah blah blah), but it troubles me that people might miss out on jobs they would be perfect for, just because the stuff they do in their own time is considered outlandish/weird/irresponsible by someone else.

    • Arbuckle

      “just because the stuff they do in their own time is considered outlandish/weird/irresponsible by someone else.”

      You can still do it. Just keep it on the DL.

  7. VTNoah

    Powerful writing Bark and a strong reflection of your character which I know you have plenty of. I was just listening to Jordan Peterson on the Jocko Podcast this morning and he was talking about finding your purpose or mission in life and why it will steer you in the right direction. Like you, my purpose is to be the best father I can be and provide the guidance to my kids to hopefully turn them into better people than I am. I’m 33 so I’ve got a few years before I’m 40 but it’s great to hear your perspective. Thank you, your writing has made a positive impact on me even though we’ve never met in person.

  8. Disinterested-Observer

    Number one thing that all families should be able to do unless they have tough schedule: eat dinner together. You can do everything from find out what is going on at school to keep an eye out for eating disorders or drug use.

  9. Nick D

    Dear Bark:

    Severely Used Exotics of Georgia, where you can be the 18th owner of a Ferrari with no credit check as long as you bring home $350 a week(tm), does not wish you a happy birthday and demands an apology for your poor future time orientation. The failure of the Barkcast and resulting lack of advertising exposure for our business, particularly in the Canadian market, hurt our ability to turn inventory and launch innovative new products like 240 month notes and Deferred Maintence Specials – Retread your own 20s and save!(tm).

    /s/ Not Ed B.

  10. Dirty Dingus McGee

    I can remember turning 40. Well, kinda. Today for me was a milestone, as I made it to 60. I really have no idea how, or even why, but here it is. Unlike most everyone here, I have no progeny. Married and divorced young, never felt the burning need to remarry. Perhaps it would have been a better life if I had, but overall I have no complaints. I have had a very varied professional life, that has been for the most part financially rewarding, I have had the time to indulge my hobbies, and a few short lived interest’s, and live a relatively comfortable life.Regrets? Of course, we all have some. When I roll, creaking and popping, out of bed, I regret the many hundred dirt bike wrecks, and the 12 or so car wrecks I’ve been in, I regret spending more time on career, than on personal relationships at various times, sometimes I shake my head at the amount of money I’ve pissed away on some of my “hobbies” (hint: best way to make a small fortune racing is to start with a big one). I would say on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being highest, my life is a solid 7.

    And to those who want to tell me that 60 is “over the hill”; not an efffen chance as I haven’t made it to the top yet. 🙂

  11. yamahog

    Good on ya mate! More young people should consider becoming professionals and you’re exposing them to it! At the risk of creating a ‘should have’ – I do want to get to a point in my career where I can do something like this and be credible about it.

    Bless you for sharing your time with these young men and women. No one will ever know the impact of these acts of grace but we know that a lot of kids are fed and a lot of mortgages are paid because these bits of generosity. If you teach a man to fish, right?

  12. ScottS


    Happy 40th birthday! Thanks for writing this and sharing. It’s the most uplifting thing I’ve read all week (sorry Jack!).

    BTW, are you still married?

  13. Shortest Circuit

    Happy Birthday! Glad you had your George Bailey moment, now don’t try to jump off off any bridges 😉

  14. Jim Goad

    You’re a true inspiration and I’m looking forward to the day that I can be a father like you are. I just need to meet someone. I’ve been so lonely for so long.


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