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To Be Better

October 25th, 2023


The more I think about this whole “childhood-is-over” thing, the more that I understand what that does and doesn’t entail. Yeah, I’m not a kid anymore, but I’m still growing up. There’s still so much I don’t know; so much I wish to. There are specificities of what I want to achieve, but in the end it all comes down to the last thing my mother said to me before I left for college: that it doesn’t matter how well I succeed or how horribly I fail. What matters is that I remain a good person.

Now, I’m not quite sure what Mom was on when she thought that version of myself was all that good of a dude. But I guess she’s my Mom; meant to see what goodness she can find in me. Still, I took it to heart. I’m in a pretty competitive field career-wise and I do want to be successful at my craft. It’s just that if I start to become mean in pursuit of that goal or the smaller goals that surround that, I would let her down. Not that I want to be mean, it’s just that I know I can be.

But maybe there’s something beyond that. I started to have (or regain) this feeling of mortal unease. Could probably blame it on Autumn. Because there’s nothing technically wrong with my life. And, yet, I can’t fight it. This feeling. Like there’s something I keep tamping down that keeps rising back up. I’ve read before that addiction is best fought at its core. That our drugs are usually meant to cope. And as I get older and more aware of myself, I find that to be true. It’s like I’m escaping something. I write less, think less. But I still don’t know what I’m running from.

Again, it’s probably just seasonal depression. But, just like how I try to overanalyze my feelings of romance, I feel the need to understand it. Maybe it’s just a lack of a partner -- a desire for human connection. But it’s not as if I’m trying terribly hard in that field. My women-of-the-week aren’t the lights at the end of the tunnel, but just torches I can carry through more bars and joints. Consummation and inebriation.

But that’s kind of cool now. I know it won’t be later -- I’d hate to be that 40-year-old womanizer. It’s like smoking -- yeah, it’s badass, but when I graduate, it’ll probably be lame as hell. By the time you turn 21, having beers in your fridge and a bong won’t make you the coolest guy on the block anymore. Suddenly growing old feels less like “trying to be cool” and more like “trying not to be lame.” Be a good person. Get a job. Get married. Don’t be a fucking bum.

And that’s weird. Because what do you do when everything you aspired to have becomes an avenue of lameness and insecurity? One that realizes a hole that you figure might be filled eventually by the things you can’t hold on to? Even love -- the supposed end-all be-all -- isn’t finite. Love isn’t even hardy.

Yet a majority of my “deeper” (in the teenage sense) emotions land on that spectrum -- between love and shame. From myself or others. Even my desire to be a good person comes from this imagination of my parents approving of me. Like I can’t love myself unless I’m good in terms of others.

That’s not really fair. They’re my parents, after all. I look up to them not just because I love them, but because I really do respect them. They’re good people -- the type I want to be. Kind when it counts.

Something weird, though: in my recent writing circles, I’ve been depicting a whole lot of characters with dead fathers. It’s not as if I hate my old man or anything. Certainly comes across that way, though. It’s weird. I think I’ve grown to appreciate Dad more in my time away from home. Little things -- like his refusal of “thank yous.” “It’s not what it’s about” -- I can hear him saying.

Maybe I’m just scared that I won’t resolve things with him before he kicks the bucket. Life insurance has never taken the guy at a reasonable rate so my fear for him has been present to varying degrees for almost my entire life. Macro lens: I’m sad for all the relationships I may never repair. I’m disappointed in my shortcomings to show love and patience to the people whom I’ve known needed it. In my inability to be a good person.

Christmas of 2020, the year of my life when my relationship with my family -- especially my father -- was at its rockiest. I was in a phase where I always wore specifically XXL t-shirts. I was changing up my look and was just beginning my “eboy era.” Without me asking, Dad went out of his way to customize several t-shirts just for me, including one that read “This is my Hashbrown costume.” He ordered them all in XL. I got mad and told him that they were a size too small. Yeah, it was a spoiled thing to do. It didn’t end up being our worst fight nor one that changed anything. But it was one of our last ones. I think I called him terrible. Any real conversations since then have been few and far between.

Nowadays I muse that Dad was just trying to show that he cared, even after everything. That he saw the individual spawning from his child and supported him. That he didn’t think it was stupid or wrong for me to call myself Hashbrown. That he loved me.

I was just sixteen and hurt. Not mature enough to understand what he was doing, nor in an emotional place to accept that he even liked me. It was the same year that they kicked me out. The same year that Aiden died. Maybe I should’ve been better, but I don’t think I wanted to be. I want to be now.

But opportunities for men to talk about such things are few and far between -- reserved for half-buzzed cigars and drives home from ski trips. It’s not like phone calls with Mom where we can talk about whatever for hours. Dad and I are awkward -- thus our conversations are more reserved to logistics. But sometimes I get the sense that we both drag them out for as long as possible, just so we can keep talking to each other.

I read somewhere that you’ve spent 90% of the time you’ll have with your parents by the time you’re 18. My parents are gonna live overseas until I’m out of school, so I’ll only get to see them twice a year at best. Even if they do immediately retire to the states, I’ll be 23. The rest of the small bits of my growing up -- my 21st birthday, my first live-in partner, every last bit of puberty I have left -- that’s all gonna happen on my own. That makes me sad.

I wish I could spend more time just talking to him. Letting him impart his wisdom on me. I wish it was easy to just tell him how much I love him. I wish I could be a better son.

In March of 2021, Dad took me and Claire on a ski trip. My memories from then are a bit foggy, but I distinctly remember Brooke telling me that it would be an “odd dynamic.” I don’t remember much of it -- where we went, why Mom couldn’t go. Blank.

I do remember the ride back. I was officially 6 feet tall, so Claire, despite being my senior, was resigned to the back seat. I think she fell asleep. I was still in the midst of my absurdism kick, but had just finished the majority of the “asshole” part of the metamorphosis. In other words, I could have a conversation without regurgitating Camusian religion about how great it is to push a rock up a hill. Dad and I talked about the world, what he thought, and just the general futility of many good-faith movements of the time. We landed on a rather pessimistic note: that everyone is going to act in their own best interest (you’d be stupid not to) and that the bad cycles of death in the world weren’t really going to change unless there was a catastrophe big enough to force it to (not likely).

At a point of acceptance, I asked Dad, “so what can we do?”

Dad, still facing the road, “try your best to do what you think is right.”

I’m still trying. I’m not perfect -- far from it. But when I see that I can do good, I try to. And I can’t help everyone. Sometimes it takes too much of me. Often I just fail -- too little too late. But I try, don’t I? Yeah, I think so. I try. Am I a good person? I don’t know if I can say.

Maybe that’s what love is, though. When being good and showing affection are made one in the same. When you don’t have to change who you are for approval. When, instead, you just be the best you can be. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for: a chance to be better.

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