My parents we natural disasters

I was recently asked if I was an adventurous person. I said that I wasn’t sure, my lack of a strong conviction seemed to answer the question for them. The asker then began to excitedly tell me about how they like to drive without direction, stopping unplanned where and when they feel like, sometimes to the detriment of their own safety. I found myself getting annoyed the more they talked.

What does it mean to be adventurous anyway? Is it the lack of plans or is it plans, and dreams, actually coming to fruition? Is it having a strong conviction and following through? Is it an unmoored drive to “experience” the world in all its being, whatever the hell that means. Maybe all of these things or maybe none of these things, and maybe the question itself is a silly one, yet nonetheless, I found myself circling this idea over and over again.

My parents were self styled adventurous people. They would sneak into hotel pools to swim, dragging us kids along with them. As we nervously waited to be caught and thrown out by staff, they would swim along without a care in the world. They would, similarly, drive without direction or plan, and we oftentimes found ourselves out of gas on the side of the road. I have this distinct memory of going camping with my family — we pulled up to the campsite after dark and my parents set up our big two-bedroom monster of a tent while my sisters and I sleepily waited to go to bed. In the morning, we woke up next to a field of cows, apparently having hitched up in some random farmers field.

There was a virtue in our house to spontaneity. If I, or my sisters, expressed a want to do the forbidden, to plan, we were ribbed for being boring. Funny enough, they were both military and later bureaucrats in their careers, adherents to the rules in every other aspect of their lives.

I’ve always been attached to my daydreams, to achievement and to recognition: to plans. At a young age, I had this desire to go far away from my family, to achieve, and to do “what I was supposed to” based on expectations largely crafted by myself. So I did, I moved across the country for college, then I graduated from a masters program in my early 20’s, I got engaged and married young. I got a competitive fellowship and a job that I dreamed about, one that meant I’d get what I longed for: stability in all senses of the word. I have these strict regimes for myself, weight, workouts, routines. Now with kids, I feel the drive, the anxiety, to craft a beautiful, magical childhood. But as I’ve been wondering about this idea of adventurousness, I’ve been wondering about my own attachment to routine and control, if I’ve let some things go as a kind of repulsion against all things from my childhood.

My parents were natural disasters, awe inspiring and catastrophic in their wake. This was the dark side of that spirit. On one hand we had fun times, random adventures and trips that made me feel unique and special amongst my peers. Then came the times of shut down, distance, and instability. It was waves and ebbs and flows. My dad would run 10 miles each morning mirrored by his 10 beers at night.

We admire those with adventurous drive in our culture, in our art and in our music. I think about the cultural icons of the rebel, the rock star, and deviant artists for which expectation is to be subverted. They live beyond the boundaries and they make us uncomfortable in their creations.

Some of that subversion is just not living in the ways that society has deemed appropriate and expected. They are hedonistic, indulging in drugs, alcohol, and sexual promiscuity. We get these romantic notions of what it’s like to be a drug addict, but perhaps not the understanding that the reality is far less picture-esque or like a movie. It can be dying alone in your home after years of abuse, cut off from your loved ones, like what happened with my dad. I get annoyed with the idea that this pursuit of self-pleasure, in itself, as something of true subversion and value. Like not wanting to work a 9–5 job is rebellion when, I don’t know, do any of us really want to be doing that?

I think about the hippies of the 60’s with the emphasis on free love and all of that shit, what did it amount to? The hippies of the 60’s became the stock brokers of the 80’s. I’ve long since had this kind of cringe when I see contemporaries of mine being “openly adventurous” on social media: traveling, living out of a van, floating along here and there. The common thread here being that we idolize the individual journey as a cultural touchstone of some sort of meaningful rebellion.

Maybe it’s the visceral reaction from my own parents and their ups and downs, which set me on a path to do the exact opposite or to embody more stability and planning in my own life. Along the way, I lost the beautiful part of how they lived, the real adventurousness that I’ve been struggling to articulate and understand. It isn’t living this way or doing that, or not planning or planning well, its that every day they didn’t know what they were doing and they did it openly and vulnerably. They made mistakes, when they wanted to do something, we did it even if we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. That meant these great adventures and stories-windsurfing with my dad in the Azores and getting stung by a jelly fish, my mom bravely doing a complete career change in her 40s, long road trips with my dad across the country in his old truck.

At some point I got in the habit of figuring out how each piece of my life was shaped, how it fit together, and what it all meant. That process of doing that walled up a sense of vulnerability within me, to just be okay with not knowing what I’m doing here, acknowledging the fear, love, desire, etc. that comes along with that.

It doesn’t all have to mean something, to have some sort of bigger meaning.

I say all of this and it feels stupidly navel gazey given the world and all. I guess I’ve gotten to the place, comfortably, that if we can’t have a bit of self-indulgence then what’s that point? We only have ourselves in this life completely, I’m ready to accept the messy and not knowing what the fuck I’m doing.

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