How to Separate the Men From the Boys

The best stories are written not in books or in movies, but between pages of passports. That’s the clincher for many TCKs; we weave great narrative tapestries through our travels. Different places provide distinct memories, and distinct memories provide greater motivation to explore unchartered waters. That was definitely the case for me. My oscillation from culture to culture, mostly out of necessity and occasionally out of choice, gave me a different perspective than most. I learnt to control my brashness, bite my tongue, hold my speech and wait to hear more of what other people said, because I was fortunate enough to have more ability than most to relate on some level.

The whole notion of adulthood seems very arbitrary to me. Is it the physiological signs of adulthood; the first wet dream, or the first menstrual cycle? Is it the legal connotation (21 in some cultures, 18 in most, and even younger in some)? Or is it just a mental rite of passage? I believe when your brain and your heart both come into unison, they grasp the essence of adulthood; responsibility, maturity and accountability.

Independence, widely considered a subset of adulthood, is an interesting one in my birthplace of Pakistan. Independence in Pakistan (both financial and social) is not in complete (or sometimes even relative) correlation with adulthood. Most people still get married and live with their parents (the husband’s parents, mostly), under their roof, eating from their table. The joint family system is however now a hidden relic of the past for urban dwellers, which previously saw many families pooling their resources together to maintain their livelihood. They were dependent on each other, but that was also a time when society came ahead of the individual.

For me, adulthood struck about 1 year ago. Up until then I had patches of my life with my parents and without them, with their financial assistance and without, and with their utter belief in my life choices and without. The years where I was financially reliant on them, I would at that point, see it as a great shortcoming of mine. In a society where the man must be the breadwinner, I was sticking my hand out and asking for a shortcut in life. Many of my friends struggled through their university days, eking out a living running odd jobs, flipping burgers, or pouring pints. I was by and large, supported by my parents.

In fact, the first internship I landed was really an internship my father earned. He called one of his friends, and I was soon to complete a winter placement (even though they had only summer intakes). If you thought this could only happen in Pakistan, you are wrong. It happened in Singapore, and it even happened in Australia (even though there, I had to earn my spot in earnest). All these experiences put me ahead of the game, but they did indebt me to my parents, diminishing my age in their eyes. Adulthood remained an aspiration that was out of reach.

Years went by, and I continued to drift through life, being a product of both social capital and my own achievements. The former set me up for the latter; that’s what it logically seemed like, that’s what it is, and that’s what I’ve come to terms with. To me though, adulthood isn’t about taking a different path just to prove to myself that I am capable, even without the head start in life I have been fortunate to receive. Adulthood, I have come to realize, is embracing fortune and rallying it to live a wholesome and satisfing life, touching others through every interaction, because you may never get that opportunity again.

Another symptom of this realization was the transition I was seeing with my family. From seeing my parents as foundations of energy and life, I now see them slowing down, taking a breath, either for reflection or to heal the physical blows life has given them. I have seen my little brother go from being an ill-tempered child to being an ill-tempered young man. But with the temper, comes a zeal and desire for betterment in his chosen field. He will learn the ropes, but I have now realized my role as a guider and facilitator, a friend rather than an authority figure.

I have seen my grandparents age greatly, in the last few years, much to my discomfort. The memories I hold onto so tightly come ringing back whenever I see them making their way slowly down the stairs to their living room. A harsh reality I have come to terms with.

Adulthood to me is no more than that. Yes, financial independence would be nice; standing on my own two feet and being the master of my financial destiny. But in many ways, these are not things that should trump family, friends, travel, and other interests. Financial independence and career aspirations are always secondary. Money and career recognition will come and go, it could give me a quick endorphin spike, but then it shall inevitably fizzle out. Your friends, family, and your internal treasure trove of memories have a much longer pay-off period. Coming to this realization is what adulthood is about to me, everything outside of this ambit is simply ancillary. It hit me at the age of 25, much after I woke up to my first nocturnal emission of puberty—how to separate the men from the boys—not a physiological function but a profound realization and guiding light for wherever in the world my TCK adventures take me.