The Man-Child Within

Did you miss the left turn at a rite of passage?

Americans slowly work into this with their children. There is the driver’s license and the credit card given to start their independence and financial responsibility at 16. Then at 18, you are allowed to vote and smoke. At 21 you may drink. The progression of rights is confusing.

In the Judeo-Christian perspective, the religious concept of an “adult” is at age 13 when you are put through confirmation or your bar mitzvah (for boys) and bat mitzvah (for girls). In the eyes of your religion, you are now old enough “to know better.” The logical is embraced and innocence is stripped away. The child is dead, long live the adult!

Society has these checks and balances to make sure you are where you should be in the chronology of all things social. In my native Spain, children at age six could drink 1/4 strength wine. At 16, you went to full strength. In Hawai’i when I was flying, it was “Hey, bruddha, can you drink with us?” Likewise, on Guam, the test would be handing someone a 5 dollar bill and asking them to go buy a 6-pack of beer. In San Francisco bars, the ritual was “carding”. You pulled out ID when you called out your order. In Japan, people would ask me if I was planning to go to my seijinshiki when I turned 20. I didn’t see the need. In international air space, I never asked passengers for ID—my life was busy enough pushing carts.

It is important to know who is a child and who isn’t. If you want to act like one, that’s up to you. You might fit quite well in some cultures. A friend of mine with Vietnamese ancestry nailed it one day, “Japanese media and society seem to prize immaturity in their concept of beauty.” I think he was referring to the stupidly cute. When I came to Japan, I was under the impression most women would be like Audrey Hepburn: intense, economical in movement and very, very poised. I wasn’t prepared for the yapping poodle with horse shoes act that was so popular back in the Burikko era. If you say that word now, you get blank stares or a few laughs of recognition of the Seiko Matsuda inspired “buri-buri” forced cuteness of the early 1980s. It was a role she would try to maintain for another 2 decades.

My hair was already thinning at 25. Adulthood had embraced me with a suffocatingly embarrassing hug that made my hair fall out.

For me, adulthood is all about control. It means I can do with my money as I want, I can vote as I wish, and choose the job I think is best for me. Sure, I might want advice but in the end, I am responsible for my actions. That is what being an adult is. If you rush to blame others, then you are nothing but a big kid playing the adult.

I know I am an adult. I work, I have my responsibilities and I must pay taxes and do all those things a child has a parent for. I am not a child. I am 52 years old.

For me, adulthood wasn’t mapped out like a Game of Life or some flow chart. It didn’t look like a Parcheesi board either.

Throw the dice: I knew as I grew up, I would be shipped off to college. Everyone needed to go to college.
Take a card from the deck: I would probably marry but there was no pressure.
Spin the spinner: My father would harp I needed to buy a house ASAP to have security.
Take an extra turn: And then were the lectures as painful as sex education; “Start saving for your retirement right now.” My parents had no idea that at 12, I already had my very own safe deposit box. I insisted on a bank book when I was 7.

Do any of these things help ease you into the zone of being mature? I am not sure. I seemed to stop growing at 12. I jokingly tell people I am a 12-year-old trapped in the body of a 52-year-old. Some laugh, others pity me. But I don’t feel much different from when I was a preteen. There was no fireworks display that played out “Paul Has Reached Adulthood.” There was no emergency broadcast on the local radio. I suppose it just sort of happened. You don’t get a medal or some membership card.

Growing up, I heard those all-too-familiar phrases too: Not under my roof, you don’t. You can do that when you are older. You have to wait until you’re a grown up. And my favorite, “You can do whatever you like when you are an adult”. Sure. Yes, you can. And yes, I do.

But there will always be a part of me that yearns to play with Lego and push my fingers into wet cement. There is a man-child deep within me. I do not really want to outgrow him.

*buri-buri: buri-buri refers to the Burikko era, popularized by the Japanese idol, Seiko Matsuda.