Being an adult: When do I become one?

I grew up in a middle class white family during the 50’s. In many ways, life was like the early black and white TV show "Leave It To Beaver"; there was a certain style, maybe a kind of wholesomeness, innocence to life. Of course, that’s my memory of it and I’m sure any kid would probably say the same thing of their own childhood.

During this time, my parents would hold from time to time a formal cocktail party. When I say "formal", I mean that men would come dressed in a suit and tie while the women would wear something of a similar degree of formality. My brother and I as youngsters around the ages of 5 to 8, would also get dressed up in something a bit formal, sometimes a suit and our own tie and help out at the parties. Both of us would assist our parents in serving drinks, walking through the crowd with trays of hors d’œuvres and providing whatever other service may have been called for.

I remember winding my way through our living room full of adults towering over little me. I developed a very distinct image of what an adult was: this self-assured professional looking man dressed in a suit and tie, holding his glass in one hand as he spoke with intelligence and conviction of who knows what topic. I was duly impressed by this display of maturity and figured that one day, I too would become an "adult".

At the age of 19, I was in a clothing store browsing for something in the racks when a voice behind me said, "May I help you, sir?" I continued browsing as I felt that anybody addressing somebody with the word "sir" could not be talking to me. The voice repeated itself and I turned around to discover that the attendant was talking to me. I was somewhat flabbergasted. Calling me "sir" struck me as so out of place. The word for me evoked an adult, one of those professional looking men in a suit and tie and at that particular moment, I certainly did not fit the bill.

I am now 57 years old. I’m still waiting. I’m still waiting for that magic moment when "poof!" I become an adult. I’m chuckling at writing this as I’m thinking of those people in the living room of my home at one of my parents’ cocktail parties. I still have this image of the man dressed in suit and tie, full of self-assurance, confident, in control of the situation and at par with all those around him. Me? Oh, I sometimes have doubts, I may not always be self-assured; I sometimes am not in control of the situation and do not always feel at par with all those around me. Hmmm, what happened? I thought I was going to cross a line, become 20 or 25 then all of a sudden, I would become one of those adults at the cocktail party. Oddly enough, that hasn’t quite happened.

In fact, I can clearly admit that at the age of 57, I’m not sure how much I think, feel or act differently then let’s say, when I was 30 or 25 or 20. I’m sure there are differences, after all I am now coming to the table with over 30 years of experience as an adult, but there is this question of what do I feel. How many times have I been in circumstances where I enter a room and I don’t know anybody? There is that horrible feeling of being out of place: everybody else knows one another and they are all looking at me, the outsider. I still laugh when I first discovered that this wasn’t necessarily true; not everybody always knew each other and how many other people in the room were exactly like me. They had the same feeling of being out of place and were so grateful when I would make the first move by talking with them. We breathe a sigh of relief when somebody breaks the ice, no?

Yes, I am aware of not always being so self-assured but armed with this knowledge, I can do something about it. I’ll walk into a room, look around with assurance and walk up to the first person, stick out my hand and say hello. I may be feeling out of place but I overcome that feeling and plough ahead. Damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead!

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for that magic moment when I become an adult; when I become one of those self-assured professional looking men I remember at my parents’ cocktail parties during the 50’s. [chuckles] Will I someday become Ward Cleaver?

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